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Books for Africa celebrates 23 years, 25 million books

Tomorrow, in a warehouse in St. Paul, a modest party is being thrown in observance of a massive accomplishment, and you are cordially invited. Books for Africa is throwing a South African-style Braii, or barbecue, to celebrate the shipment of its 25-millionth book, which took place last month.

For 23 years, Books for Africa has been filling cargo containers with books and sending them to literacy advocates in 46 African countries who make sure they find their way to the shelves of libraries and schools, frequently rural, and from there, into “the hands of children who have never before held a book,” as a press release announcing the accomplishment and party put it.

Rotary International donated hundreds of thousands of the books. “Each book will be treasured and read over and over again,” the announcement added.

No kidding. It’s easy to lose sight, amid debates about the policies and practices that might drive reading proficiency rates up, of what a simple miracle a book is.

Books for Africa’s website is home to stories, videos and testimonials illustrating the transformative power of literacy. One quotes Rep. Keith Ellison:

“In Kenya, we were in a small village and the students had a wonderful school. They were eager to learn. They had motivated teachers, but they didn’t have any books in the school. They had no library. And so, imagine how proud I was to open up this box of shiny new encyclopedias and dictionaries from Books for Africa. They want more of your books. They can’t wait. They can’t get enough of these books.”

The event is free and open to the public from 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 17 at the warehouse, which is located at 715 Minnehaha Ave. E., in the old Stroh’s Brewery complex just north of I-94 and just east of downtown St. Paul.

If you can’t make it, or are simply totally over the Braii craze, there are plenty of other ways to help Books for Africa celebrate its milestone. You can volunteer to sort and pack new and gently used donated books, donate cash, sponsor one of the organizations in Africa that receive and distribute the books or offer to underwrite the $8,800-$9,800 it costs on average to ship a container to an African seaport.

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