This past July when Carrington, Emily and I met for dinner in NYC, we thought the idea of swimming from Europe to Africa was preposterous. I have stood on the southern tip of Spain before and stared at Africa off in the distance. I never dreamt of swimming there. Let me tell you, 20 kilometers over the ocean looks frighteningly far away. The only way we could even fathom such a challenge was to do it for a good cause. That’s why we are braving chaffed necks, training in cold waters way below our comfort zone, entering 10K swim after another, and logging in long practices.
Just 2 ½ years ago, I went to Africa with Worldreader and brought Kindles into places where books don’t historically reach- bringing access and choice of reading material to children the same age as my own. It felt exhilarating: We were offering possibility to places where cycles of poverty are seemingly impossible to break.
What struck me then was how communities were poor, yet you scanned the horizon and saw cell phone towers everywhere. Did you know that there is a cell phone signal over 80% of sub-Saharan Africa? That’s how Worldreader sends more books to kids—wirelessly, like a text message. Sometimes when I tell people what Worldreader is doing with Kindles, they ask if we should not send food or medicine. What’s mind boggling is that finally the pieces of the puzzle have come into place for real change- for everyone to get an education.
1. The 3G infrastructure is in place in most of the developing world and books can be downloaded in the most remote areas as a text message.
2. Books are digital instead of having to be printed and shipped. And teachers welcome more books in the classroom- as opposed to computers which can pose a threat.
3. Kindles are quite rugged, have a long battery life, are dropping in price, and hold thousands of books.
This is exciting: It means kids can have a library in their hand that they can take home with them, share with their family, and read what they need to improve their lives.
Driving out of the bustling capital cities to more remote communities you see this a lot (this truck stayed put for weeks!) Roads are bad and it is enormously hard to transport heavy goods— like physical books. That’s one of the reasons why more than 200 million children in sub Saharan Africa will never have a book of their own.
I visited a school in Ghana and the headmaster told me that they were lucky because they were one of the few that had a library. Indeed there were some books inside, but upon closer inspection I found discarded books from a school in Atlanta– before zip codes! These books were sandwiched between History of Utah and History of Texas–multiple copies of each. Book drives, like the ones we did when growing up, are done with the right intention, but it doesn’t mean that the right book will get into a child’s hand.
I was recently back in Ghana and saw that the kids with Kindles were reading a ton and improving in school. They were reading international stories like The Magic Tree House, newspapers like The New York Times, and many local stories that address events in their lives (thanks to the work Worldreader is doing to digitize hundreds of African storybooks) like Kofi has Malaria.
Talking to kids like Linda (please meet her in this short video) you see what Worldreader is doing isn’t just nice– it’s urgent. She is downloading books on heath and science and is hungry for more. When I asked her about it she told me she wants to be the best nurse possible. Then she told me that her mother died last year– “she woke up with pain all over her body and was sick all over and died.” I asked her if she knew then what her mother died from; she had no idea. She told me: “If I were a great nurse and my mother were alive today, I would never let her die.” Embarassingly, tears were streaming down my face as I spoke to her. This just isn’t fair, I thought.
For Mauricio, Emily, Carrington and me, we can’t possibly imagine our lives without books, and we’re sure you can’t either. Even reading about open water swimming is making us push ourselves harder that I thought possible. And most of all, we cannot imagine what it’d be like for our kids to grow up without books. That is why we are doing this. We hope you’ll join our cause and donate for more e-books and e-readers for kids like Linda and the millions of others like her. Books For All!