George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Help an International School: Give the Gift of Books -- and More

Teach children a global lesson by donating books and other needed supplies to schools around the world.
By Laila Weir
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In the neediest parts of the developing world, library shelves sit empty, and schoolchildren often go empty handed. According to the nonprofit organization Books for Africa, the continent is having a book famine. The group notes, "It is common across Africa to see five or six schoolchildren sharing one book." This book shortage also affects other areas of the world, where schools lack even the most basic materials to educate their students. As a result, young minds go hungry.

The good news is that students in the United States can help -- and get a real-world lesson in global poverty while they're at it. There are many ways you and your school can share resources with those who need them most. Here's how:

Hold a Book Drive

Books that are forgotten, unused, or simply already read may be clutter in your bookcase or your school's closet, but in the right circumstances, they can be treasure to a child on the other side of the planet.

Box Set:

Angie Lockhart and Alysun Theobald display boxfuls of books they collected for donation.

Credit: Bud Theobald

During their fall semester, high school seniors Alysun Theobald and Angie Lockhart, in Louisville, Kentucky, decided to gather books for the nonprofit organization International Book Project to send to needy children abroad. The girls sent letters to schools throughout their area asking for donations and organized a book drive at a local sports center, where they collected more than 1,500 books and raised $800 for shipping. In the process, the two students adopted the cause of the world's poorest children and made a video about their plight called Education Deprivation.

"I like to think I reached two people with every book we sent over, and it's amazing to realize we reached more than 3,000 children," Theobald says. "I believe everyone that donated felt better about themselves, no matter how small their contribution."

Numerous organizations around the country take unwanted books and ship them to where they're desperately needed. Students can choose a group to help and then hold a book drive at school or during a school event.

Tip: Don't forget to check first what kinds of books the organization does -- and doesn't -- need. It's important to control the quality of the books you donate.

Host a Fundraiser

Every year, the Marcellus Central Schools, in Marcellus, New York, put on a play to raise money for a good cause. When the schools chose Books for Africa as the beneficiary last year, teacher George Mango turned the good deed into a project-learning opportunity for his students, too.

Weighty Subjects:

Teenagers from Chifunabuli Basic School, in rural Zambia, haul books to their new library.

Photo courtesy of Books for Africa

The schools could afford to sponsor part of a container of books to an African country, so Mango developed a contest to determine which country would get the shipment. "I had groups of sixth-grade students research an assigned African country, identify problems with that country, and present potential solutions to those problems using PowerPoint," explains Mango. Other classes watched and voted on the best presentation. The books would go to the country that won the vote. In this instance, it was Nigeria.

"The kids that were in the class learned about the problems in Africa," Mango says. "They had no idea. It just opened their eyes to a world they didn't know about."

In the end, the play raised about $3,000, of which the schools donated $2,500 to pay for the shipment to Nigeria. They used the other $500 to send some of their own remaindered textbooks to Books for Africa.

Tip: If you hold a book drive, sell any books that aren't suited for shipping to help with the costs of the books you do send.

Find a Sister School

Cesar Chavez Elementary School, a Spanish-immersion school, in Davis, California, has discovered a way to bring the Spanish-speaking world to life for its students while also allowing them to share ideas and resources with other kids: It found a sister school in rural Nicaragua.

Foreign Correspondents:

These Nicaraguan children are pen pals with students in Alameda, California, through the organization Seeds of Learning.

Credit: Annie Bacon

"This was a logical way for our students to practice their Spanish in a real way while making connections with Nicaraguan students," says fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher Sarah Fonte.

The students from both schools exchange packets with descriptions and drawings of their families, communities, and cultures, including recipes for local foods. "In order to do this, we had to really think about what foods they would grow in the Nicaraguan climate and in this area where there is no grocery store," explains Fonte. "We are working on a recipe for pizza they can bake in traditional ovens. This will be part of our unit on chemical reactions and mixtures in science class."

Cesar Chavez found its sister school, the two-room El Tempisque, two years ago through Seeds of Learning, an organization that builds schools in Nicaragua and El Salvador and pairs them with U.S. schools. For three years, Fonte has traveled to Nicaragua as part of the Seeds of Learning teacher group to meet with Nicaraguan educators.

Through these interactions, Fonte has developed a relationship with the teachers at El Tempisque, allowing her to share resources with them based on what they need most. "A teacher might ask me if I can send some student-friendly lessons about the nitrogen cycle in the next packet, and I use the resources I have here to make that happen," Fonte says.

"Last year, while my students were studying magnetism and electricity, they wrote instructions for their favorite experiments, and I delivered these to the school along with a donation of simple magnets and circuitry supplies," she adds.

Tip: If you decide to send materials to a sister school or another organization overseas, be sure to ask teachers or administrators there what they need -- and what they can't use -- to make your shipments as effective as possible. Ship books through the U.S. Postal Service. Masha Hamilton, founder of the Camel Book Drive, says the most economical way to send small quantities is in a USPS flat-rate box in groups of 20 pounds or less, which costs $37 per box.

Help with the Work

Of course, sending materials abroad doesn't just require the materials themselves and the money to send them; it also calls for hours of sorting and packing. At L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion School, in St. Paul, Minnesota, a group of sixth-grade students volunteered to help Books for Africa with this type of work after holding a book drive for the organization.

Proud Pupils:

Sixth graders at L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion School, in St. Paul, Minnesota, display books bound for Africa.

Credit: Audrey Gagnaire

Service-learning coordinator Christi Schmitt, who worked with a sixth-grade teacher to organize the project, says they tried to maximize the educational impact of this work on their students. Books for Africa's development director gave a presentation to the students that woke them up to the realities of the countries they were aiming to help.

Since that visit, the kids have continued the project by sharing what they've learned through a presentation of their own. "They have documented their experiences on video, written service-learning grant proposals to raise awareness of the book famine, and interviewed employees and volunteers," Schmitt explains.

Halfway across the country, parent Beth McKnight, of Alamo, California, raves about a volunteering field trip her children's school took to the nonprofit organization Books for the Barrios. That visit inspired McKnight to organize a church volunteer group herself.

Books for the Barrios sends much-needed materials to some of the most remote isolated areas in the Philippines. "The students sat on the floor and cofounder Nancy Harrington told them about these kids in the remote barrios who have absolutely nothing, and how the books they have are just tattered and moldy," McKnight says. "The library shelves are unused."

After the presentation, children helped pack books into boxes, decorating them with pictures for their peers a world away. After a closing slide show, the field trip ended with a group discussion about what they had learned and how it made them feel. "It's incredible to go around the classroom and hear what the kids have learned throughout the day," notes McKnight. "Most of the parents that I saw the next day said, 'My kids talked about that field trip all day.'"

Laila Weir is a contributing editor and writer for Edutopia. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and online publications around the world.

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

M.Chibuzor Samuelson, PhD's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am pleased to introduce to you, our organization the Niger-Delta Book
Trust founded by the People and the Student Members of the Niger Delta
Region of Nigeria.The Niger Delta Book Trust is a Non-Governmental
Educational Organization serving the People and Institutions of learning
in the Niger Delta area of our Country from the Kindergarten to the
Tertiary Institutions such as Universities and Colleges of Higher
Learning.The Organization is incorporated under the Acts of Parliament No501 (3)
(c) as a Charity Organization and Not-for profit.The People of Niger
delta was highly maginalised by our Government and the Foreign > Oil
Companies Prospecting for crude Oil in the Region and hence the people were
bacwardly raised without any formal Education.Our Organization, NDBT
has taken the TASK of making sure that every Child from the niger Delta
area should at least have a minimal Educational Qualification of west
African School Certificate and a degree from any of the Universities that
is been Funded by our Organization.
In the light of this therefore, we write to seek your kind Donation of
Library Books from the Pre-college Levels to the Graduate and
post-graduate levels or Research Levels in any field of Studies, Computers,
Audio Visual aids, Educational Materials and financial funding of the
Shipment of the Donated Materials and Books to our Organization. On receipt
of these Books and Materials, we shall promptly Distribute them to ALL
our registered Institutions with our organization and these Books would
be used by the Student of those colleges and > universities while others
would be Donated to Public Libraries in the Niger-Delta Regions and
other States of the Federation where they are needed.
We pray that our request would be granted by you and your Organization
and colleagues.
We look forward to hear from you soon.
M.Chibuzor Samuelson, PhD
Executive Director/CEO
Niger-Delta Book Trust
( A Non-Governmental Literacy Action Organization)
Shalom Suite 6/8 , Labake House
14A, Bello Street , Off Oluwalogbon Street
Ketu-Lagos 100007
Tel + 234806 075 2625


barbara wilke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My mother was a retired primary school teacher. She died in July, 2008 at age 91.
She wrote three books and published them herself. One was about being an Army wife in Japan after 1945. One was about her experiences growing up in Omaha, Nebraska as a young girl. She was born in l916. One was a book of poetry. I have between 50 and 100 copies of each book. They are not hard bound. There are illustrations and the material is appropriate for school age children. I would like to donate them, but don't want to pay for international postage. I would also like a tax credit for the books as a donation to charity including the postage I will pay. If you have any interest, please let me know. Barbara Wilke 847/605-1860.

Anonymous (not verified)

Our school is Trix Villa School - Creche, Pre-school, Nursery and primary school. Its about two years old with an average population of 100 children. Its situated in Lagos State of Nigeria.

We are in dare need of the following educational aids for use by the children

- Computers (pentium III or Pentium IV)
- Audio visual aids
- Children Story Books
- Test books for maths, science and English for our library
- Games, Toys and sports Equipments

We would be very grateful if our requests are favourably considered as it will expose our children to a greater level. Thanks in anticipation

Mrs B. N. Eziashi
School Administrator

Juliet Felix's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Sir/Madam,
I commend your organization on the humanitarian work it is doing to improve the lives of the world's future generations!It is only when a dream becomes a reality that it is born. I am happy that this dream has moved on from the stage of conception.

Currently I am heading St. Anne's Primary School which is located in Agricola,a village (considered to be a depressed community) located on the Eastern Bank of the Demerara River in Guyana, South America.It has a population of 162 pupils which will increase to about 230 in September (a neighbouring school will be merged with St. Anne's)The maximum class size is 35 pupils. St. Anne's caters for pupils of Grades 1 to 6.

The pupils lack basic phonics and phonemic awareness skills. As PTA Vice-President and Headteacher(ag.), I appeal to your organization for the necessary support which will make it possible for our pupils to take advantage of Reading Programs offered on the internet, as our school lacks the necessary infrastructure and funds.

Through the efforts of an American Grade 5 student,who launched the "Heart of A Seed Project", our library was resuscitated in 2007. A computer lab will definitely complement the teachers' and pupils, efforts at improving literacy and thus, general academic performance.

The school's postal address is 40 Brutus Street, Agricola,East Bank Demerara, Guyana South America.Its telephone no. is 592-233-0642.

Other members of the school's management committees, residing in the village, are:

Mrs.Michelle Allicock (PTA President)
Mr. Mark Whyte (PTA Assistant Secretary Treasurer)
Mrs. Gail Clarke (PTA Treasurer)
Mr. Weston Clarke ( School Improvement Alliance Committee)
Mr. Kenneth Hawker ( " " " " )
Ms. Charmaine Blackman ( " " " " )

Thank you!
Juliet Felix

Jessica Cook's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

To Whom it May Concern:

My colleague and I are currently working for a bilingual school in Guayaquil, Ecuador that has approximately 800 students in junior and high school. Our little library houses few up-to-date Spanish books and only about a dozen decent English books, the majority of which are old textbooks. We would like to provide our students with classic-modern literature books in order to actively engage them in writing book reports, but there are so few choices in Ecuador, even in the pricey shops that sell material in English. Additionally, it has proven impossible to locate English thesauri and dictionaries in order to assist the students in their efforts to improve their writing. Any assistance in the provision of this material or passing along this information would be extremely appreciated.


Jessica Cook (International U.S. Volunteer for CEBI, Centro-americano educativo bilingual intercambio)

Ashlee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am not affiliated with any organization but would love to donate a variety of textbooks and literature if possible. I am afraid that I will not be able to cover the cost of shipment but I have a variety of books from middle school to college level texts(biology, spanish, earth science, psychology, human development, art literature, algebra, etc)The literature extends from harry potter to plato. Please email me and work out how I can get these to you if you could use them.

I hope that I am able to help.

Martin Deonatus's picture

To whom it my concern

As per above captioned subject, we are kindly applying to your good office to support our school on books. Yusta secondary school is a registered secondary school by the Ministry of Education Vocation and Training(Tanzania).The school is located in MWANZA region.

The types of book we are applying are Science subjects( Physics, Chemistry, and Biology), Maths, English( grammar, and literature) Business studies( Boo-keeping, Commerce, economics), Computer science, Social studies, General leisure readings(novels) ,and Sports and vocation.

The intended group students of the age between thirteen to eighteen years(13-18) enrolled at our school and neighboring school.

We kindly need your assistance


Martin Deonatus
School Manager

Peggy's picture

Our school purchased new English Literature books 7-12, and new science books, 7-12, and would like to have them picked up to donate them to an organization. There are 15 to 30 copies of the sets and in the Reno, Nevada Area

Thomas Oommen's picture

dear sir ,
we are a school Princeton English Academy , Udhampur , Jammu kashmir , India.Now we have grown upto 10th standard of schooling. as on now we need more rooms to be build , library books , pre-primary indoor play activies.for all these things we need finacial help from donors. can you help us in finding honest and reliable donors
Thomas Oommen
Director ,
Princeton English Academy ,
Hebron , Ammunition morh ,
PO: Garhi ,
Dist Udhampur - 182121
Jammu kashmir
email :

Mary Martinelli's picture

I have a class of students that are looking to donate elementary books to a school in need. I also have a set of elementary science books (K-5) that are unused. They are all in English. Let me know if you are still interested.

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