University of Calgary

Grad student helps deliver 75,000 books to Ugandan kids

UToday HomeApril 9, 2013

Engineering grad student and volunteer with the Africa Book Project, Billy Wu, stands with English teacher Emmy Ssematiko among Ugandan students who received donated books.Engineering grad student and volunteer with the Africa Book Project, Billy Wu, stands with English teacher Emmy Ssematiko among Ugandan students who received donated books. Photo courtesy Billy WuAfter Billy Wu got home from climbing Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2009, he started looking for a way to help people on the continent that had given him such an amazing experience. And he found it.

Wu has just returned from Uganda, where he spent three weeks with the Africa Book Project (ABP), handing out 75,000 donated books to kids from preschoolers to young adults.

“We visited four communities and visited about 15 schools, some with more established libraries and some that were starting from scratch,” says Wu, who is doing a PhD in electrical engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering.

Wu and Barb Briggs, the president of ABP, worked side by side with local teachers and students to sort the books according to reading levels and organize all the new reading material on shelves in the schools.

At one school without a space for books, the students proudly lined up all their new books on a bench. “It’s the beginning of something special for them,” says Wu. “It was very rewarding, seeing how they don’t take things for granted, like we do here.”

This was the first shipment of books collected by the small Calgary-based charity to be delivered to African students with the help of local Rotary clubs in Uganda. ABP hopes to continue working with Rotary clubs in Calgary and Huntsville, Alabama to arrange more trips with more books.

Wu says the thousands of books ABP collected over the last few years — new and used fiction and non-fiction for children aged preschool to young adult — have all found a good home.

The Graduate Students’ Association contributed $2,000 to help Wu cover some of his travel expenses to Uganda for the trip in February. Now that he’s back, he plans to keep working on collecting more books in Canada to send to young students in Africa.

“It brings perspective to my life,” he says. “I was really worried about getting a job after graduation, but having been over there and seeing the daily issues they have to live with adds a lot of context to the phrase ‘first-world problem’ and you realize how innovative and creative people are over there.”

Learn more about the Africa Book Project http://www.africabookproject.org/

 

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