JCR names Books2Africa Charity of the Year

Every year, the undergraduate students of St Catz elect a charity for whom they fundraise alongside Emilie’s Charities, our permanently supported charity. Here, Harry Holmes (outgoing JCR Charities, Environment and Ethics Rep) writes about the election of this year’s charity: Books2Africa.

Books2Africa sends educational resources to African nations, including books, stationery, and computer equipment. This charity was proposed for election by current student Ben Farmer (2017, Geography) and after a successful election Harry Holmes (2016, Law) now fundraises for them. To introduce Books2Africa, Harry and Ben hosted its Director of Operations, Dr Tonson Sango, for a talk on the history and work of his charity. It was a delight to host Dr Sango and hear his insight into the great work the JCR has chosen to support.

He began his talk by going through the history of the charity. Books2Africa was founded in 2012 by four African students, including Dr Sango, during their time studying at the University of Kent. After making the decision to appeal for books, they originally kept them in Dr Sango’s student accommodation – but before long, so many donations were received they had to remove them. It was decided that they would purchase shipping containers to hold the books in before they were sent out of the country. One of these containers was also initially used as the charity’s office. However, more containers had to be hired to store the increasing number of books being donated across the campus.

This situation could not continue as their presence in Kent and around the UK increased. Book bins were installed at the University of Kent and donations from across campus increased. Ultimately in 2017 they opened their new processing centre in Canterbury, which allowed them to increasingly sort and process the books. Dr Sango explained the difficulty the charity faced in sending the first full container to Africa, with issues relating both to customs and the logistics of the transport itself. However, after showing students photos of the container’s arrival, how the books are distributed on the day, and how much of an impact they can have on the individuals and institutions who receive them, it was clear that it was beyond worth the effort. The institutions in Africa request the books themselves, and there is clear reporting of how the projects proceed on their website. Dr Sango stressed how many of the school facilities remain substandard, and how seeing these facilities inspires the mission of the charity.

He then discussed the work the charity is currently doing. Clearly the main focus is on the sending and processing of books, with 20,000 donated every month, but Dr Sango also pointed out that the charity sells books which cannot be sent, so as to make the charity financially sustainable. Alongside books the charity also runs a series of other programmes, such as SchoolFix, which works to improve the standard of education facilities and buildings. The charity has also organised transport to schools from rural areas with no previous transport links to school. Scholarships are provided to some students, particularly those with disabilities, and Books2Africa also tries to shine a spotlight on African authors and academics. Their work is far-reaching and has been recognised by the charity being given Special Consultative Status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In the coming year, the JCR plans to run many charity events to support Books2Africa. Throughout the year so far, there has been a continuous stream of JCR quizzes, as well as a ‘Take Me Out’-style event for Valentine’s Day, and work is now underway to create a student cookbook! The JCR is also working on collecting books to donate to the charity and hopes to raise Books2Africa’s profile across the University. Meanwhile, Harry is working closely with Oxford SU and other colleges’ Charities Reps to spread the word about this great organisation.

Pictured above: Students Ben Farmer and Harry Holmes, with Books2Africa Director of Operations Dr Tonson Sango.