Book drives seemingly happen all the time. But because most book drives donate their books to something along the lines of a local elementary school or church library or maybe even a children’s shelter, it’s not every day that students are given an opportunity to participate in a book drive for reading centers being built in Uganda.
The drive is being organized and run by Osamagbe Ogbeide ‘15, a neuroscience major. The purpose of the drive is to acquire books that will be sent to Uganda to help stock two reading centers put in major cities in the country. These reading centers will be used to help ensure that Ugandans have adequate reading material that will help them foster a culture of reading.
“For me, it’s about giving these students the same opportunities to learn and engage with extra-curricular learning that we’ve had [here in America],” Ogbeide said, in .
According to Ogbeide, the drive is the brainchild of a friend he met while interning with the Ashinaga organization in Japan over this past summer. Ashinaga—which translates to Daddy-Long-Legs—is a non-profit organization that got its start supporting orphaned children to get educated, and has since expanded its outreach to include disadvantaged and disabled children. Students who go through Ashinaga are given free schooling and housing with the understanding that after they have received their education they will repay it through what they do in their careers.
Ogbeide pointed out that the current Japanese Minister of Education was an Ashinaga student as a youth. Now, he is repaying the help he received tenfold through the position he is in and the policies he can enact to help students like himself.
“It shows that if you put the people in the right situations and the right environments and they will be able to thrive,” Ogbeide said about the Education Minister.
Ogbeide’s friend, Salongo Joseph, was a young student from Uganda that was picked by Ashinaga to go to school in Japan. Having recently graduated from Waseda University, Joseph has gone to work for Ashinaga and help other students receive the same opportunity that he received. The idea for the book drive came out of Joseph ‘s desire to help foster intellectual growth in his native country.
“Ugandans do not have the culture of reading and one of the chief reasons is due to limited access of reading materials,” said Joseph. “People can barely afford books given the ongoing struggle for many to even meet the bare necessities that life demands. With no public libraries or reading centers to help counter this problem, the lack of a reading culture in Uganda is a growing threat to the intellectual development of our nation.”
Ogbeide, who became good friends with Joseph during his internship with Ashinaga, was contacted by Joseph who asked him to talk with Dean of the College Christopher Roellke—who was at the time in the same city that Ogbeide was in as part of his Ashinaga internship—and arrange to start a book drive at school when he returned. Along with Ogbeide, Joseph talked with other members of the Ashinaga program from universities such as Princeton and Oxford, who will also be holding similar book drives on their respective campuses.
Vassar’s book drive started on the Tuesday after Oct. break and will run until Dec. 15, just before the end of the semester. The bins will remain out for collection until then.
To push the drive to the next level, Ogbeide reached out to the community for added support. Over the break, Ogbeide took to social media to ask his friends and fellow students to go through their personal libraries at home to see if they had any extra or spare books that they would be willing to donate to the cause.
The collection bins are located throughout campus. For those in the Town Houses, there is a bin in the laundry room next to the TH path. There is a bin next to the women’s bathrooms in the entrance of the Library, as well as a bin on the second floor of Rockefeller Hall by the bulletin board at the top of the stairs. In planning for the book drive, Ogbeide was careful about where to place the book-depositing bins. The bin that was placed in Rockefeller Hall was put there by design: Rocky plays host to the frequent faculty meetings, and Ogbeide hopes that having the bin right there will encourage professors to donate books.
“The faculty read even more than the students,” Ogbeide laughed. “And we read a lot.”
There will also be bins in the College Center or outside the Retreat.
“I have already received support from the Vassar administration, so I’ll be getting textbooks and the what not from professors/admins, but I think the best additions to this book drive will be from you guys,” Ogbeide wrote online in a blurb to the Vassar community.
The faculty have been very receptive to the book drive, thanks in large part to Dean Roellke spreading the word, explained Ogbeide.
“He’s been one hundred percent supportive,” Ogbeide said gratefully of Roellke. “He’s come through with everything I’ve asked from him. I’m really happy to have his help.”
Any kind of book is acceptable for donation, according to Ogbeide. The goal of the drive is to provide a wide array of books for people of all ages in Uganda to read—not just adults and not just students. The 50 to 60 books that have already been donated range from “Calvin and Hobbes” to textbooks to classic literature.
Ogbeide himself has donated several books: among them, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Decoded” by Jay-Z and a book on Banksy—the famed British graffiti artist. All of these books, Ogbeide claims, have influenced his life at different points, which is why he wants to share them.
“These are books that have pushed me during pivotal points in my life—why not share them?” Ogbeide questioned.
To him, books are an important part of an intellectual person’s life, and sharing books with others allows you to share a part of yourself with them. “It’s really clear that one of our ways here [at Vassar] of showing love to one another is to share literature with one another,” Ogbeide stated. “Like this is a book that has really touched me. Here.”
Though books that have been influential and impactful in people’s lives are great to have, there are spaces in the reading centers for books of a less profound nature. Ogbeide pointed out that no one might think they are interested in reading a book on things like knitting or carpentry until they have read it and realized that they really do enjoy the subject. Any book donators contribute will find a place in the reading centers, which are intended to serve as functional libraries and will hopefully serve a wide range of interestsm, he noted.
“We’re calling them reading centers but they’re more of a library. They will be placed in major areas in Uganda as places for people to go and be able to read,” said Ogbeide. “The same way that libraries function is the same way that these are trying the function.”
For Ogbeide, the book drive is in part a way for him to give back to those who made his summer experience at Ashinaga such a good one, but he believes that his reason for organizing the drive goes beyond that.
“I’m more comfortable with this kind of charity than with others,” Ogbeide mused. “Other kinds don’t really help solve the problems. That’s part of why I supported Ashinaga and fell in love with this kind of charity, it’s about aiming for long-term rewards”
He thinks that more traditional kinds of charity, such as sending food and blankets to poverty-stricken areas—while they do help those in need—don’t help eliminate the reasons that the people were in need of food and shelter to begin with. Providing them with literature, he and Joseph maintained, may help start a path toward improving their situation from the ground up. The creation of a reading culture in Uganda is an effort that Ogbeide feels is a worthy cause, not just one to make himself feel better.
“[This initiative] is fruitful in more ways than just ‘Oh now we’re helping these university students become more intellectually sound and well-rounded,’” said Ogbeide. “We’re establishing a new way to feel and connect. There are no words for that.”
Ogbeide also hopes that the book drive will help Uganda help within its own right, without becoming another extension of Western globalization.
“But Africa as a whole is in need of a real uplift,” Ogbeide reflected. “I guess whatever angle you can get it from is better than nothing.”
Though he has his reservations, Ogbeide holds out hope that the reading centers will help motivate Ugandan culture. “What I’m really hoping is that this project is more about catalyzing free thinkers,” Ogbeide added.
“It’s a way to give back not only to people that inspired me,” Ogbeide said, “But also to support a cause that I find very moving and important.”