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Collecting 2,000 books for children 8,210 miles away

Elon graduate joins Peace Corps, works with African Library Project

by Marlena Chertock, November 9, 2010

Elon alumna Erica Rossi entered the Peace Corps after graduation. She is stationed in Lesotho, located in Africa. Photo submitted.

A 2009 Elon graduate has a big goal. She looks to collect 2,000 books by Dec. 1 and send them to Lesotho, a country in Africa.

Erica Rossi is currently serving in the Peace Corps and is stationed in Lesotho. She lives in the same conditions as the people there: in a mud hut with no electricity or running water. She said she works closely with children there and noticed that the number of books is scarce.

“These books will probably be the only books they will touch in
their lifetimes that are not more than 20 years old,” Rossi said.
In September, Rossi talked about the project with an education class at Elon.

“She asked if anyone was interested in helping her out,” junior Whitney Lynde said. “It just kind of fell into our laps.”

Lynde, Kaylyn Smialek and Laura Parker, all education majors at Elon, are helping Rossi with the project. They are collecting books and money on campus and sending them to Rossi’s mom, Brenda Rossi. She will then send them to her daughter in Lesotho.

Lynde didn’t know Rossi before the project. She said she wanted to be involved in the project because she wants to go to Africa in the future.

“My schedule was a little busy to travel and study abroad,” she said. “But I heard (Rossi) and I immediately wanted to figure out a way to go there. I wanted to help out with books.”

Lynde said they are trying to have an event on campus to collect books.

“The entrance fee would be a children’s book,” she said. “We’re trying to get that together. We’re just kind of reaching out wherever we can. Right now, Elon students don’t have books lying around their dorm.”

But they do at home, or so Lynde says. If Lynde asks students to bring books home after Thanksgiving break, she said she thinks they’ll come back with more.

“I have books lying around at home,” she said.

Rossi said Lesotho is admittedly a “non-reading culture” and English is the second language to Sesotho. Many students and teachers have a difficult time learning, reading, speaking and teaching English, she said.

“Despite the difficulties, two of the elementary schools I work with expressed an interest in encouraging a culture of reading by setting up classroom libraries,” Rossi said.

The libraries are being created through an organization called African Library Project, which Rossi had to apply to.

“After being approved to be a part of the program, I, my family, friends and (the students at Elon) have to collect $1,000 and 2,000 new or mildly-used children’s books,” she said.

The books are scheduled to be shipped to Rossi in May. Once the books arrive, Rossi said she and Lesotho students and teachers will catalog the books, create classroom libraries and hold a series of workshops instructing teachers and students how to effectively use the library in their classrooms. She said they hope to have the library opened in July.

This library project is a secondary endeavor for Rossi.

“My primary work assignment with the Peace Corps is to teach at the only teaching college in the country — Lesotho College of Education,” she said. “But Peace Corps volunteers are encouraged to take on secondary projects.”

Rossi said going on the South African study abroad trip during her junior year influenced her to join the Peace Corps.

“I saw how few resources were available in the schools,” she said. “I decided I wanted to go back to sub-Saharan Africa to teach and help the education system in any way I could.”

Rossi’s parents were in the military and she said that while she didn’t want to follow that track, she was interested in international development work.

“I did want to test myself and serve my country in a way I was more comfortable with,” she said.

Rossi began applying to the Peace Corps at the beginning of her senior year. She received her placement after graduation and left in November. Her service will end in January 2012.

Elon professors have helped Rossi along the way. English Professor Prudence Layne has agreed to collect $500 and 1,000 books for one of the libraries, Rossi said. Education professors Knight-McKenna and Stephen Byrd have collected books and gathered support by allowing Rossi to speak to their classes.

Rossi called Lynde, Smialek and Parker her female power-houses.

“They are incredible women who are taking time out of their busy schedules to help children who otherwise might not have the opportunity to learn to read English,” she said.

Lynde said they are not picky about the quality of books they receive.

“We just want a lot of books,” she said. “We’re hoping to get multicultural books, books about health. (The children) are capable of reading more picture books than chapter books.”

Lynde is working on a trip to Lesotho for the summer. She said it is still in the planning stages.

“Hopefully (Smialek) and I can go there this summer and visit (Rossi),” Lynde said.

Lynde said she thought it was interesting how Rossi could help the teachers in Lesotho, and give them different strategies and resources.

“I thought maybe I could do that,” she said.

She said they plan on going for three or four weeks to teach a unit on health.

“AIDS is a really big problem there,” she said. “Maybe we could do a health unit for kids, have some focus for when we’re there. We’re not sure what it’s going to be yet.”

Lynde said she and the other Elon students involved are trying to set up a book drop box in Mooney.

“Education majors love books, so maybe they would take them,” she worried. “But I’ll pick up books from anywhere.”

These books may end up being the only ones the children and community members in Lesotho have access to within many miles, Rossi said.

Types of books needed for the library:

• Baby books
• Children’s picture books
• Children’s fiction and non-fiction
• Early readers
• BIG books
• Teacher books for school libraries
• Children’s dictionaries/picture dictionaries
• Encyclopedias less than 15 years old
• Children’s Encyclopedias/Picture Encyclopedias
• Children’s thesauruses
• Paperback textbooks in math, English, geography, health and science at appropriate level (kindergarten to 6th grade)
• Books with universal themes (friendships, animals, love)
• Children’s health books
• Up-to-date atlases
• Books about Africa or African Americans
• Brain teasers, flash cards, educational games and puzzles
• “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
-e-mail Whitney Lynde at wlynde@elon.edu to donate books or money