Books For Africa (BFA) is a global donation project that receives English books from all regions of the world and delivers them to children in Malawi, an English-speaking state in Africa. The core idea of BFA lies in Lee Hee-jun’s faith in education. He believes that Africa’s long term success can only be achieved by its autonomous act and efforts for improvement through accumulation of intelligent and educational assets.
“Sometimes people ask me why I help another country when I can help relieve problems in my own,” Lee said. “It is simply because I am more interested in African children. I was also inspired during a volunteering activity in Cambodia when I saw the purity reflected in the children’s eyes.”
The project is designed to be a continuous one that constantly pursues other expanded goals. Since the group’s initiation in October 2011, approximately 1.5 million books have been donated through major projects that were successfully conducted and are still ongoing.
One BFA project involved receiving 400 donated books from a school under the United Nation’s Millennium Village project that attempts to relieve poverty issue. In other projects, the group donated English books to Nepal and Spanish books to El Salvador.
“I receive calls from different parts of the world asking for help,” Lee said. “Although the group had started with just English books, the scope of donation has increased to give as much help as possible to those in need.”
Along with Lee, 10 university student members majoring in different areas actively utilize their own talents and professional knowledge to help with the entire process. For instance, a member with specialized knowledge in computer programming makes official posters for advertisement and another majoring in political relations translates and communicates with donors or supporters from abroad.
Since the group does not receive any financial aid from sponsors, the members are responsible for seeking ways to deliver the goods.
“I met with the CEOs of companies to ask if we could fill up spare containers with the donated books and distribute them upon arrival in Africa,” Lee said. “Impressed by our cause, several companies willingly provided us containers to fill with books and deliver them.”
Another major concern is discriminating the appropriate and suitable books for the children. Books that contain political or religious contents are disregarded, as well as those that may raise uneasiness and emotional despair.
“We have to try to view and comprehend the books strictly from the African children’s perspective,” Lee said. “For that reason, the books that may cause the children to feel alienation or despair because of a financial and technological gap are disregarded.”
Lee expresses his desire to introduce and share BFA, a medium for donation and “his tool” with others. In fact, many people who have been inspired by Lee’s project gather books and deliver them to different parts of the world. Starting from 2013, the group has become an open source, informing and encouraging others to donate books under their own names instead of BFA. As a result, many people inspired by BFA’s activity have started to donate on their own. The donated materials have been diversified from books to first aid kits.
Lee seeks to help solve problems in Korea as well through a social venture called Cookit that helps traditional markets in Korea.
“I am pleased that others are also inspired to take part and give themselves,” Lee said. “I hope the project to further expand to create opportunities for those in need.”