Many college students study abroad to travel the world and experience new things. One group of UConn students decided to do it a little differently.
Anna Burbank, Allie Ball, Patrick Clarke and Liz Sarant went to Cape Town, South Africa to make a difference.
They were horrified to discover that the students of the Nyanga township’s Sithembele Matiso High School spend most of their academic careers without access to books. The school library is an empty room with two broken shelves and some old furniture, according to Clarke. To say resources are limited would be an understatement.
After seeing these modest conditions, the four students asked administrators how they could help. The answer came in the form of Books For Nyanga, a state-wide book drive to benefit the high school library.
After founding the organization, Burbank, Ball, Clarke and Sarant reached out to their friends back home. They rallied support on Facebook and Twitter and set up an online donation form. Donations immediately began pouring in.
“It’s just blown up into this huge project. It’s amazing the support we’ve gotten,” Burbank said.
The Books For Nyanga initiative has collected more than 90 boxes of books in just four weeks. Student volunteers at UConn’s Storrs campus planned to meet Friday to prepare the donated books for shipment. UPS employee John Buonaiuto, a friend of Anna’s father, Harold Burbank, asked the company to help cover shipping costs.
The founders are keeping all the details under wraps in an effort to surprise high school students at the end of the semester. They hope to unveil the new library in an April ceremony.
This is the first time UConn students in Cape Town have tackled a project of this magnitude. Clarke said he hopes Books For Nyanga will inspire others to give back to communities in need. He said the founders are excited about the support and publicity they’ve received, but they don’t want to be heroes. They want the attention to remain on the high school and its students.
“We don’t want us to be the main focus of it,” Clarke said.
Connecticut native Ralph Nader showed his support by donating a large box of books from his home in Winsted, according to Harold Burbank.
The Books For Nyanga founders plan to keep their mission alive even after returning to the States. They hope to visit Nygana a few years from now to reconnect with students and teachers and see the fruits of their labor.
To donate to Books For Nyanga, click here.