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For readers an ocean away

Students in a club at Sickles High School prepare to accept book donations that will go to students in Namibia.

By SHERYL KAY
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- More than 7,000 miles away, in a little village called Okaukuejo, in the country of Namibia, children labor to learn English without books and with few teachers proficient in the language.

For the past decade, since its independence from colonial South Africa, the small country (along the Atlantic coast just south of Angola) has struggled with its official mandate to adopt English as its national language because of a lack of resources, and because more than a half-dozen languages are spoken there.

Beginning in early February, some students at Sickles High School hope to change that by collecting English-language books to fill the first library in Okaukuejo (Oh-kah-KWAY-yo).

Members of the school's new Interact Club, a youth service organization affiliated with Rotary International, became aware of Okaukuejo's need when Ted Wilson, vocation committee chairman for the Tampa Carrollwood Rotary Club, came to a meeting in December. Among other things, the club needed to settle on an international service project.

"I did mention a couple of ideas, although I probably favored this one," Wilson said. "It's not like collecting money and giving it to a charity and then you don't know where the money is being spent. Here you are giving a book to a community where you know it's going to be appreciated and used."

Kessanda Abel, a senior at Sickles and the president of their Interact Club, said the group's members appreciated the international scope of the project, and its urgency.

"Other organizations we might be able to help out at any time, but this was an immediate need," Kessanda, 18, said. "And the project is going to help other people learn, and speak English, so they can communicate with the global community."

What brought Carrollwood Rotary to Okaukuejo?

Marty Greengrass of Cheval, a member of the club, has a daughter who served there in the Peace Corps. Sara Greengrass, 22, described the village at a Rotary meeting. She explained that the village serves as the administrative center for the Etosha National Park, where the tourism industry has brought a modicum of success for many residents.

Within the village are one elementary and one middle school, and Greengrass' assignment was to open a library for the two.

Today there are about 200 books in that library, Marty Greengrass said, but the demand for more books is great.

"Children have to go to the nearest town, about 150 kilometers away, in order to find a real English library," he said. "They hardly have anything, but they don't need romance novels. They need real literature."

Though the formal start of the book drive is still some weeks off, Interact is already forming an advertising strategy.

"We'll get word out through the intercom system, we'll make posters and put them throughout the school, and we'll promote it in the school newspaper," said marketing teacher Sam Perrone, the club adviser. "We will have a mission statement, and a goal that is measurable, and then we'll try to beat that goal."

With more than 2,000 students enrolled at Sickles, Perrone anticipates good results.

"We need our kids to go into their closets and shelves and see if there's a book they can donate to a good cause," he said.

Once the drive begins, books will be collected at the Mercantile Bank located at 10821 N Dale Mabry Highway. That is the only branch that will accept them. The books can be new or used, suitable for children through the eighth grade.

The Carrollwood Rotary will then ship the books to Africa. For more information, call Ted Wilson at 963-5077.

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