Op-Ed

Help celebrate Lexington organization that ships books around the world

The bookstore at the newly remodeled International Book Project, 1440 Delaware Avenue in Lexington
The bookstore at the newly remodeled International Book Project, 1440 Delaware Avenue in Lexington cbertram@herald-leader.com

Five hundred thousand books shipped to requesting partners all over the world in 2020. That is the International Book Project’s goal as it celebrates its renovated warehouse and bookstore on Saturday, March 24, and recognizes partnerships with organizations in Kentucky and all over the world.

Glenn Blumhorst, president of the National Peace Corps Association, will come from Washington D.C. to help officially open IBP’s new doors on Delaware Avenue because of the decades-long partnership between International Book Project and the Peace Corps.

My husband and I were Peace Corps volunteer teachers in Liberia in the early 1960s, and we rejuvenated the library at our school with books sent by our family. After living in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Fiji, we moved to Lexington in 1975 and discovered Harriet Van Meter and International Book Project, which she founded in 1966.

I helped Harriet with several international festivals in the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. And I saw the stacks of books in the basement of her house where, until 1980, they were collected and packaged to send to schools and colleges who requested them — first in India and later in many other countries.

When I became an IBP board member, I discovered that the newsletter archives included many requests from Peace Corps volunteers. I could relate to a 1972 request from a volunteer in Kenya for her school’s “undernourished, atrophied library” to satisfy “her students’ incredible thirst for learning.”

Volunteers reported back. In 1989: “The books have been an incredible success! The world is opening up in far western Nepal.” In 1990 from Western Caroline Islands: “For many of these children, this is the first time they have ever read a book.”

When IBP held its 25th anniversary meeting in 1991, a former Peace Corps volunteer talked about her Solomon Islands school receiving books in 1989 — the last leg of their journey was by canoe.

Today, books are still crucial and requested.

A tally of shipments — small, pallet, and sea container — sent to Peace Corps volunteers from 2014-2018 includes these countries: Albania, Armenia, Belize, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guyana, Jamaica, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malawi, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Georgia, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand, Uganda, Western Samoa, Zambia. Volunteers in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa and Ukraine are in this year’s application process for books.

There are currently four IBP board members, and two past board members, who are returned Peace Corps volunteers, having served in Colombia, Liberia, Indonesia, Lesotho, Ecuador and Mali. We all know our country invested in us so we could return to serve our own communities in a way that reflects the global perspective that we gained.

You don’t have to be a Peace Corps volunteer to learn firsthand about International Book Project. IBP ships books to schools, libraries, universities, and non-governmental organizations in over 50 countries each year.

Come to 1440 Delaware Avenue on Saturday and bring a book (or several) to help IBP. The official dedication begins at 11:30 a.m., with children’s activities, food trucks and international arts, crafts, and music from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. International Book Project has sent more than 6.8 million books since 1966, and you can see our full range of work at this event.

Angene Wilson is the president of International Book Project’s board of directors.

For more information: On International Book Project, visit www.intlbookproject.org; on Glenn Blumhorst and the National Peace Corps Association: https://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/team

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