Laurel students give gift of reading to children abroad
High school freshmen and sophomores collected more than 1,000 books
Over the course of three weeks, 15-year-old Jeremy Bannis spent a total of 18 hours after school sorting, counting and packing more than 1,000 books.
His labor will help create one library and countless opportunities for hundreds of children halfway across the world.
The freshman was one of eight St. Vincent Pallotti High School freshmen and sophomores who helped their school librarian, Amy Siegel, collect 1,065 books to stock a new elementary school library in rural Swaziland.
"I'm a devout Catholic and my mom always told me to do things for others, not just for myself," said Jeremy of Beltsvile. "I get to help others, and I hope the children will read the books, enjoy them and think of us as a family helping family."
Freshman Hannah Antonelli, 15, of Ellicott City said the thought of not having easy access to books was unfathomable.
Thousands of books and DVDs line Pallotti's library shelves, so when Hannah learned that many Swaziland children didn't have that luxury, she decided to help.
"I've heard about Swaziland but I didn't know so many children didn't have any books there, so I thought this would be a good way to give the gift of reading," Hannah said.
Siegel spoke to students in the school's English classes in January about doing a book drive through The African Library Project, a California-based nonprofit organization that works to increase literacy in rural Africa by providing children's books. She said as a librarian, the cause is especially meaningful to her.
"I think books and literacy are a way to open up the world to people," Siegel said.
In early February, Siegel and the students set a goal of collecting 1,000 books, the project minimum to build a library.
Hannah told her fellow students about the drive during the school's closed circuit morning television announcements and at the school's annual basketball banquet. Parents and basketball team members donated 400 books, and in the following week, hundreds of students, faculty and parents made individual donations.
"The enthusiasm for the book drive reflected the sentiment of St. Vincent, who once said, Remember that the Christian life is one of action, not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well,'" Siegel said.
The total shipping cost was $550, $250 of which was donated by the school's Student Government Association. Students held bake sales to cover the remaining costs.
After six weeks of collecting books, Siegel and her students surpassed their goal March 17, and on March 24, they loaded the books into a van and shipped them off.
"I think the children will be pleased because the key to life and knowing a lot of things is books," said freshman Dylan Harris, 15, of Mitchellville.