Education

Roxbury Generosity Yields a Boatload of Books for Africa

Credits: Mike Gottfried
Credits: Mike Gottfried

ROXBURY, NJ – The generosity of Roxbury was on display this week as thousands of books, donated by local people, were shipped to less fortunate African students.

Brought to an airport on Wednesday night, the books will soon be packed onto a ship in New Orleans, said Roxbury High School teacher Mike Gottfried, who spearheaded the local effort for the African Library Project. “The support and the number of books we got this year was just amazing,” he said. “We collected more than 21,000 books this year.”

That’s more books than Gottfried has seen gathered since he began helping with the project six years ago while a student at Penn State University. Gottfried, a Landing resident, graduated from Roxbury High School in 2009 and was hired two years ago to teach physics and geophysical science at the school.

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Organizing the yearly book drives for the African Library Project has been a rewarding endeavor for Gottfriend. Traveling to Africa with others from the organization, Gottfriend saw how the donated books help bring literacy to students enduring learning environments unthinkable here.

“I spent eight nights in Malawi and it was humbling,” he said. “Whenever I talk about it here to students I put up a picture of what we have: computers, cellphones, laptops, books. Then I show a school in Africa where there is, literally, an empty classroom. It didn’t even have a door because the doors kept getting stolen. The kids were sitting on a concrete floor. They pack 150 kids into a room and somehow teach.”

Gottfried said he was pleasantly surprised when, while touring a school library in Africa, he realized the books he was seeing had been donated by Roxbury. “I got to visit a lot of the libraries and one of them happened, by chance, to be a library Roxbury started," he said. "We got to see all our hard work in action.”

A library consists of 1,000 books. To date, collection efforts by Gottfriend and colleagues have launched about 61 libraries in six African countries. Of the 21,000 books collected here this year, 9,000 will go to Africa and 12,000 are being donated to the Big Brothers & Big Sisters Foundation.

Organizing and packing the thousands of books was a big job. It was handled by students – including many from the Roxbury High School Key Club and National Honor Society, said Gottfried.

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