Used textbooks start out in a Middleton warehouse and end up in Africa, thanks to Carol and Bob Dombroski and volunteers from Madison Breakfast Rotary.
The Madison Breakfast Rotary just wants a snow shovel.
Sure, money would help to defray the costs of sending used U.S. textbooks overseas to southern Africa as part of a literacy project called Rotary Books for the World.
But in the short term, the handful of volunteers who collect, unpack, sort and repack the books for African school kids need a way to shovel their loading dock this winter.
The operation started in a house in McFarland in 2005, then moved to about 1,500 square feet of office space. The project has just moved to a spacious new warehouse donated by Welton Enterprises, a property management company, in the Golf Green Industrial Park off Hwy. 14 in Middleton. At 7,500 square feet, Rotary Books for the World has plenty of room to prepare tons - literally - of textbooks for shipment to Africa.
Rotary member Carol Dombroski, a retired teacher, and her husband, Bob, shepherd the project. Carol drives all over southern Wisconsin to pick up books that school systems discard when updating editions or changing curricula. She's collected books from Milwaukee to Dickeyville, sometimes in a van, sometimes in a rented moving truck. "We've had to refuse books from some schools because there's no money for us to rent a truck," she says.
Usually the books arrive in what Bob Dombroski calls "crappy boxes," an assortment of cardboard boxes ranging from supermarket-culled liquor boxes to boxes actually meant for books but now misshapen and ripped. The Madison volunteers consolidate them and repack them solidly on pallets for transport first by truck to Houston and then on sea containers to Africa. "To survive shipping to Africa, disciplined packing is important," says Bob.
Southern African schools teach in English from the third grade up, so the textbooks are immediately put to use. Children's storybooks, preschool board books, reference titles, teacher resources and the like are also needed. The books are also used by hospitals, nursing homes, churches and prisons. Within the past five years, Rotary Books for the World has shipped over 130 tons of books having a value of over $2.5 million to Africa.
The program not only gets textbooks to schoolchildren, it saves the books from being landfilled or pulped here. The sea containers used are old ones that are left in Africa instead of returning to Houston. There, they might become used for anything from housing to a library to keep the books in.
The new, larger warehouse space is helpful, say the Dombroskis: "It's a nicer setup." Pallet stacking can now take place indoors, out of the elements.
The group's needs are modest. They have the donated space and tables on which to sort the books. But the warehouse could use a few amenities, like a mini-refrigerator to handle volunteers' sack lunches and beverages (the warehouse has no running water); shelving on which to store their supplies, a coat rack, first-aid kit, vacuum cleaner, push broom and snow shovel. And for packing: bubble wrap, shrink wrap and packaging tape.
Volunteers are welcome at the sorting sessions where books are packed. But money would also be appreciated. It costs $2,000 just to truck a shipment of texts to Houston - "the trucking company does give us a little break on cost," says Bob.
The books are definitely needed. Most of them are sent to South Africa, some to Zimbabwe and Zambia. These may be the only books the schools have, in an educational situation that's "far different from here in the U.S.," says Carol Dombroski. "You can't really talk about kids in Africa without talking about AIDS. There are teachers dying, kids dying, kids raising kids."
It seems like an impossible task to tackle. But you could start with a snow shovel.
Madison Breakfast Rotary can be contacted at madisonbreakfastrotary.org, or for more email Carol Dombroski at carol.d [at] charter.net.