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Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Invisible Treasure Every American Has That Could Change the World

Photo: South Africa housing. Photo 2: Zambia School
What if you had a tool that could end world ignorance and reduce the threat of terrorism, would you use it? If you had a valuable treasure lying about in your house, would you throw it in the trash? We do that every day in America.

Nearly every American has a goldmine scattered about their homes that is missing in much of the world. Even with a global recession, job losses and damaged 401K’s, Americans have an opportunity to turn that hidden wealth into an instrument of value and goodwill that costs them little or nothing but could transform the world with rich returns.

I just spent several hours on Saturday helping a Rotary team in a La Porte, Texas warehouse load abandoned school books and other donated books onto pallets that will be shipped to South Africa where many schools have no books at all. Many schools are lucky to have only a tiny chalkboard as the only resource, if that. It all started because of a meeting between a Rotarian in Seabrook and a man from South Africa that had a project that needed books.

Our kids think kids in other countries have what we have. I heard about one kid who commented: “Why are we giving them our junk?” There is a saying that one man’s trash is another's treasure. Our out-of- date books may be considered “junk” to our schools and put in the dump, but they are still a treasure to people who have no books at all. We are throwing out treasure every day that could be put to a good use.

In Pakistan, kids are sent to religious schools only because the parents can’t afford schooling. The religious schools “Madrasses” only teach hate -- not reading, writing, world history and math. These “schools” don’t have books. Imagine if those kids had access to our old books and the different view of the world it would give them. In our packing yesterday I saw books on Lincoln, art, math workbooks, wonderful stuff to a kid with no shoes in the slums of Mumbai or Johannesburg or a thousand other places.

The recipients even use the containers the books are shipped in! They become libraries, clinics or sewing centers. They are needed as secure buildings and training centers.

This project is called “Rotary Books for the World.” Every American can participate, even without spending a dime. You could donate old books, or help send books to Houston for shipment in containers. People from around the world who want books can also help. If you live in another country and know of a warehouse that could be a distribution center or an organization willing to help distribute books on that end, then we have people on both ends working on a common mission. Or you can donate money to the Second Wind Foundation. The website is

In the warehouse, we came across a pallet of Spanish books that had been donated by a group in Juarez, Mexico to a school in San Antonio. Those books will be sent to a school in Central America where we have a sister group, in Nicaragua.

This is a program that our kids should also be involved in; so that they can see the reality of how lucky they are in the world -- and how they can help make it a better place by helping other kids get books.

Mark Twain once said: “The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.” The reality is that people can’t learn to read if they don’t have books to read. We have been throwing ours in the trash instead of allowing them to be the treasure to others that they represent. Even if you don’t have a job, you can still donate books. It won’t cost you a dime but will make the world a richer place.

It will also give the world another face for Americans, who come carrying books. In the end, the books will win over those that guns won’t. A world that can read is better off than one where billions can’t. Donate a book to your local Rotary club -- and some of your time -- to make it a better place.

This report on Saturday's work just came in:
"The group worked from about 8:30 am until 3:00 pm. The pallet count when we finished was 60 which included 7 of the large Gaylords. The days work should fill two containers or be about 80,000 lbs which would provide about $800,000 worth of educational materials if our formula of an average book is 1 lb. and worth $10."

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