Can you imagine a school with no books? Or a community where the one new book, magazine or newspaper is shared widely, because the cost and availability of new items is beyond the means of everyone?

What is an exception in the U.S. is the norm in rural Botswana, a landlocked country in southern Africa where more than half the population is at or below the poverty line.

When I became a Peace Corps volunteer and moved to Botswana in 2007, I expected to only leave the U.S. and my comforts of Rio Rancho for two years, but fell in love with the country and its people, especially its children. I have now lived in Botswana for over 12 years, spending the last five years dedicated to developing a culture of reading, building libraries and bringing leisure books and novels to students.

The Botswana Book Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 1998, serves to increase literacy and address the ‘’book famine” in the country. As executive director, a volunteer position, I work to ensure books get to those most in need throughout Botswana through marketing, raising funds and awareness, and physically visiting schools.

We work to get leisure books and novels into the hands of kids, to help reach our goals. Botswana is focusing its efforts on becoming a knowledge-based economy, and this can only be achieved through increased literacy, books and a love for reading.

Since its inception, Botswana Book Project has donated over 1.2 million books to schools and community libraries, with over 100,000 being donated in the past two years.

We are solely dependent on donations and volunteers. We are a lean organization that has managed to do a lot of good.

We work with Minnesota-based Books for Africa to obtain books, but still manage all the finances for getting the books to Botswana, distribution and follow-up throughout the country. We also engage with the Ministry of Basic Education to ensure the infrastructure (bookshelves, training, materials) are in place for the books we donate, even if we need to provide them.

I miss New Mexico and my home here, but I love the work and the impact I am making in Botswana. My recent visit back in Rio Rancho has reminded me of the great differences and similarities between my two homes.

Kids are the same around the world, and they all love books, and their desires for a bright future are the same. A book is an amazing gift that can bring a smile, a laugh and a future to a deserving child.

I love that I can be part of that journey, and I hope that my Rio Rancho home can assist as well. There are several ways to assist:

• You can reach out to us via email at bots[email protected] and via Facebook at Botswana Book Project.

• Donate via our Go Fund Me account.

• Donate funds to next shipment of books via Books for Africa, expressly stating funds are for Botswana Book Project.

Andrea Malenya

Rio Rancho native, Botswana resident