BookAid receives Virginia Tech's Outstanding Achievement by an Organization Award
by Susan Dickerson
BookAid, a non-profit organization that distributes college-level textbooks to third-world countries, has received Virginia Tech's Outstanding Achievement by an Organization Award.
BookAid is a student-run organization that donates used college textbooks to promote learning at higher-education institutions lacking in resources. The information contained in the donated textbooks is critical in the development of knowledge, which is in turn crucial in the socio-economic development of poverty-stricken countries said Ali Etebari, of Durham, N.H., founder and president of BookAid.
The Outstanding Achievement by an Organization Award is one of nine University Student Leadership Awards given annually to recognize volunteerism, service-learning experiences, and outstanding students and organizations.
"There are so many organizations that are doing amazing work, and the fact that BookAid was given the honor to be associated with them, let alone winning an award amongst them, is a true tribute to our success," Etebari said.
The organization targets institutions that have lost much of their resources due to civil or international unrest, natural and manmade disasters, as well as other unavoidable circumstances.
Etebari, a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, began BookAid in November 2002 after hearing about a similar book drive program from his brother, Mehrun Etebari, who attends Brandeis University. Both brothers decided to create book drive organizations at their respective universities modeled after a program at the University of New Hampshire in their hometown of Durham, N.H.
"The inspiration for beginning BookAid was really just from a waste of resources standpoint, which is something that I hate to see, especially when it prevents those that need education the most from achieving their academic goals," Etebari said.
The books collected by BookAid are primarily donated by students at Virginia Tech and are collected by the three major bookstores. Although in the university's eyes these books have lost their value, to others they are valuable resources that otherwise would be unavailable to them, Etebari said.
Last year's efforts, organized in conjunction with Mehrun Etebari's program at Brandeis University, were focused on raising books for several higher-education institutions in West Africa. The Nigeria and Sierra Leone were in the midst of crippling civil wars, causing them to face shortages of educational institutions and the resources to support them. During this first year, BookAid succeeded in raising more than 5,000 desperately needed books that were sent to University of Liberia, the NGO in Ethiopia, and Njala College University in Sierra Leone.
BookAid's current efforts are focused on the University of Mali and Domasi College in Malawi. Both schools lack a library, and their large student populations magnify the lack of availability of adequate textbooks. BookAid is hoping to send around 50 boxes to each school, but the organization is still seeking funds to get the books sent out by this summer, Etebari said.
BookAid has relied on the support and aid of the university and Blacksburg community to fuel its book collecting efforts. In its first year, Virginia Tech's three bookstores collected the donations, and two self-storage facilities donated free storage units to house the books. In addition, Virginia Tech's Panhellenic Council had its member sororities sell doughnuts to raise money to fund the shipping of the books.
"This effort could not be possible without the help and donations of the many people that have come together to help," Etebari said. "We hope to continue in our mission of providing education opportunities for students in universities that are less fortunate than us."