No matter how many amazing things I had seen in Ethiopia– castles rising through the mist and mountains, flamingoes flapping in a pink cloud over a Rift Valley lake–when I visited the U.S., I couldn’t talk about it. When I arrvied as an eighth grader, my fellow classmates in Pasadena asked, “Did you see Tarzan?” I learned that if I wanted to try to fit in, I should not mention Ethiopia.
As many years as I’ve lived in America, I haven’t forgotten those awkward, outsider feelings. It still amazes me to be part of events like the one at the arboretum last weekend. Kids came for the cookies and the nature journals and to get their Lanie books signed and hear about how I wrote the Lanie stories. But they also laughed at my jokes and ooh-ed and aah-ed at my pictures of Ethiopia and told me they were glad they could help get books to kids in Ethiopia.
Just as amazing was the Wichita school speaking on Monday and Tuesday. These days, I don’t know how any teachers and libraries have energy for anything extra. How do they not only care intensely about their own students, but also about reading around the world? I visited three schools that really care.
All three schools are gathering gently used books to give to LeAnn, so she can sort and pack and add them to the pallets that will be sailing to Ethiopia sometime right after the first of the year. Some energetic and creative fourth graders had done a fundraiser to pay for getting the books on their way, too. The director promised they’d give us a check at the end of my talk. I dared hope for maybe a hundred dollars.
Those are SOME fourth graders!
That money is going to do wondrous good in Ethiopia where dollars go so far. This year, for example, we’re adopting a Love a Library program for the libraries we’ve already planted, and it’s only going to cost $500 to fill shelves with local language books (the ones that inevitably are tattered from so much reading).
But what makes me excited more than anything is knowing how powerful the kids feel who do make a difference. Sometimes they’ve never had the chance to give. Giving has a kind of zing that we sometimes seem to think only comes with getting.
The author of Three Cups of Tea talks about watching kids scratch letters in the dirt and thinking that if they were so hungry to learn, someone had better figure out a way to get them a school. It was a school in the United States that jumped in.
Kids know that other kids should have books.