For most of us, being able to simply grab a book – whether it’s from a bookstore, a local library, or our own personal collection – is something we take for granted. But, when Heather Doonan spent a year living in remote Fiji, she discovered that reading books is actually more of a luxury.
So, she started Books 4 PNG. Her brainwave came in 1997 – around the same time that tonnes of books were being pulped in Australia – and she shipped her first container full of a variety of different books to Fiji, inviting local school teachers to help themselves to the massive supply. In about three weeks, the container was empty.
“We realised we needed to do better and have the books sorted to suit the schools,” says Heather. “When we returned to Australia we started collecting from local schools and sorting and packing books under our house. That year, we also travelled to Papua New Guinea and realised the need for books in schools was far greater than Fiji. So, when we returned to Australia we tripled our efforts and started sending books to PNG.”
More than twenty years later, Books 4 PNG has transformed from a personal project to a major community operation. Dedicated pink vans pick up the spoils from book drives – organised by anyone and everyone – from all over south-east Queensland, northern New South Wales and Victoria. Then, a team of volunteers get together to pack books and label boxes every Friday, in Salisbury, Brisbane. Fans of the project can follow the progress on their Facebook page (check it out here: books4pngkids), and more and more schools, community groups and individuals are getting involved week after week.
“In Australia our main donations come from school libraries, city council libraries, school book drives, individuals and churches,” says Heather. “We have also got some publishers on board as well as individual authors and school suppliers, the latter whom often donate pencils and crayons for kids that we pack in with each box of books.”
One such publisher is Fabic Publishing, who have recently donated 5000 books from their range of children’s books to the project. It’s contributions like this that see Books 4 PNG shipping around 150 boxes per week to most of the provinces in PNG.
“Over the years we have developed many reliable contacts all over country, who deliver the books to the schools,” says Heather. “The response has been overwhelming – we even have help from mining companies and exporters who help us ship the books. Everybody donates their time and resources for free, which is a huge support and enables us to sustain Books 4 PNG Kids.”
Keen to get involved? You can organise a book drive or become a book-packing volunteer yourself! Simply head to www.books4pngkids.org for more info.