Deborah Freedman Lustig’s birthday wish was simple: help pack 3,066 books to ship to three libraries in the small African country of Swaziland where children eagerly await the printed word.
She gathered her immediate and extended family at her home, and the group set to work packing 48 boxes of books she collected in collaboration with a middle school.
Lustig is leaving her mark in her community and in villages thousands of miles away. The UC Berkeley research associate is a volunteer board member for the African Library Project, which collects new and slightly used books to stock new libraries in Africa.
“I love to read and I believe in the transformative power of reading. We have mountains of books that are often sent off to the landfills in the U.S.,” Lustig said. “But that’s not the case in Africa.”
In her spare time, she also volunteers with the Contra Costa County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), offering a voice for foster children.
Lustig joined the board of the nonprofit library project three years ago, having witnessed “book hunger” in Africa first hand. In 1988, she taught at a high school in Kenya and started a library there. She returned as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in 2004.
“I’ve seen how desperate Kenyan children are for books,” Lustig said. “They share one textbook for all their classes. They don’t have books to read for pleasure.”
The project seeks to fill that void by collaborating with government and community groups in English-speaking African countries to create stable, sustainable libraries stocked with interesting reading material.
The library project then works with schools, groups, families and individuals in the U.S. to collect books and raise the money for shipping. It costs about $500 to send 1,000 books to Africa.
Librarians and teachers in Africa report that the books help children improve their literacy and build their vocabulary, Lustig said. And for those in the U.S. collecting books, it deepens their understanding of educational conditions in other parts of the world and empowers them to make a difference, she added.
Closer to home, Lustig is no stranger to the challenges children can face. A close friend was a foster child and had been abused by a foster parent. When she died of cancer in 2005, Lustig chose to honor her friend’s memory by becoming a court-appointed special advocate.
“It’s a way to help at least one child have a more positive experience in foster care,” Lustig said. “It’s never going to be an easy process. They should have someone who’s going to be on their side.”
Courtesy of Katherine Tam and UC Office of the President.