Philanthropy beat: Hiking in Gambia to halt 'book famine'

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2012 - 7:39 PM

Tom Warth has been drumming up support for his Books for Africa nonprofit for 20 years. Today, he's slated to embark on one of his more creative fundraising endeavors: He's walking across Gambia.

Lest this appear to be a super-human feat, 'tis not the case. The length of Gambia, on the north-south road he will travel, is about 30 miles. But if all goes as planned, it will be a memorable journey.

Warth, interviewed by phone from Gambia, said he expects to be joined by medical volunteers from the Gambian nonprofit Hand in Health, students, international diplomats and other supporters along the way.

A tractor carrying thousands of books will follow behind the group, distributing them to the schools and schoolchildren.

"We're all very excited,'' said Warth, a spry 76-year-old from Stillwater. "We're going to deliver books as we walk. The children will come out. There will be bands.''

The goal is to raise funds to ship 1 million books to Gambia, a tiny country where books can be a luxury at home and at school. With a national literacy rate of 45 percent, the books could have a huge effect, especially for women and children, he said.

"There are 750,000 children in Gambia -- the smallest country in Africa -- out of a population of 1.5 million,'' Warth said. "If we can bring them books and highlight their need for books, we will begin to solve the book famine.''

Warth, who founded Books for Africa after closing his Stillwater bookstore in 1988, said he chose to walk across Gambia because of its manageable size and because his nonprofit had partners there.

That includes some Minnesota connections, such as a board member of Hands in Health and several volunteer medical workers who will join him on the walk.

Books for Africa already has a commitment of 200,000 books, including legal books from Thomson Reuters. "But we need more help,'' said Warth.

Go to www.booksfor africa. org.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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