Donated Tasmanian schoolbooks travel by barge, carried by hand on jungle tracks to reach PNG children

Donated Tasmanian schoolbooks travel by barge, carried by hand on jungle tracks to reach PNG children
  • PublishedMarch 28, 2024

Leoni Read has the enviable job of sending donated books from Tasmania to school children in need.

Some people post them in by the boxful, while others drop off a few at a time at collection points in trucking depots and churches.

But most of the books the charity receives come from schools.

“We’ve got at least 15 schools down in Hobart, who each year regularly have turnovers of textbooks that they use, and library books that they no longer want,” Ms Read said.

“These are perfectly good books, which become surplus to the schools’ needs when they change reading sets.

“And they all get recycled, and sent off [by us] for use by these schools overseas.”

A woman wearing a blue button up shirt holds a pile of books while standing in front of a house.
Leoni Read is the president of Tasmanian charity Library Aid International.(ABC News: Sarah Abbott)

Used books repurposed

Anita Greene from Beulah in northern Tasmania spends most Mondays experiencing the “real thrill” of unpacking boxes of donated books.

“It’s so exciting because we never know what we’re going to find,” she said.

Ms Greene is part of a team of volunteers at Library Aid International (LAI), a Tasmanian charity that provides educational materials to schools in developing countries.

The books are sent in shipping containers to their final destination, with the group working on a container destined for Papua New Guinea.

So far, it’s about two-thirds full, and is expected to depart for the PNG island of New Britain in late May.

A woman with a black shirt leans over a pile of books, grinning.
Volunteer Kaye Kingham says she looks forward to book-sorting with the other volunteers each week.(ABC News: Sarah Abbott)

Ms Greene thinks its contents will be well received by school students in the south-west Pacific nation.

“That’s what we’re hoping, that they get the same excitement as we do when we’re opening the boxes here,” she said.

“It’s a really exciting process … a bit like Christmas.”

A tall, white shipping container.
It takes about 18 months to fill a container.(Supplied: Library Aid International)

Books go on travel adventure

During sorting, the donated books are categorised by content and checked for cultural appropriateness for their destination.

Those approved for travel are packed into donated, standard-sized boxes, 850 of which fit into a six-metre-long shipping container.

“It actually costs about $10,000 to both purchase a container and then cover the freight costs. It’s incredibly expensive,” Ms Read said.

“That’s why we’re fairly selective about what books go in that container.”

Ms Read said for some of the consignments, including their last one, the journey is long and multi-staged.

“The books got sent to a whole bunch of different islands which make up the Solomon Islands,” she said.

“So the container had to be unpacked and [the boxes] sent off on small barges, and then transported by trucks, and then carried by individual people along tracks and through creeks,” she said.

“And we’ve got some wonderful, wonderful pictures of the trips that some of these boxes of books have been through.”

Benefits flow to community

It takes a core team of 15 volunteers about 18 months to pack a container.

“They’re very enthusiastic team and they get on wonderfully well together,” she said.

The current consignment will be the twelfth of its kind by LAI, which in its 18-year history has distributed about 300,000 books to more than 500 schools, technical colleges and universities in northern Africa, South Africa, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

The charity’s volunteers range in age from 11 to 75, but they all give their time for the same reason.

“It’s very rewarding work, when you know that it’s going to benefit to a very large number of people,” Ms Read said.

“Here we are, a team of 15, and the people that will benefit in PNG will be in the hundreds, maybe even in the thousands.”

Two woman wearing a beige shirt leans into a box of books.
Margaret is enjoying mastering the art of efficient box-packing.(ABC News: Sarah Abbott)

This is because the benefits of the donated books are felt not only by the school children reading them but by the entire community.

“What happens in the communities that we send books to is you have not just a child enjoying them, but the whole family benefiting from seeing the readers,” she said.

“Fixing the education of a child affects their whole family and turns their lives around too.”

Education is the pathway to a “much brighter future” for all of them, Ms Read said.

For Ms Read and for many of her team members the highlight is seeing the books being enjoyed by those who received them. 

“And it’s a wonderful feeling, knowing the difference that makes in their lives,” she said.

Two woman wearing blue shirts both look into a box of books, grinning.
Zara (left) and Veena are some of the charity’s dedicated volunteers.(ABC News: Sarah Abbott)


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