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“Went to Africa for one reason and one reason only: I wanted to see animals in the wild while they’re still in the wild,” Roy Austin said, a resident of Sun City in Bluffton, South Carolina.
But as life often is, he found his real purpose for going on the trip to be an unexpected surprise.
“We visited a school in Amboseli [Kenya],” Austin said. “One of the people in our tour group asked the teacher, ‘Do you have a library?’ And her eyes lit up and said ‘No, but we’d love to.’ These schools do not have internet, so I kept that in mind I thought, ‘How hard could this be?’”
Inspired from his return, Austin started “Libraries for Kids International”, a Lowcountry nonprofit now collecting and donating books and other educational resources to rural schools in Africa.
“We mail them through the post office, a fraction of the cost of FedEx. The books get there, and they got to the post office in Kenya, but there’s no delivery there,” Austin said. “So the teachers go to the post office, pick up the books and transport them to the school. A lot of times that’s by just putting them on the back of a motorcycle.
Through the help of a donation from a local storage company, Austin has been able to keep hundreds of books safe for free in a storage unit. While still in the beginning stages of this effort, he’s so far been able to donate books to 11 schools in Kenya and estimates roughly 1,000 books have been donated, as his operations grow bigger every day.
“People said it wouldn’t work, ‘It’s too expensive and it’s too expensive to ship books. It’ll get lost in customs.’ We found less expensive ways of getting it shipped,” Austin said. “Apparently there’s no black market for used books in Kenya, so they get through!”
But through the beginning stages of his cause, he’s also suffered loss: the death of his wife, Sharron Austin, on March 29, 2020.
“Her smile and her laugh,” when asked what he missed most about her.
While still mourning the death of his wife, Austin believes what his wife would want him to do is turn the next page in life.
“Life is not what it’s supposed to be, it’s what it is. How you cope with it is the difference,” Austin said.
The nonprofit’s next project is helping with the shipment of a container of 22,000 books from the city of Atlanta to Kenya.
Austin says his long-term goals are to maybe expand to countries in South America as well. At the moment, the organization is taking both book donations, and monetary donations that go towards helping to ship the supplies to Africa as well as helping the schools buy textbooks themselves.
More information can be found on their website.