For the last five years, the Parole Rotary Club located in Annapolis, MD, with the support of Rotary District 7620, has administered, funded and staffed the B.I.G. (Books of International Goodwill) project. B.I.G. was started in 1994 by club members who realized that, in this country, thousands of books sit unused in storage rooms and attics; while students in developing countries face a critical shortage of both academic textbooks and leisure reading material. Through the hard work and dedication of club members and the compassion of many segments of the local community, more than 400,000 books have been shipped to Africa, Eastern Europe and other developing areas in the world as well as several domestic areas.
The B.I.G. project, which is managed by club member Stephen Frantzich, has distributed books to recipients such as local Maryland community centers conducting tutoring programs, an Indian mission in Kentucky, schools in South Africa, a higher education center in Bahrain and schools in Kenya and the Philippines.
The books that are shipped are acquired by donations from individuals, bookstores and local school systems. Club members and other volunteers sort the books by age level and pack them for shipping. The project is able to send a large number of books by combining donations from shipping companies, local Rotary funding, and Rotary International matching grants. Once shipped, local Rotary Clubs in the receiving countries facilitate distribution through financial and labor contributions. The cost/benefit ratio of the project is impressive. Through the combination of a small amount of money, contributed services and volunteer efforts, the books are often shipped for less than 25 cents each.
The great need for books in many countries is difficult for many Americans to imagine. One law school professor from Liberia who toured the club’s sorting facility gave an example of the dire need. She told of having a class of 120 students and only 6 textbooks. To accommodate each student, she had literally cut the books in half and let students check them out for two-hour blocks, 24 hours a day. At the sorting facility, she emptied her suitcases of clothes in order to take books back with her directly; she could not wait the three months for the shipment to arrive.
The B.I.G. project has outgrown the capabilities of the 100 member Parole Rotary Club and now has the support of Rotary District 7620. Club members also seek help from other charitable and service organizations in gathering, sorting, and packing books. By partnering with several organizations, the B.I.G. project created an inter-generational and inter-ethnic group of volunteers working together for a common purpose. Capitalizing on the State of Maryland community service requirement for secondary school graduation, numerous high school students were attracted to the project to fulfill their graduation responsibility. During 1998, volunteers contributed more than 2,500 volunteer hours to the project. Parole Rotary Club members contributed more than 1,600 hours of volunteer effort in fund raising projects to fund a major portion of the project's yearly $12,000 budget.
The program sensitizes those with excess resources, such as books, against the potential waste and provides a vehicle for matching resources with needs. Through active partnering with a variety of organizations, the project has created a network of volunteers with different resources and skills, making effective redistribution of books possible.