NORTH YARMOUTH —- “One of my favorite pastimes is reading books. I enjoy it because it’s important to me … I’ve learned life lessons. I can also learn stuff that I’ll learn in Language Arts classes. If I have this opportunity, shouldn’t ALL children?”

This question was posed by Maxwell Burns, a fifth-grade student at North Yarmouth Memorial School, in a letter written to Rick Riordan.

Burns wrote this letter to the author of the five-book series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” as part of a class project. Some of his classmates are writing to the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Mike Myers, Robert Pattinson and Bradon Mull.

All are writing for one reason. They want to send books to the Chikumbuso Project in Lusaka, Zambia.

Founded in 2005, the Chikumbuso Project was a grass roots initiative started by Linda Wilkinson.

“Because of the AIDS epidemic, many women in the slum I am working in have been left to care for their children and no means to do it with,” Wilkinson wrote in an e-mail. “Chikumbuso has given them this means, as well as a community of support and school for their children.”

Since the project was founded, Maggi Alexander, Wilkinson’s sister and teacher at the school, has been supporting this project with the help of her students.

“We started just sending money to get playground equipment. The money we get is through recycling ink cartridges, cell phones and laptops,” Alexander said.

Students save these items to send to two companies that reimburse schools for recycling the technology. Rather than using the funds in their own school, they have been donating $180 a month to the Chikumbuso Project.

“Whatever funds we collect. We send our basic amount of $100 a month that pays for the fifth-grade teacher and $80 a month to help support the lunch program,” she said.

More recently, Alexander found a collection of unwanted books piling up in her classroom as the school revamped its library and teachers whittled down their classroom collections.

All told, there were about 10 boxes worth of books that her students suggested would be nice to send to Africa, keeping with the trend of recycling.

Taylor Brookes, a student in Alexander’s class, wrote his letter to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

“These children are not as fortunate as we are,” he wrote. “Without the ability to read, what will the future hold for them?”

“It’s really important, they really need books,” Brookes said during a phone interview.

The students have been brainstorming celebrities and large organizations to send letters asking for help, not in collecting books, but shipping them. Alexander said when they first looked into shipping options, each box, weighing about 30 pounds, would have cost $130.

“The boxes sat in here. We debated and talked about it,” Alexander said, grappling with the high cost of shipping.

World Vision has offered to include the books in freight it ships to Lusaka, where Wilkinson’s husband works as part of World Vision. Alexander said that option still would cost about $25 a box to ship to the organization in Pennsylvania.

And why write to celebrities and large organizations rather than reaching out within the community?

“With a lot of people helping Haiti and other places, and people strapped with their jobs … we didn’t want to push and make people feel like its one more thing,” Alexander said.

Plus, she added, it gets the word out about the Chikumbuso Project to a larger community.

Meanwhile, she is encouraging her students to wait patiently for a response.


Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]


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