Local teens start charity for children in Kenya: Book donations can change lives

  • Ava and Emery Carlson with students in a remote school in the Samburu region of Kenya.

    Ava and Emery Carlson with students in a remote school in the Samburu region of Kenya. Courtesy of Bryan Carlson

Submitted by Elizabeth De Meyer
Updated 11/14/2019 8:06 PM

With laptops and electronic books used as standard educational materials in many schools, traditional books are becoming obsolete.

As a result, an abundance of used books are collecting dust on bookshelves and in boxes of libraries, homes and schools.


Two girls from Batavia have started a charity that not only finds a solution to the excess book issue, but also fills a need for children in Kenya.

In April 2019, the Carlson family visited a remote school and village in the Samburu region.

"During our visit, I immediately noticed an extreme lack of educational resources," said Ava, a senior at St. Francis High School in Wheaton. "The open-air classrooms consisted of cracked and chipped walls and floors and narrow wooden plank desks with attached bench seats. Not a single bookshelf existed. The only books available to the children were worn, tattered textbooks. For the first time in my life I truly recognized the educational advantages I have living in the United States."

The levels of education in Kenya are the same as those in the United States. Students have the potential to attend eight years of primary school, four years of high school, and four years at a university.

Unfortunately, many students do not attend high school or even school at all. Samburu children are often forced to leave school before or following eighth grade to assist their parents in the village and herd cattle and goats.

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At birth, it is decided if a female child will remain in the village to help with daily responsibilities or attend school.

According to Ava, "We met several young girls in the village who had never attended school and spent every day helping their mothers with the many labor-intensive chores necessary for survival. Even if they are unable to attend school, something as simple as having access to books would be educational and also open their imaginations to the world outside of their villages."

The Carlson girls returned home from their trip with a mission to collect books for the thousands of children of the Samburu tribe.

They created a nonprofit called Books for the Bush, dedicated to helping educate children ages newborn to 18 in the Samburu region of Kenya by providing them with used fiction and non-fiction books.

The goal of Books for the Bush is to give children the gift of knowledge through reading, which will offer them greater choices in life.

"Despite their educational and daily living obstacles, all the Samburu children we met were extraordinarily joyful and excited to learn," said Emery, a sophomore who also attends St. Francis High School. "Their joy was inspirational; it was the most genuine emotion that I have ever witnessed, and that joy is the reason for this charity. We want to support their love of learning and help them retain their joy."

"In order to make a difference in the lives of these children, we need your help," Emery said. If you have children's fiction or non-fiction books that you are interested in donating, please go to www.booksforthebush.org and complete the donation form or send an email to contact.us@booksforthebush.org or call (630) 805-4093.


"We would be happy to visit your school, club or business and share the story of the Samburu children," Emery said.

The only expense for the charity is the cost to ship the books to Kenya. Monetary donations of any amount to help cover shipping costs are gratefully accepted.

Books for the Bush is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donors will receive a donation receipt for tax purposes.

"With Books for the Bush, we hope to provide all Samburu children an opportunity to expand their knowledge and allow them the possibility of pursuing a career outside their familial duties," said Ava. "Together, we can change the lives of the Samburu children."

For more information, visit www.booksforthebush.org.


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