2020 Highlights: Books in an extraordinary year 

23rd December 2020 | Blog

2020 was not the year that anyone expected. As the New Year approaches, our Chief Executive, Alison Tweed, reflects on the challenges and successes of 2020 and on what 2021 might bring.   

It has been a year of extraordinary challenges for us all. In the communities where we work, when schools and libraries closed millions were left with no access to books at all. They faced months of school and library closures and restrictions on their lives without the comfort of reading and opportunities to learn that books can offer.  

Here in London, we closed our warehouse temporarily in March, and re-opened in May with Covid-safe protocols. This year to date we have sent over 865,000 books to schoolslibraries, universities, hospitals and refugee camps in 19 countries. 

Book Aid International warehouse staff are able to operate in a Covid-safe way.

We continued supporting libraries throughout the year so that when they were able to re-open readers would find shelves stocked with beautiful, brand new books.  In Somaliland, for example, we provided over 24,000 books and began work on a new Children’s Corner in the library. It will be the first dedicated children’s library space in the entire region. 

Children come to see the books arriving in Sierra Leone (image taken before Covid-19)

Throughout the year we heard so many stories of teachers, librarians, volunteers and parents creating opportunities for children to read, despite library and school closures, using the books we provided.

We were particularly inspired by the work of local NGO Dandora Dumpsite Rehabilitation Group in Kenya. They kept their learning centre open in a Covid safe way, offering hundreds of children who live near one of the world’s largest landfill sites a place to read and learn while their schools were closed. 

Reading in the DADREG centre
Students continue to visit the learning centre throughout lockdown, with masks and hand washing mandatory.

Much of our project work establishing and supporting school libraries had to be put on hold i2020, but wherever possible we continued to support those schools that remained open. 

In Sierra Leone our Inspiring Readers programme brought books to the classrooms of over 13,000 pupils and in Malawi we stocked 17 schools with books and provided solar lamps to enable hundreds of teachers and pupils to learn even after dark. As schools re-open around the world we are now restarting delayed programmes which will bring books into the classrooms of thousands of pupils.  

17 schools received solar lamps so the students and teachers could read after dark.

While in-person librarian and teacher training was not possible in 2020 that didn’t mean that all training stopped. 

We conducted training via Zoom and developed video materials to explain how to use books to support children’s learning, including for staff of the Street Child Empowerment Foundation in Accra, Ghana.

Book Aid International leads a Zoom training session for staff in Ghana

Throughout the year we also continued reaching out to people who have been displaced and those recovering from conflict, sending 5,520 books to support refugees in Greece and 37,942 books as well as 3Pioneer Book Boxes to people forced to flee the violence which continues to devastate communities in Cameroon.   

Pioneer Book Box
Children reading books they selected from a Pioneer Book Box.

In 2020 we continued providing books to help medical students develop their skills and support practising health professionals in their work providing life-saving care, in total sending over 75,000 brand new medical books to 18 countries. 

Uganda medical professionals are able to use the books to study.

In a year of unprecedented challenge for everyone, we were overwhelmed by the generosity of our many supporters, and we thank everyone who gave to make our work possible.  The books we were able to send have provided a lifeline for so many around the world, offering an opportunity to read, learn and escape into a great story. 

As we look to 2021 we are committed to providing books that can help people and communities begin to rebuild and recover. We will work hard to find new ways of bringing books into communities, reach more readers and continue working towards a world where no one is without books.  

We hope that you will continue to support our work reaching readers around the world in 2021, and we wish you a very happy and healthy New Year. 

Alison Tweed
Chief Executive
Book Aid International