10 years of volunteering
Freelance musician Margaret has been volunteering in our warehouse for more than a decade. We spoke to her about books, and about why she keeps coming back.
It was memories of my father that inspired me to volunteer for Book Aid International. During the Second World War, he was a prisoner of war in Burma (now Myanmar). As a family, we never heard anything about the horrors he endured during those years, just the things he and his fellow captives did in the limited free time they had. They took solace in the books they happened to have in their possession when they were captured and which they shared around.
Books were like gold dust, as you can imagine.
From putting on a production of The Importance of Being Earnest (which they had re-written from their memory of the play) and performed complete with improvised costumes, scenery and props, to reading and re-reading the titles in their possession, books helped them to endure this dark time.
Through countless conversations with a captured Norwegian pilot, my father became proficient in Norwegian, aided by the pilot’s Norwegian/English dictionary which he had in his pocket when he was captured. My father also knew all about Physical Geography, having read many times a book a geography teacher had in his backpack.
After his release, my father wrote to that book’s author to say how important the book had been to him. The author sent him a signed copy of the book with a heartfelt letter of thanks saying: ‘I shall cherish your letter as one of the brightest things to come out of the war, for I would not change it for all the honorary degrees in the world’.
It was only after my father died that I realised he had been supporting Book Aid International with a monthly donation for many years and that is how the organisation came to my knowledge.
When I first entered the warehouse, I couldn’t believe my eyes – shelves full of new books on every subject imaginable to be sent out to people who were desperate for information, knowledge and entertainment.
Our house was always full of books and I was so fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere where reading was part of life. I am happy to help Book Aid International support the needs of their various partners and bring the joy of reading to people in a different part of the world in a very different situation to myself.
I look forward to the days I volunteer, receiving a warm welcome from the team and the other volunteers who have all become good friends. Pushing trolleys full of books and loading them onto pallets before they go to be packed can be quite hard and tiring work. It’s so different from my normal life of practising, rehearsing, performing and teaching, but it is so rewarding when you know that a whole consignment of books has been sent to Syria or Uganda or wherever the latest destination is to go.
I enjoy the fact that in a very small way, I might be helping a child’s eyes to open, a student nurse to gain important knowledge, a bombed library be restocked or perhaps a prisoner be able to endure their captivity a little more easily.
There is so much to discover in the world and books help in so many ways to develop knowledge and understanding. By reading, we are introduced to different emotions and ways of communicating, building up our connection with the world and other people. I have learnt so much from books during my life and can’t imagine not having a book by my side at all times.
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We couldn’t share the power of books around the world without the volunteers who generously donate their time.
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