BERLIN – As a student at Worcester Preparatory School, 10th grader Henry Elangwe has the use of the latest technology, access to thousands of books and a school full of educators from whom he can seek advice.
He knows not everyone is quite so fortunate.
Elangwe, 14, was born in Cameroon and spent his early years in school there. He saw firsthand the adversity students in Africa face, as few had more than the chalkboard supplied by the school. Notebooks were scarce and technology was nonexistent.
Those recollections prompted Elangwe to jump at the chance to support the Ignite Africa library initiative. With the help of his teachers and classmates at Worcester Prep, he collected more than 550 books in just three weeks.
“It was received quite well,” he said. “I got donations every day.”
Elangwe said his book drive, which was conducted just as the school year was ending in June, was done in an effort to support his aunt, who works for the United Nation’s World Food Programme. Through Ignite Africa, she wanted to collect books to give to a school in need.
“She sent word out and I thought I could help,” Elangwe said.
After first going through his own books, Elangwe approached one of his teachers and staff in the school library. He even made an announcement to his fellow students during lunch.
He started receiving books immediately. He was given textbooks, novels, magazines and even educational posters.
In just three weeks, he had 490 pounds worth of new and used books to send to Africa.
With the help of his Worcester Prep bus driver, Elangwe got the books to his home in Salisbury where his cousins Nde Labah and Xavier Muapi helped him pack them into more than 50 boxes. An anonymous donor covered the hefty shipping cost associated with sending them across the Atlantic Ocean.
The books went to Little Angels Elementary School in Bamako, Mali. The school, which opened in 2014, is in the process of expanding to include a middle school. Elangwe’s donation will stock the library there.
“The school was very thankful,” Elangwe said. “They started building a library with the books we were able to donate.”
Elangwe, who is in his second year at Worcester Prep, is thrilled with the support his classmates showed for the project.
“They were so quick to help,” he said. “I think they’d been thinking about doing something like this they just didn’t go as far as to actually do it.”
Elangwe says the project also served to remind students that not everyone has the same educational opportunities. That’s something he saw himself in Cameroon that he knows extends to other countries in Africa.
“I hear a lot of things about Africa,” he said. “The education system is not that great. Many countries are in need of books and technology. My parents tell me all the time they’re so glad I came here to get an education.”
Elangwe, who moved to the United States when he was in third grade, has plans to eventually become a nuclear physicist. In the meantime, he’s eager to make the most of his education and do what he can to support others pursuing that same goal.
“I was proud of myself for indirectly making a difference by helping educate the next generation of children,” he said. “I am especially proud of my fellow students, teachers and my Worcester Prep family who greatly supported me on my journey to help others in need from my country. My goal is to continue collecting books every year.”