16-Year-Old Brings Books to 99 Villages in Africa

Tatiana Grossman has collected 23,000 books for kids across five countries.

Tatiana Grossman delivering books to kids in Botswana. (Photo c/o Spread the Words)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

At 12 years old, Tatiana Grossman learned that many kids in Botswana and Malawi didn't have books to read. She wanted to help by hosting book drives, but says she was "so shy" at the time.

"I barely had any friends," Tatiana remembers, but "I stepped out of my comfort zone and realized it wasn't about me. It was about the kids who needed the books and needed to learn to read."

Tatiana overcame her shyness and held her first book drive in her hometown in Northern California. She managed to collect 3,500 books. "My work just escalated from there," she says.

Soon after this initial book drive, Tatiana founded Spread the Words, an organization that increases early literacy by helping kids create school libraries in impoverished communities. The countries where she sends books are Ghana, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Malawi.

Tatiana took a trip to Botswana to see her efforts in action and says the kids were so happy to see her. She also noticed that every book in the classroom was one that she had sent to them.

"The kids were telling me about their favorite books and what they now want to be when they grow up," Tatiana says. Two of the books the kids treasured? Goodnight Moon and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

It's been four years since the 16-year-old began shipping books to farflung places. Now the high school student is developing a program that brings digital curriculum and textbooks to schools.

Continuing her efforts, Tatiana hopes to inspire others to get involved and plans to still spread her love for reading with kids across Africa. Thankfully, Tatiana's organization hasn't gone unnoticed. She recently won a 2011 World of Children Award and received funds that will help her bring more books to kids in need.

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