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A Library for a Distant Land

The Vercruysse-Vandeputte Family

Melissa Barnes

The Vercruysse-Vandeputte Family
Portola Valley, California

The Vercruysse-Vandeputtes -- mom Sofie, dad Ward, 10-year-old Olivia, and her twin brother, Alec -- are big-time bibliophiles. "We're always reading," says Olivia. Two years ago, Sofie discovered the African Library Project, which gives books to impoverished rural areas of English-speaking countries in Africa. It was a natural fit with her family's love of literature.

"Our kids couldn't believe that there were children who go to school but do not have books," says Sofie. "They became very excited to change that."

The first step was to gather books, and lots of them. To get the word out, the family created a website, e-mailed friends and relatives, passed out flyers at school, and pored through their own shelves for donations. Their goal was to collect 1,000 titles, the minimum number that ALP needs to set up one library.

The family also needed to raise $500 to ship the books to Lesotho, a small kingdom in the middle of South Africa. To help raise funds, Sofie sold Belgian waffles and delivered chocolate mousse to order, and Alec and Olivia sold lemonade and cookies in a local park.

Their hard work really paid off. Nine months after they started, the family mailed 1,000 books to ALP. (ALP organizes the transport to Africa.) Included in the library was a picture book made by Alec and Olivia about their life in the United States.

In return, the twins received enthusiastic thank-you letters from the African schoolchildren. "The kids told us about which books were their favorites," says Alec. "And a lot of times I thought, 'Wow, I packed that one!'"

The exchange, says Sofie, has sparked a genuine connection to and curiosity about the African continent. It's also led to more libraries. To date, the family has completed four shipments for ALP, and their garage is currently filled with books for a fifth.

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