Stunning success

Nikiski youth's book donation drive yields 1,160 books

Posted: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

When 11-year-old Walker Boyle of Nikiski set out to collect books for children in a small Papua New Guinea village, he had high hopes.

The results of his efforts, however, went far beyond even his wildest dreams.

On Feb. 14, 1,160 books arrived in Madina, a village of 420 people on New Ireland in northeastern Papua New Guinea. Walker's original goal was 400 books.

Previously, the village had almost no reading books in its elementary school, and children in some classes were forced to practice reading and writing with stories scrawled in the sand.

That's all changing now, though, as teachers are celebrating the arrival of crates of books and village leaders are preparing to build the community's first-ever library.

The children speak and read both their Native language and English.

Walker first learned about the need for books in Madina from his uncle, Craig Volker. A linguist, Volker has spent years researching the community's Nalik language and helping elders preserve the traditional speech. He created a written form of the spoken language and helped institute school programs to preserve the dying language in the village.

However, as Volker entered the schools, he began noticing the shortage of books.

Walker took the problem to heart and decided to make a 4-H project out of remedying the problem. He began a drive to collect 400 children's books to send to the village.

In his first week, Walker had collected 208 books from family and friends. The word eventually spread to Kenai Peninsula community members and schools, and even more texts began streaming in.

Then, Walker faced another problem: Shipping the books to the South Pacific would be costly.

He tried seeking out sponsorships and raised about $200 from donations from businesses and citizens' groups. That was a little short of the $500 shipping cost, though.

In the end, Walker, his sister, Tatiana, and brother, Logan, raised chickens to sell at the annual 4-H auction and ended up collecting the rest of the money.

The project was a hit in Madina, where Volker recently explained the project to village residents.

"I was asked to explain how the books came to arrive in Madina. After hearing the story of Walker's (and Tatiana's) initiative, speaker after speaker got up and talked about how great it was that kids could start something like this," Volker wrote in a letter to Walker's family.

"You know, people here were so touched by all the sacrifices you obviously went through, especially in paying for the postage, that they are really inspired."

Volker wrote that village leaders plan to take down the village meeting hall and build a new one, which will include a corner room for the library.

"No place to sit down, but people can sit and read in the meeting hall area, which should be very comfortable," Volker wrote.

"Someone donated a small unused bomboo-and-thatch house in the center of the village until the day when the community center is rebuilt."

The new book room in the community center will be called "a vaal a ikakating" "the reading house" as the Nalik language has no word for library.

"So Walker has also had an influence on the language here, as well," Volking wrote.

Most importantly, though, students at the Madina elementary school will be able to learn to read and write using real books.

"The teachers were 'oohing' and 'awing,'" Volker wrote. "(They said just having books to hold will be great."

The Madina village librarian continues seeking donations, particularly of books for teens and adults. Books can be sent to Madina Village Library, P.O. Box 6, Kavieng, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.

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