Accidental Philanthropy

posted in: Philanthropy | 0
The Village of Mero

We were all excited to return to Dominica the following year.  Working with an British ex-pat now living in Dominica, we made our final arrangements and decided to use the small community of Mero as our home base.  Mero is a town of perhaps 100 residents, many of whom live within shouting distance of the black volcanic beach.  The kids had made several friends while playing on the beach, and we looked forward to exploring more of the island.  This year we were even more strategic about what we packed.  We knew the airline requirements (2 checked bags of 50 pounds and 2 carry-on bags per person).  With four of us, we could pack 400 pounds of luggage.  Since all we really needed for clothes was a couple pairs of shorts, some t-shirts, bathing suits and snorkel gear, we had a lot of extra room for books.

We laid everything out on the floor that we knew we needed: shirts, flip flops, bathing suits, beach towels, snorkel gear – and some of the food staples we so easily take for granted here but were not available (or were expensive) there like peanut butter, olive oil, snacks for the kids and energy bars for hiking.  Once everything was in the bags, we weighed them and calculated how much extra weight we could fit.  Our gear was just over 100 pounds, leaving 300 pounds for books.  Throughout the year, the girls each set aside books that they had read and were ready to part with, so we had a pretty good stack of books already, but we still had room for more.  So we put the word out among friends, asking if they had extras to give us.

1 duffel for our clothes, the rest for books

In a matter of days, friends had delivered more books than we could fit in our bags.  So we fit in all we could, stashing the remaining books in our basement, and off we went.  Traveling with a 4 and 7 year old all day, with a ride to the airport, checking bags, transferring planes in Puerto Rico and finally landing in Dominica kept us on our toes.  I think the most stress came from keeping track of our luggage, since we had a total of 16 bags (8 checked and 8 carry-on between us).  Some weren’t quite sure what to make of us, and there were moments when we wondered about the wisdom of our choice to bring books along with us.  The customs officials in Dominica weren’t quite sure what to make of us and questioned us about whether we planned to sell these second hand books on the island.  It didn’t seem to make sense to them that we would bring 5 duffel bags filled with used books when they were used to identifying people trying to avoid paying duty for clothing, electronics and other items they planned to sell.  With puzzled looks and lingering suspicion, they let us pass through.

But really, what WERE we going to do with all these books?  There were too many to pass out to people we met in our days exploring the island.  We weren’t really sure what we would do, but we had a couple ideas, and we knew that some of our local friends would help us figure it out.  We also knew that our kids were really invested in how this would all pan out too.  It was, after all, their books, books they had cradled in their own arms, books we had read to them as they drifted off to sleep, books that had personal inscriptions.  These books had meaning for each of us.  And, like us, our kids were anxious to find new homes for these prized possessions.

What better place to start than the local school?

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