Building libraries is no small feat, and as I am just a middle-class family guy living and working in Silicon Valley, what could I do? After all, I am no Andrew Carnegie, who helped lay the foundation for public libraries in the United States. Serendipitously, I mentioned my love of books and my desire to help the underprivileged to Dian Alyan a few years back during a personal downturn. Then in the fall of 2019, out of GiveLight and Sister Dian’s imagination, emerged “Books of Light,” a project which I have the honor to help drive and participate in.
The idea behind it is to take books (and bookshelves) and help build libraries for children in need. It is an inspiring way to not only donate books but to give children here in the US, Mexico and around the world the gift of reading. The precursor to the first project was the El Nino Orphanage in Guadalupe, Mexico, where the GiveLight team from Southern California traveled with a load of books in Spanish and established a library. The trip was a resounding success.
The first US-based Books of Light endeavor started at Gilroy’s Rebekah Children’s Services in the Bay Area. The project began with a book wish list created by several teens in the Muslim community back in February 2019. In addition, there were several events where GiveLight requested book donations. Some of us also raided book sales at libraries. For those who have never been to a book sale, it is a wonderful experience where you buy a large brown paper bag for five dollars and then race around trying to fill it up. Be warned: if you love books, this process is extremely addictive.
For the project, I teamed up with another GiveLight volunteer and project manager, Tooba Ahmed, who makes things happen behind (and in front of) the scenes. We did a site visit back in spring, took pictures and measurements, and then Tooba came up with a proposed layout of bookshelves and a reading area that would be warm and inviting. Once Rebekah Children’s Services approved the plan, we had the bookshelves shipped from Ikea along with some of the larger play items for the reading area.
Besides the flyer below, we also had a Facebook events page where people could learn about the project. The Books of Light team, including myself, Tooba, Sister Dian, her sons and other youth, descended on Gilroy this past Ramadan. Armed with two cordless drills, I took the lead on assembling the first bookshelf. The second one was done jointly with the youth, and thereafter they were able to proceed on their own.
We ended up with approximately 400 Books. After a few iterations we filled the bookshelves and organized them by age. The team at Rebekah was elated. The library is currently open and serving its population.
Having had a successful first project, Sister Dian asked Tooba and me to look into other venues in the Bay Area in order to expand the program. After researching and discussing with various non-profits, Tooba identified Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco. Established over 150 years ago, Edgewood began as an orphanage and has since transitioned into different roles, one of which is to provide mental health services for children from first grade through high school. They are in need of a library. We are asking for your help to acquire both fiction and non-fiction material for 9th to 12th grade. They should not be textbooks, academic books, or religious books. More details will follow soon.
Books of Light started off as one small idea, but within a short expanse of time, it is turning into multiple successful projects that benefit the wider communities we live in. I would like to thank all of you who have been a part of this journey with us. We hope that you will share your hearts and your books and make this a gift of perpetual rewards.
~ Javed Mohammed