Statewide Literacy Program Launches in Africa Due to Oakdale Man's Efforts

An Oakdale resident has started a movement that is sending several thousands of books to Africa.

When Atare Agbamu went home to West Africa to bury his mother last summer, he didn't realize that he would be starting a movement when he returned home.

Due to Agbamu's efforts, a statewide literacy campaign has been launched in West Africa that will impact more people than he ever imagined.

Here's how it all started:

While he was in West Africa — or more specifically Ekpan in southern Nigeria —Agbamu, 55, of Oakdale, visited a school operated by his distant cousin. During the tour of the school, Agbamu saw the school library. 

"I was shocked. There were barely any books," Agbamu said. "We throw books away in America, so I thought I would send books to the school when I got home."

A week after he returned home Agbamu shipped 286 books from his personal library to Chinkelly Schools, which is a private Christian school that serves children in preschool to 12th grade. 

After Agbamu cleared out his personal library he and his 13-year-old daughter, Tejiri, would purchase books from Goodwill thrift store in Stillwater for 15 cents a piece. 

Last year Agbamu shipped more than 1,000 books from his personal library and books he picked from the Goodwill. In April, he shipped another 2,232 books. 

As word began to spread about Agbamu's efforts, he came in contact with a fellow church member at Hope Church in Oakdale who had similar passions as Agbamu.

Agbamu was introduced to a fellow church member and Woodbury residence, Dan Melin. Melin works for Follett Education Service, a group that buys and sells textbooks across the country.

Melin is also involved with the nonprofit group, Books For Africa — an organization that seeks to end the book famine in Africa. BFA ships donated books and texts all over Africa. It has shipped more than 27 million books since it first launched 25 years ago.

After Melin heard was Agbamu was trying to do, he invited Agbamu to a BFA fundraiser in the spring. After the fundraiser Melin had a surprise for Agbamu: He was going to donate one 40-foot container of books to go to Chinkelly Schools.

"I was so excited that my heart was as if my heart was lifted out of my chest," Agbamu said. "It was unbelievably generous."

How many books fit inside of a 40-foot container? 22,000.

"My wife and I give money to Books For Africa, but when we found out what Atare was doing we decided to do that instead of doing a check," Melin said. "We decided to make it more personal." 

At the BFA fundraiser, Henry Bromelkamp — an ambassado for BFA — said he would match anyone's donation that night. And he did.

That 22,000 books multiplied to 44,000 books going to Agbamu's cousin's school. 

"I decided to match any full container because a lot of times people will come in and say they can donate a check of $5,000, but if they know it will be matched then a lot of times they will write a bigger check," Bromelkamp said.

So Bromelkamp and Melin paid for the shipping and BFA shipped the books. Right now they are on the water heading to West Africa, said Patrick Plonski, the executive director of BFA.

"The work that Atare has done and Dan and Henry has been fantastic," Plonski said. "It's all about helping people help themselves. That is one benefit of books."

Now that 44,000 books are on their way to Chinkelly Schools, Agbamu said the school's library will be used to launch a literacy campaign that will benefit everyone in the Delta State.

"This story is about God’s awesome way of meeting needs through people. Meeting needs of people who knew all these people. People who know Dan [Melin] who don’t even know Minnesoa is on the map," Abgamu. "It is also a story about the extraordinary generosity of Minnesotans. This is my adopted home state. I love this place, and I love it because it has given me the greatest give a place can give person."

For more information about Books For Africa visit www.booksforafrica.org


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