Latter-day Saints in New Zealand Help Collect Books for Fijian Students
By Lok Yi Chan, Church News and Events
Representatives of the Church in New Zealand recently delivered nearly 43,000 books to Fiji’s Ministry of Education for distribution to students living in rural areas and outer islands—some of whom have grown up without reading or owning a book.
The effort was a response to a call from Wellington New Zealand Stake president George Harvey and Eileen Mueller, multistake director for public affairs, who asked for book donations to be distributed to students in Fiji.
According to the Fiji Times, one of the many news media that covered the drive, the books collected ranged from picture books to reference materials such as encyclopedias. The drive has benefited primary school students in 82 schools.
“On behalf of the government of Fiji and its people, I thank the mayor for supporting this noble incentive,” said Niraj Mudaliar, second secretary to the Fijian High Commission. “Your books will surely make a difference to our children in the rural parts of Fiji who have no access to libraries.”
After the books were collected, three stakes in New Zealand held “book-sorting days” in which participants, including members of the Church, local comminuty leaders, and other members of the community, sorted the books by reading level and type and packed them in boxes. They also added school curriculum materials and teaching resources to each box of books.
The books were then shipped to rural schools in the eastern division of Fiji, where they were distributed in late January and early February.
The Books for Fiji project evolved from a discussion that President Harvey and Sister Mueller had with the Acting Head of Fiji Mission for the Fijian High Commission, Her Excellency Ms. Mere Tora, who attended the opening of a new meetinghouse and the relocation of the Missionary Training Center in Auckland in 2010.
When they asked her how the Church could help Fiji, Ms. Tora expressed her concern that most of the schools in the rural areas of Fiji have no books.
She reported that some 4,000 primary school-aged children live in the eastern division in Fiji, and the demand for reading materials is great.
After months of planning, and with the support from the Area Presidency and Church Humanitarian Services, President Harvey and Sister Mueller successfully launched the book drive, which ran from July to October 2011.
Several New Zealand stakes—Palmerston North, Porirua, Upper Hutt, and Wellington—were involved in the project. Members extended the invitation to donate to their local neighborhoods and communities, which drew attention from the public, including Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown. She informed all city council employees of the project and further promoted it by inviting the Church to use the council reception area as one of the collection points for the books. Other civic leaders also volunteered their offices as collection points, and some communities held book fairs to help collect reading material for the project.
Over the three months, the project attracted support across the lower half of the North Island, from Members of Parliament and other political leaders, members of other faiths, many local schools, businesses, community groups, and, of course, Latter-day Saints.
“Many people throughout the multistake area came in contact with the Church as Mormon Helping Hands,” Sister Mueller said. “Over 35 print media articles were published, and more will be published. Many prominent community members—politicians, city councilors, mayors, national politicians, Rotary members, churches, community groups, and local businesses—contributed. Missionaries carried fliers for the Books for Fiji project too.”
Ms. Tora expressed her thanks to those who participated in the drive when she said, “The donated books will be greatly appreciated by the children of rural schools in Fiji, where competing demands on limited financial resources often place other educational needs ahead of reading books.”
She continued, “Your generosity will indeed go a long way in creating a love for reading in these children and an awareness of a world outside their own villages.”