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Box of the year

Melissa Roser

How long does a phone call take from Belgium to Beijing? One minute. How long does it take to shoot a rocket around the globe? One hour. How long does it take to mail a letter from Luxembourg to London? One day. How long does it take to drive from Moscow to Madrid? One week? No! Much less than that. What about a box of books for kids in Africa? One year. No less. Hard to believe? Read on.

It’s not that a pallet of books for kids in Africa is bottom priority, but the reality is that bombs are often transported faster than Bibles. It’s true. Why? Well more important, the question is, where to? Believe it or not, organizing and delivering books and teaching aids from one end of the world to another, like post-conflict Sierra Leone, West Africa, can feel like a genuine battle plan. That’s the truth.

“In 2010, after months of teachers training with their pupils, and children rehearsing for a competition with big prizes, we were set on getting that pallet of books from the UK as the top prize, in time for the event” says Matthias Roser, working on a project to sponsor books for social centers in Africa. “The day drew nearer and still no sign of the shipment. Teachers still trained, kids still practiced, but despite our best efforts, the box just simply didn’t make it in time.”

The competition took place, the kids had their fun, and there were many other prizes and activities, but no box of books. Now it was time for our volunteer team to return home. Fighting until the last minute through paperwork, administration and logistics, we were forced to leave without a victory.

“A year later, after an email correspondence with Activated Ministries, hope was in sight. Interested in doubling efforts with us, we saw it possible to revisit the same children, the same schools” Mr. Roser explains. Activated Ministries agreed to sponsor the cost of the books as well as the considerable shipping costs. Would the box still be there? Even if it was, would the books be in the box? It sounds like a funny question, but on this side of the planet it makes perfect sense.

Once again, we faced the same battle from start to finish; paper work, implementation and logistics. As a volunteer with Mercy Ships put it “managing a project on this side of the world is like going to hell and back, you have to see it, feel it, and smell it to understand.” Although we didn’t know the status of the box yet, we proceeded with our scheduled program in the schools. Over 4,000 recipients in eight social centers and hospitals, not only in Sierra Leone, but Liberia as well, benefited from this year’s project.

Then came the big surprise. “A phone call after a short meeting with the shipping company made us aware that there was indeed a box in their warehouse fitting our description” says Angela Paz, a volunteer with the project. “But in which state?” she asked herself. Dashing madly through the heat of traffic, not to mention the overall heat of the year (March being the hottest season), she finally stood in front of the “box of the year”. Slowly opening it to inspect its contents, she was happily surprised; every item still intact and in perfect condition!

But nothing surprises us more than the kids themselves. Their laughter and cheer and smiling faces amidst the crisis they face on a daily basis makes us feel ashamed we are even complaining about our box at all. Though a year has passed, our promise was kept, and our efforts rewarded. That’s what makes it the ‘box of the year’-- not only because it took a year, but it was also worth a years’ wait.