IV Woman toils to feed the book-starved in South Sudan
By Barbara Hahn
of the Grants Pass Daily Courier

Boxes of new and used books crowd the floor of Christina Henning's Illinois Valley home.  "What's amazing is that these are going from Cave Junction to the south of Sudan," says Henning, who organized a book drive among her Illinois Valley friends to help her Sudanese friends.

Henning has traveled extensively throughout Africa, and earlier this year spent more than a month in Ghana. She also has twice traveled to Sudan, staying with locals on her visits. Through her travels, Henning has found that people in Third World countries have little to read, let alone educational books.

"People will buy any old newspaper that you have to read. They'd buy your travel guide," she said. "Books are like gold."

In this country, though, unused books abound. So she figured there had to be a way to connect local books to those who needed them. About three years ago, she began soliciting volumes from friends and family and began shipping them to Sudan as part of an organized book drive in the country.

But she recently parted company with the group when she learned that the books were only going to the northern part of the country.

"I always assumed that the books went to those who needed them," she said. Politics, she learned, determined the recipients.

Sudan is a divided country, Henning explained. The northern region is dominated by Muslims who control the country's politics, while the south is inhabited by minority Christians.

"I wanted them distributed evenly and then I found out that the Islamic government closed the Juba University (located in southern Sudan)." The university was moved to the northern city of Khartoum, she added, "so if the southerners want to go to their own university, they have to convert (to Islam). Starving people educationally is just another way of starving them."

But Henning says she doesn't care about the politics. "I'm doing this for the children," she said. Henning, who is calling her effort "Books without Borders," decided she'd

find her own way to get the books from to the southern Sudanese town of Kajo Kaji, which she targeted for her gift.

Friends from Sudan connected her with a Catholic priest, the Rev. Taban Toro in Uganda, who agreed to shepherd the boxes along their journey.

First, though, Henning must get the books to a Portland shipper, known as a forwarder. Next week, she'll meet the forwarder's representative who will take the books to Portland, where they will be shrink-wrapped and placed in a shipping container. Then it will take more than 35 days for the ship to reach Mombasa on the coast of Kenya. From there, the books will be driven northwest through Nairobi and Kampala and then north and over the border into Sudan. She estimates that it will cost about $600 for shipping, money she has raised by soliciting donations from friends.

Henning figures she has about 1,000 pounds of books packed in a dozen apple boxes. There are math textbooks, children's books, science books and nursing texts, donated by Henning's friends as well as purchased at local book sales.

"It's not that we can't use novels, but books are so expensive to ship," she explained. That's why she has concentrated her collection efforts on basic educational materials.

While all the books are written in English, that isn't a problem for the recipients, Henning said. "Sudan was under British control until the mid-1950s," she explained.

"There's between 500 and 600 different tribal languages, so English is considered the main language."

What will perhaps be more startling to the recipients of the books, especially the children's books, is that virtually everyone depicted in them is Caucasian.

"These are kids who have never looked at a book and here, all of the people in the books are white," she said. "There really should be books with people of different colors."




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