As a young girl growing up in rural Fiji, Ledua Kollinisau had few books at her school. Today, she said, children's reading books are still scarce in the remote parts of Fiji.
“Because my village is on a remote island, the supply ships that bring essential educational materials arrive very infrequently,” Kollinisau said.
Thanks to generous donations from New Zealanders across the lower North Island, children in rural Fiji will soon be receiving a lot more books — nearly 45,000.
The books were collected for Fiji’s children during a month-long community book drive called Books for Fiji, organized by Mormon Helping Hands of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Mormon Helping Hands program brings together Latter-day Saints and their neighbors to provide community service. This program reflects the desire of Mormons to follow the example of Jesus Christ by serving others.
When Kollinisau, who now lives in New Zealand, caught wind of the project, she remembered her own childhood village and was inspired to participate. Culling donations from friends, neighbors and her own personal library, she designated the books she gathered for her old elementary school in Fiji, stressing that “it is very important for the schools to receive reading books like these.”
With slightly less than 30 percent of Fiji’s total population under the age of 14, these books will fill a great need for children’s reading material, according to Eileen Mueller, Books for Fiji’s project director.
"Many school facilities and resources have been affected by natural disasters in recent years,” she said. “Some of these schools have no reading books. The donated books and magazines will establish libraries in schools and give children the opportunity to increase their reading skills and knowledge."
Mere Tora, acting head of Mission for the Fijian High Commission, couldn’t agree more.
"The donated books will be greatly appreciated by children of rural schools in Fiji where competing demands on limited financial resources often place other education needs ahead of reading books," she said.
"[The] 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."
Nineteen Latter-day Saint meetinghouses and nearly 100 additional churches, schools, businesses and community centers served as locations where people could donate their new and used books.
Community members, local civic leaders, religious organizations and even members of New Zealand’s parliament all joined in the Books for Fiji effort.
"I'm delighted to support this project and help children in a vulnerable situation," said Peter Dunne, a member of Parliament representing Ohariu, whose two offices served as donation centers for books. "This is a practical way to assist in their education, and I'd like to congratulate the Church for this initiative."
When the drive ended the books filled 350 boxes, weighing some 18 tons.
Shipments of books will arrive in Suva, Fiji, in November — a thought that has Rahui Katene, a Latter-day Saint and a member of Parliament for Te Tai Tonga, very excited.
"A love of reading is a fantastic start to life," she said. "When children learn to enjoy education, it influences their entire family for generations."