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Books For Africa Helps Kids Idled By Ebola Crisis

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's the face of Liberia that is now capturing world attention.

A coordinated fight is taking place in the African nation to control the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

But fighting the outbreak also has some negative but necessary side effects that will keep Liberian children from attending school.

To keep the disease from spreading, Liberian schools have been closed for the past several months.

The Minnesota-based nonprofit Books for Africa is stepping in to help provide the badly-needed books to children who cannot attend school.

"Books are about ideas, books are stories, books are about people," explains Ahmed Sirleaf, a U.S. Embassy advisor in Monrovia, Liberia.

Sirleaf grew up in Liberia and recalls the benefit of reading American books as a child. That experience, Sirleaf says, helped expand his horizons and ignite his love of learning.

He says the shipment of 22,000 books to Liberia will help kids learn while their schools remain closed.

"To send books to Liberia at this point in time, particularly after the Ebola crisis, I think is timely and will change lives," Sirleaf said.

That's what former publisher, Tom Warth, set out to do 26 years ago. He founded Books for Africa in 1988 to help eradicate illiteracy in African countries.

Warth was beaming with pride on Tuesday at a St. Paul warehouse. Along the walls are stacks of huge boxes, each one packed with hundreds of donated books.

Warth gathered with volunteers and others to celebrate the latest book shipment to Liberia.

"We need three things: we need money to send the books, we need the books and we need volunteers to sort them," Warth said.

Next spring, 300 Minnesota National Guard members with the 34th Infantry Division Headquarters, known as the Red Bulls, will deploy to Liberia to assist the Ebola fighting effort.

Major General Neal Loidolt will command relief efforts of the entire U.S. military force.

"It really is a great opportunity (for them) to exercise military skills they always have had, but in a humanitarian assistance effort," Loidolt said.

Tom Warth says it is an effort that all Minnesotans can help with.

"It costs 50 cents to send a book. Fifty children will read a book. So for one penny, you're going to impact on a child. Isn't that exciting? I can't think of anything better for your philanthropic money," Warth said.

Getting the container filled with 22,000 books to ship to Liberia isn't cheap. It will cost in the neighborhood of $10,000.

Books for Africa has shipped more than 31 million books to 49 different countries since 1988, along with hundreds of computers and 11 law and human rights libraries.

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