‘A BIG PART OF MY LIFE’‘A BIG PART OF MY LIFE’
American High Schooler Who Donated 14,000 Books Will Have School named in her honor
By Melody Gutierrez
The Sacramento Bee
The Sacramento Bee
Mira Loma High School senior Casey Robbins has spent the last four years organizing annual shipments of thousands of textbooks to students in Liberia, a West African country recovering from years of civil war.
Now, more than 14,000 books later, Liberia is naming a school after her.
Robbins will be honored in September when the Casey Robbins International School opens in Monrovia, Liberia's capital city.
"This has been a big part of my life the last few years," said Robbins, 17.
She said she initially got started on the project in eighth grade after hearing a Capital Public Radio interview with former Liberia's Deputy Minister of Information Gabriel I. H. Williams.
"He was talking about rebuilding after civil war and he said they were having the hardest time with education and health care," Robbins said.
In the radio interview, Williams said the country needed basic things such as school supplies and books.
So Robbins decided to help.
She started with 425 books in 2007. On Monday morning, Robbins sorted through thousands of books, mostly math and science, at the San Juan Unified School District warehouse in Carmichael. This will be her last shipment before handing over the project to Bella Vista junior Graham Richardson.
Robbins said her interest in international affairs led her to enroll in Mira Loma's International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and the books project also allowed her to fulfill her community service commitment. Robbins, who will enroll at Stanford University in the fall, said it will be hard to let go of the project.
In February, Robbins visited Liberia with her family, where she met President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who thanked her for her efforts to support education in Liberia.
"She's an honorary Liberian at this point," said Doeba Bropleh, president of the Sacramento-based Association of Citizens and Friends of Liberia.
Bropleh said Robbins' project is "high impact," because it puts textbooks in the hands of needy children. The association contributed $1,000 to help Robbins' fundraising efforts this year.
"In Liberia, what happens is a teacher may or may not have a book," said Bropleh, who left Liberia in 1985. "They make photocopies, and students have to buy those. Having access to a book is a phenomenal thing."
San Juan Unified would typically send the books to a surplus company, which would then recycle them or send them to jails for educational programs, said Lori Lewis, a district administrator who has been involved in the project since the beginning.
Lewis said it doesn't take too much extra effort for San Juan Unified to help Robbins' project because the books have to be sorted anyway.
The district just added a pile for supplies Robbins would be interested in. The district keeps the books and materials in a large storage bin until her next shipment.
Robbins said she drops by the warehouse to check on the supply and make sure the books set aside are what Liberian schools need.
Robbins said she is worried the textbook supply will dwindle as San Juan Unified – like districts statewide – holds onto textbooks longer as they face budget deficits.
So far, Robbins hasn't seen an impact. In fact, she has many more books than she can afford to send. Monday's shipment will cost nearly $6,000. She raises money by soliciting tax-deductible donations and applying for grants.
She said she still needs to raise $1,850 to pay for the container used to ship the books.
"The cost is the biggest challenge," Robbins said. "I used to know nothing about the shipping world. Now I do."