(Y)Our Books Arrive: Ghana & South Africa!

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“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea.” e.e.cummings

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In this case, it is our books that we have found, resurfacing after their long journey at sea.

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Many of you will remember that all summer and fall we packed and sorted thousands of books, ultimately sending 15,000 beautiful children’s books to both Ghana and South Africa.

img_6111These books have a long journey, spending several weeks in metal containers before finally being loaded onto the ships that will carry them across the ocean and to the African continent. From there they must make it through customs and be loaded onto trucks and bump along through towns and villages until they finally reach their intended destination: children who love to read!img_1465

We are so excited to receive some photos of children enjoying these books! It is so much fun to realize that although these children are so very far away, in another sense, we are really all part of one world, enjoying the same stories and jokes and learning about the world from the same books.wbs-african-children-5Today we are truly able to say that we are fulfilling our mission,

“Helping children realize the magical awesomeness of reading!”wbs-african-children-2

Please continue donating children’s books! We have recently received an urgent request from some  parentless children in Kenya who would love some new books. We are working to gather books and help with shipping costs so these children too can enjoy imaginary tales and learn from science and history books.

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With your help we can continue to improve global literacy, at home and around the world. Many thanks, always! The Wonderland BookSavers!

Mustard Seed of Charity

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We have been fortunate to be supported by many wonderful organizations, one of which is St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.  Father Martin has provided us with the opportunity to speak at 4 Masses this weekend.  We want to thank the parishioners for their very generous support as they have donated 1,000’s of beautiful children’s books these past few years.  We also want to reflect upon our growth, which we feel is like the parable of the Mustard Seed.  We are of very small beginnings, but with humble faith, we continue to grow and make room for others to come rest in our branches.

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Andre/Brooks: Good Morning.

My name is Andre /Brooks and Father Martin was kind enough to allow my friends and me to share with you the adventures of our community service book club, the Wonderland BookSavers.

We founded this children-for-children charity five years ago when I was eight years old. We began as a summer book club, and the first book we read was A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. After reading A Single Shard, we decided to create a banner with an inspiring quote from the book. This quote was, “Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo, but you must not tell your body. It must think, ‘one hill, one valley, one day at a time.’ It that way your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”

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These words proved to be more true than we could have ever imagined.

Claire: We feel that expanding access to books will help to increase global literacy, allowing children to grow into adults that can have more meaningful lives, and will provide the opportunity for more people to follow Christ, through their ability to read the Bible.   Our own reading of the Bible has taught us, “For I can do everything, through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13.

The Wonderland BookSavers, now an official international 501(c)3 charity, began five years ago with the simple ambition of using literature and Christ’s love as an inspiration to serve our community.

Our initial goal was to donate 500 books to a local school. We have surpassed our expectations by donating over 140,000 books, 1,500 pairs of shoes and countless supplies including blankets, school supplies and Band-Aids to kids around the world.

With inspiration garnered from literature and from the love of Christ, we now regularly fill libraries in Haiti, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, China, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. We do not neglect our immediate community, providing supplies to kids in Bridgeport, New Haven, Newtown, Massachusetts, Appalachia West Virginia and Tennessee.

We are extremely grateful to our adult partnering organizations. They provide shipping and trucking to remote locations.

Of course our most important partners are people such as yourselves, sitting right here at Mass today. The children that receive our donations, both locally and in South America and Africa are so grateful for your contributions. It is hard to understand sitting here in Fairfield today, but something as simple as lacking a pencil or a pair of shoes, can prevent an African child from attending school.

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Maddie: We compare the growth of our charity to the parable of the mustard seed in the Bible, Matthew 13:31-32.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

We planted our seed with the simple step of taking action. With humility inspired by Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, we have gratefully watched our seed grow.

In the process, we have learned some things that we had never imagined.

Do you know what a teacher does in Zimbabwe when she gets a new box of pencils? She breaks them all in half, so that every child can have one.

Did you know that many African children walk barefoot to school, sometimes 5 miles or more per day?

Did you know that Jesus lives in Zimbabwe? We received a package of drawings and letters this year from children in Zimbabwe, thanking us for their books, and every single letter referenced Jesus, saying, “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.” We truly felt blessed by their words.

The most important lesson we have learned is that charity does not have to involve collecting money.

In our society, we leave books on shelves collecting dust, we have old shoes that are “two sizes too small” cluttering up the back of our closets, we have random crayons, pencils, markers rolling around in our drawers. These are all opportunities to bring joy to a child.

We fill shoeboxes with Baggies filled with all kind of marking tools. One shoe box like this, (show box), contains enough school supplies for an entire classroom in Africa.   Please help us continue our mission by simply gathering books, shoes and crayons you no longer need, and donating them so another person can enjoy these items.

Together, we can increase global literacy and help the mustard seed of faith and charity grow in our hearts.

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Emma: We would like in turn to thank you, the parishioners of St. Thomas. You have been so exceeding generous these past two years, donating numerous children’s books, school supplies, pens and pencils. These gifts have been truly appreciated. In September 2015, Father Martin was kind enough to allow my friends and me to share with you the adventures of our community service book club, the Wonderland BookSavers. At that time we were proud to have donated over 30,000 books to children across the globe. Now, with the support of Father Martin and you, the parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, who have generously supported our efforts, we can say that together, with Jesus at our side, we are truly spreading the gift of literacy. In just the past 2 years we have shared over 100,000 books with over 500,000 children in over 14 poverty-stricken regions throughout the world. These children are learning to read and grow and will be able to build meaningful futures for themselves and their families.

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Ella: On behalf of the many children we serve, we humbly thank you, and as the children in Zimbabwe say, “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.”

             

          Thank You, The Wonderland BookSaver Team

Meeting with Susan Whitcomb to Discuss the Hurricane and Haiti

Last Friday, we met with our long-time community partner, Susy Whitcomb, the Founder and President of Haitian Educational Initiatives. Haitian Educational Initiatives was established as a response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Hurricane Matthew has razed Haiti, and we have been supporting Haitian Educational Initiative’s recovery efforts following the natural disaster.

Headlines about Haiti and Hurricane Matthew from BBC, Reuters, and The Weather Channel

During the 2015-2016 school year, we undertook the task of donating $1,099 worth of Haitian-Creole books to Haiti. Haitian-Creole has only been a written language since 1979, making Haitian-Creole books incredibly rare. First, we held a community event at the Barnum School in Bridgeport to raise awareness. Then, we partnered with the corporate healthcare business ZappRx. We met with the ZappRx PR team in Boston when we donated 2,000 books with ZappRx stickers to the Reach Out and Read program at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. In exchange, Zoe Barry, the Founder and CEO of ZappRx donated us funds she won from the contest ONEin3, which is sponsored by the mayor of Boston. One of the initial reasons we decided to transform into a 501(c)3 was so that we could accept these funds and purchase Haitian-Creole books.

Children reading our donated Haitian-Creole books

We sat with Susy to discuss the conditions of the children, their families, their homes, and their schools. Haitian Educational Initiative’s schools in Jacmel and Cayes-Jacmel both sustained damage, and the school in rural Cayes-Jacmel was afflicted with severe flooding. Fortunately, our books were not harmed; proper precautions were exercised to ensure that our books and other school supplies were not damaged by the hurricane. For the most part, the children and their families were safe, but 80% of their crops and livestock were swept away.

Susy affirmed that since the children are equipped with education, during these dire times, the children are actually more apt and able to recover. Unlike their parents, the children can read, and have a breadth of academic knowledge. At school, the children have also learned crafting skills to create goods to sell at the market. These goods range from clothes, to sunglasses made from plastic bottles, to bracelets and jewelry, to pottery, and many other items.

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A Haitian bowl made from a special paper mâché technique

Susy showed us pictures of the school in Cayes-Jacmel. In the pictures, rapids of muddy brown water race over the concrete platform of the school. The school in Cayes-Jacmel is open air, and consists of a concrete foundation with posts from which a tarp is draped over to provide shade, or protection from rain. Susy explained that now the school is being excavated from the thick layers of mud and debris.

 

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Flooding in Haiti. Photo credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

While most of the children and families Haitian Educational Initiatives serves were unharmed, a fourteen-year-old boy was injured during the hurricane. Susy explained how the boy, who attends the school in Cayes-Jacmel, was crushed by a tree, breaking both of his legs. He is receiving medical attention, but the medicine in Haiti is not very advanced, and this injury could have severe, lasting effects. We have asked Susy to put us in contact with the boy and his family, and we hope to assist him in any possible way. We are hoping to deliver him some books and other school supplies so he can continue studying while he recovers.

After meeting with Susy, we presented her with a check written by Reid to support the relief Haitian Educational Initiatives is providing. If you wish, you may donate to Haitian Educational Initiatives to provide food, clean water, and the basic living necessities here.

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Presenting Susy with relief funds

Additionally, at the end of our meeting, Susy presented us with gifts from the children in Haiti. When we donated the children in Haiti books and school supplies, we also sent poster pals, which are banners with notes of love, drawings, and pictures from us and school children in our area. In return, we received paper mâché figurines and pottery.

 

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We are very grateful for our wonderful friends in Haiti and we will continue to assist them and Haitian Educational Initiatives in every way possible.

Imagination and Idealization: The Grim Parallels Between Poe and the Salem Witch Trials

By Claire Langdon

On Friday morning, Madeline, Emma and I led a tour at Pequot Library, entitled the “Poe and Witches Exhibit”. The exhibit was centered around the theme of imagination and idealization, especially in reference to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and the Salem witch trials: perfect topics, as Halloween is just around the corner!

When the elementary school class from a local town arrived, we began an architectural tour, as it is important to appreciate the unique patterns, art, and craftsmanship that can be seen throughout the library. On the library’s exterior, there are often overlooked dates chiseled above the arched, pink granite entrances, which read 1637 and 1887. The latter represents the year of the library’s opening, and the former represents the year of the first recorded event in Southport, Connecticut: the Great Swamp Fight. The battle marked the ending of the Pequot War, and it is believed by experts at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation that many artifacts still lie beneath homes and wetlands in the surrounding area.

As we continued to lead the group of children throughout the library, we arrived at the “stacks”. Originally donated by renowned town philanthropists, the Wakeman family, the stacks still house adult books in the extensive rows of books, which are bejeweled with Tiffany glass windows. The upstairs of the stack, which was most students’ favorite part of the tour, has a thick glass floor and retired gas lines, which, historically, would provide light for the readers on the floor below as evening fell.

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Upstairs in the Stacks, Courtesy of tappe.com

After the architectural tour, we lectured the students on the witch trials of the 1600’s. Though most of them had heard of the Salem witch trials, they were surprised to hear that Fairfield has a dark history of trying and dunking or hanging accused witches. After discussing the significance of primary sources with them, we read aloud from a book in the display case that entailed the ideas of witch trial proponents Increase and Cotton Mather. In relation to the theme of imagination and idealization, we discussed with the students how the imaginations of the people at the time, who had little proof of cause if anything went awry, might be fueled by influential writers such as the Mathers, or town leaders such as Rodger Ludlowe. Additionally, we discussed how the term “grim” is applicable to both the trials and Poe’s works, and how thematic parallels can be drawn despite the difference in time period. We finished by conversing about our current idealization of witches; how we imagine them to be evil with green skin and a pointy hat, or kind and fairy-like, as Glinda is portrayed in the Wizard of Oz.

Following out tour of the witch exhibit, we transitioned into Perkins Gallery to explore imagination and idealization in the context of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Specifically, the focal point of the exhibit was Poe’s dark imagination, and what he triggered in our own imaginations, as well as others’. Alongside his own works, many of the artifacts were renditions of some of his famous works, such as cartoon posters of The Raven, a miniature cat jack-in-the-box version of The Black Cat, and tiny coffin-shaped copy of The Premature Burial. Grim daguerreotypes and compositions transported our imaginations back to the grim lifestyle of the Puritans during the period of witch trials.

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The Black Cat

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A quote from Poe, expressing the grim darkness that plagued his life and trickled into his literary works, as well as a blown up picture of his daguerrotype.

By exploring both the Salem Witch Trials and the works of Edgar Allan Poe in the context of imagination and idealization, as well as how our own imaginations are impacted by literary works, the students were able to make connections between two separate points in history. By exploring a common theme in the light of two different time periods and multiple different authors, parallels can be drawn between idealization and works of art and literature.

Immediate Relief for Haiti: How You Can Help, How We Will Help, Join Us!

By Brooks Morgan

If you are looking for a way to respond to the Haitian hurricane disaster, here is a non-profit that we personally know and trust.

The Wonderland BookSavers have been working with the Founder and President, Susan P. Whitcomb, of Haitian Education Initiatives for the past several years.  We have donated 100’s of French-language children’s books to her programs so that the Haitian children she serves can extend their educational opportunities.  This past spring we were able to purchase books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were written in Haitian-Creole, providing these children with the very first books they have ever seen in their own native language.  Susy has worked tirelessly to provide food and education to the children under her care.  Now they desperately need more than books.  They need water.  They need food.

8717ea7d-7902-4c1c-98a0-f5fc28cfa3b4_w987_r1_sThe situation in Jacmel, Haiti is extremely challenging: hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, as well as 36 schools and 2 hospitals. 80% of crops and animals have been lost. The population lacks food and clean water. 5 cases of cholera have already emerged and an epidemic is expected since the town has been flooded by rainwater, sewage and mud.

Haitian Educational Initiatives (HEI) has two distribution centers in the Jacmel area to provide emergency food kits for hurricane victims. These kits provide enough food, clean water and hygiene supplies to support a family of 6-8 for about 2 weeks.  Each kit costs $80.  Donations may be made online at www.haitiedu.org or by check to Haitian Educational Initiatives, 857 Post Road, Fairfield, CT 06824.

HEI is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization based in Fairfield, CT. Since 2010 we have partnered with Haitian community groups to promote access to education for impoverished children whose families cannot afford to send them to school. Our programs include scholarships, feeding, academic tutoring, job training and summer camps.  HEI is a transparent and accountable organization: 92 cents of every dollar goes directly to programs. For more information contact susan@haitiedu.org or www.haitiedu.org.

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We, at Wonderland Booksavers, are personal friends with Susy, and we are acquainted with the many successful ventures she has achieved in Haiti.  We look forward to supporting her efforts by contributing some of our Lemonade for Literacy dollars towards Hurricane Survival kits.  Please join us.  There can be no learning without food, water and sanitation! Remember: $80 is of finite value, but the care you offer is of infinite worth.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Our Bibles Reach China

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-40 KJV)

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Emma carrying a box

Our neighbors are the peoples of the world; and while we recognize that each of us can have only a very small impact, we try to share our love with each person we meet. Together we hope to make many feel joyful and needed.

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Initially when we were approached with a request to send 50 Bibles across the world to China we hesitated. Would the Bibles really reach China? Did the people in China really want Bibles? Really need Bibles?

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But then as we began to do some research we realized that not only is China the country that has the fastest growing Christian population, it is also a country that is religiously intolerant and is persecuting its own citizens, taking down crosses,

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and attempting to destroy churches and jail priests and bishops.

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This made us very sad.

Faced with the potential destruction of their church by government forces, one protestor told the Telegraph,

“A church is a sacred place and we are all brothers and sisters; Christianity has made a big contribution to society in many ways.”

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And so, we joined with many others, and send our prayers for peace and acceptance, along with 50 Chinese Bibles, across the seas, to China.  Join us in our prayer for peace and unity!

It is our hope that President Obama will join us as well!

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               Barack Obama urged to use G20 China visit to fight for persecuted Christians

 

 

 

 

 

ZappRx Partnership Brings Books to New Horizons in Africa

Our community partner, Zoe Barry, Founder and CEO of ZappRx,, recently traveled to Uganda and Rwanda.

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Kampala, a large city in Uganda

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Roadside market, Rwanda

Zoe traveled light, with only 33 pounds of allowable packed luggage, she made the most of it, img_7565

packing paperback stories, coloring books and crayons

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for distribution to children throughout her trip.

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Note: Cautionary tales promoting chastity are posted on the closed shutters when this “dialy” school is done for the day.

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Young girl in foreground is balancing a machete on her head. Obviously more coordinated than most US toddlers!

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Armed guards accompanied Zoe and her companion as they delivered books.

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Everyone loves to see themselves!

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Zoe, delivering books to members of the Batwa Pygmy Tribe.

Ahh…Africa…

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Wonderland BookSavers’ 2016 Quote of the Year

Written by Madeline

In August of 2012, Claire, Emma and Brooks Morgan and I read A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. The four of us had just recently formed into a book club, and this was the first book we read as a club. We decided to complete a project after each book we read, and we designated a quote-banner as our project for A Single Shard.

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Left to right: Claire, Emma, Madeline, and Brooks Morgan work on their “A Single Shard” banners

We chose to emblazon our banners with an inspiring quote from A Single Shard which goes as follows. “Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo. But you must not tell your body. It must think, one hill, one valley, one day at a time. In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”

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It has become our annual tradition to choose an inspiring quote. Our quotes are always from a book our club has read or from an inspirational person we have read about together. Last Friday, we completed our fifth annual quote banner.

This year, we chose a quote from Phillipians 4:13 which reads “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”

We chose this quote since our faith has been instrumental in our charity, both in a sense that it has inspired many of our projects, and because many of our community partners are churches.

After taping the banner down on table so it would not slide as we worked, we began to transcribe the quote onto our banners in pencil, and trace the pencil in marker.

We chose to make the first letter of the quote an illuminated letter, since we learned how to make illuminated letters and manuscripts in preparation for teaching a medieval camp at the beginning of summer.illuminated%22f%22Our banners were enhanced with decorations such as a bookshelf with titles of books we have read together.booksonbanner.jpgOur team and our charity has grown significantly since we made our first quote banner. Each year we have continued this custom, and each year our banners inspire us to new heights. Only a few months after we began our book club in 2012, we had transformed into Wonderland BookSavers, and a few years after founding Wonderland BookSavers, we have transformed into a 501(c)(3), Wonderland BookSavers, Inc.

We look forward to another year of reading and donating books one hill, one valley, and one day at a time!4doingquote

Wonderland BookSavers Brings 1,000 Books to Boston

Written by Madeline

Last December, we traveled to Boston, bringing with us 2,000 books which we donated to the Reach Out and Read program at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children.

Pictures from our December donation in Boston

Every time a child visits the hospital, they are able to choose a book to keep and bring home with them.

On August ninth, we trekked back up to Boston with another 1,000 books to replenish the bookshelves at the hospital. When we arrived, we were greeted by community partners Zoe Barry, the founder and CEO of ZappRx; Reach Out and Read coordinator Marika Michelangelo; Anne Carroll from Tufts Floating hospital; and hospital and Reach Out and Read interns.

We unloaded boxes of books from our cars, placed the boxes on dollies, and carted the dollies through the hospital and into the elevators.

When the metal elevator doors opened, we guided the dollies through the hallway, and unloaded some of the boxes into the closet where extra books are kept for the hospital to refill their shelves with. Next, we brought our books over to the same bookshelves we filled last December. Almost all of the 2,000 books we had brought 9 months ago had been selected and taken home by children.

We opened our boxes of books which had already been sorted into three levels: pre-school through third grade, fourth to sixth grade, and middle/high school. We then stocked the books on the shelves in those respective categories and order.

The hospital and Reach Out and Read personnel briefly interviewed and questioned us about our project, and after our discussing our charity, we thanked everyone and departed.

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After leaving the hospital, we went to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, which is the second presidential library we have visited as a team. We explored the museum and archives.boston9

Our excursion to John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Library concluded our trip to Boston, but we will look forward to bringing more books to Boston in the near future.

Aid for Ecuador

by Brooks Morgan

In the summer of 2013, Wonderland BookSavers read A Long Walk for Water, by Linda Sue Park.

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This amazing book is a fictionalized account of the real-life story of a young boy, Salva, who is caught in the cross fire of the civil war in the Sudan. His happy childhood becomes a nightmare. As he matures to adolescence, Salva comes to realize that the search for clean water is a major cause of so much violence and unhappiness in his homeland.   As an adult, Salva traveled back to the Sudan, bringing the gift of clean water to his friends and enemies alike, thereby hoping to also bring the gift of peace to the warring villages.

 

The Wonderland BookSavers, being inspired by literature, recognized immediately the importance of clean water, not just in the Sudan, but also across many countries in the developing world. We decided to have a lemonade-stand style stand to raise funds and awareness. At the opening of a local public park, we hosted a Water 4 Water stand. We sold bottles of water for $2.00, and raised $150.00.

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We used this money to purchase 3 simple water purifiers. We gave these to a teenage friend who was traveling to Ecuador. Each water purifier was placed in a separate village, allowing for clean water for 3 villages!

 

This past April another teenage friend was traveling to Ecuador for a mission trip to Monte Sinai, located in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He asked for donations of T-shirts to share with the children in the Rostro de Cristo orphanage. As soon as we heard this request, we knew the Wonderland BookSavers could again step up to help children in Ecuador.

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Within a few days we were able to gather over 100 T-shirts. Reid and I washed and folded all the shirts. We were very happy to think of other children enjoying all our cheerful shirts!

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Unfortunately, just as our friend was visiting Ecuador, an enormous earthquake occurred! Our friend was safe, but sadly, many others were injured. Currently the Ecuadorian government is trying to encourage travelers to reconsider Ecuador as a viable vacation destination. The earthquake not only cost many people their lives but has also done great economic damage to the country.

Our prayers are with the beautiful people of Ecuador.