KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 14, 2014 – Textbooks. In America, land of plenty, they double as doorstops when they’ve served their purpose. But in Liberia textbooks are so hard to come by they are treated like precious family heirlooms.
A bloody civil war emptied books from Liberia’s classrooms. Now Emmanuel Logan wants to fill them up again. The Liberian-born University of Rhode Island alumnus has collected 9,000 used textbooks and is raising money online to ship them to Liberia.
“Hundreds of people came forward with books, and we’re very grateful,” said Emmanuel, who lives in Providence with his wife, Zaye, and their children. “Now we just need to raise enough money to get the books to students in Liberia. We would appreciate any generosity.”
His book campaign was born out of sadness and hope. Born in Liberia 33 years ago, Logan was a happy boy living on a farm with his parents and siblings when civil war broke out in 1989, tearing the country apart.
Logan’s family was not spared. His mother, Sarah Logan, was kidnapped by rebels for speaking out against guerilla leader Charles Taylor and thrown into prison. She was raped and murdered. To this day, Logan doesn’t know where, or even if, she was buried.
Fearing for his life, Logan fled to the Ivory Coast and then to Ghana, where he lived in hiding. From there, he moved to South Providence to stay with relatives. He had no time for self-pity. He found a job as an aide at a Massachusetts group home for adults with learning challenges, making his way up to his current job as assistant program manager.
But a job wasn’t enough; he wanted an education too. He enrolled at URI’s Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence, earning his bachelor’s degree in 2013, a huge accomplishment considering he works every day.
His homeland has never been far from his mind. He and his wife started IDEA, a nonprofit that is trying to rescue an educational system ravaged by decades of civil war, now over. Consider this: All 25,000 students applying to the University of Liberia last fall flunked the entrance exam, says Logan.
The outpouring of support for his nonprofit, he says, has been incredible. Friends, fellow students, co-workers and people who read about his organization in the local papers donated the books, which he picked up on his own and transported in the trunk of his car.
Last fall, Logan traveled to Liberia to bury his father, who died of a heart attack. It was his first visit home since he left in 2007. The trip was bittersweet. He met with Liberian education officials, delivering 3,500 of the 9,000 books to Grand Bassa Community College.
“They were very happy to get the donation,” said Logan. “They appreciated that I’d think of my country, even though I’m living thousands of miles away. I promised I would do more, if I could.”
Logan also returned to his family farm, now desolate. He buried his father on the family plot. “My mother didn’t have a decent burial, so I wanted to give my father one. We were all crying.”
For a year, Logan stored books he collected at his apartment, but this winter he ran out of space and moved them to a storage unit, where they sit. He estimates that it will cost $2,500, maybe more, to ship the boxes to Liberia. To raise money, he is selling IDEA T-shirts on T-shirts.
Logan is also collecting school supplies, such as binders, spiral notebooks and pencils, as well as clothes and shoes for the hundreds of orphanages created after the war.
“Our main goal is to rebuild the libraries in Liberia,” said Logan. “What could be more important than knowledge? The best thing we can do for young people in Liberia is to educate them. Education opens any door.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunities this country has given me and my family,” Logan said. “I think it’s important to remember that many people around the world are struggling. We need to help them. They can’t be forgotten.”
Pictured above, kneeling in striped shirt: Emmanuel Logan, 33, of Providence, a University of Rhode Island alumnus who collected 9,000 used textbooks to send to his homeland in Liberia. He is raising money online to pay shipping costs.