A school project turned out to be more than a Grady High School student bargained for.
Tessa Szalkowski asked the Atlanta community to donate books for a library in Rwanda. The response has been overwhelming and children in Kigali are soaking in the stories that many of us take for granted.
Tessa was in the ninth grade when her family sponsored an exchange student from Rwanda. Her name is Portia Mitima and both she and Tessa love books.
"She and I kind of bonded and she told me about this new library in her town, in Kigali, which is the capital of Rwanda," said Tessa.
The library is one of the first in the country and that shocked the self-described bookworm.
“So, I wanted to contribute and I wanted to share the gift of reading that I had as a kid.”
Tessa, a member of the Grady High 21st Century Leaders Club, pitched a book drive to help fill the shelves of the Kigali library. The club reached out to other high schools across Atlanta.
Now a rising senior, Tessa has been overwhelmed by the response.
"I realized the number was getting big. Six thousand books was a lot, so I was like wait, wait, wait. I need to actually start fund raising so I can ship them off," she said.
She shipped more than 3,000 books last year but she needs help getting another 6,000 to the country.
The teen's parents say their daughter figured out most of the logistics on her own and she set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the next shipment. Her reward is seeing the results in pictures from the first set of books.
"When I got the pictures back, it was just so touching. I saw all these kids piled around the table with books stacked high.”
Tessa says books donations have come in from all over the city. An anonymous donor left a pile of books at their door one morning. She even found some sponsorship from Home Depot to help out.
Tessa says she would like to travel to Rwanda one day to see the library for herself.
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