Tammy Baldwin, Southeast professor of mass communication, seated, and Tim Blattner, with First Financial Consultants, right, accept children’s books from Sigma Tau Gamma member Tyler Stevens for the Books for Belize project.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
Nov. 24, 2008 – Dr. Tammy Baldwin, Southeast Missouri State University professor of mass communication, is part of a group organizing Books for Belize, a massive book drive aimed at increasing literacy in several small, rural communities in the Central American country of Belize.
Baldwin is coordinating the project along with her husband, Dr. Henry Sessoms, as well as Tim Blattner with First Financial Consultants in Cape Girardeau and his wife, Dr. Nancy Blattner, vice president and dean for academic affairs at Fontbonne University in St. Louis.
The project originated from a visit Nancy Blattner made in 2007 to Belize, when she learned of the need for books to serve the children there. She and Baldwin collaborated and the idea for Books for Belize was born. Their goal is to collect 25,000 books to furnish regional children’s libraries, the first of which is currently being constructed, for 13 rural communities in Belize. These small, impoverished communities have no running water or electricity, much less books or libraries, according to Baldwin.
“This project is dear to our hearts because each of us knows how much books have enriched our lives,” Baldwin said. “When we learned of the need for books and for libraries in these communities, we decided this was something that we could do to help.”
“Education is one of the best ways to combat many of the social ills in the world today,” Nancy Blattner added. “By providing books to children who are completing an education in an area that is economically impoverished, we are giving these students a chance to not only change themselves, but to change the world around them. Since many of us who are contributing to the book drive are students or educators, it seems appropriate that we have found a way to positively affect the education of students in another country who have not had the advantages we have had, and that we take for granted. Knowing that students in Punta Gorda, Belize, will be reading these books for years to come is very satisfying,” Blattner said.
The group will collect book donations through Dec. 12. They are seeking books suitable for children ages pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, dictionaries, atlases and encyclopedias, according to Baldwin. Book donations can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays) at First Financial Consultants, located at 1221 Kingsway (behind Food Giant).
The books will be transported, free of charge, by Genesis Trucking in Cape Girardeau to North Carolina. Cross International will then take the books, at no charge, to Belize via ship.
Baldwin is grateful for the support they’ve experienced thus far.
“The outpouring of support for this project from students and faculty here at Southeast and at Fontbonne University has been amazing,” she said. “Not only have students and faculty been involved, but many people in both communities have become involved as well and donated books – lots of books – to the project. It is truly turning into a labor of love, and we appreciate all of the help everyone has been giving,” Baldwin added.
Belize is a small, poverty-stricken country located between Guatemala and Mexico on the Caribbean Sea. Thirty-three percent of Belize’s population falls below the World Bank Poverty Threshold, meaning they make less than $740 per year.
According to the Web site www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/pring/bh.html, Belize is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts, with a population of 301,270. English is the official language, although Spanish and Creole also are spoken. Thirty-eight percent of the country’s population is 14 years old or younger. The literacy rate for citizens age 15 and older is 76.9 percent. The unemployment rate, according to 2006 figures, was 9.4 percent, and 33 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.