Helping children read in villages across Africa has netted the Tracy Drug Abuse Resistance Education program the African Library Project 2016 Compassion in Action Award.

This international honor is given annually by the African Library Project to book drive organizers who have done the most to help create libraries in Africa and make an outstanding contribution to African literacy.

Over the course of two years, children in the Tracy D.A.R.E. program collected thousands of gently used books to help set up 26 libraries throughout Africa. Each library needs 1,000 books and $500.

“Twenty-six libraries in the last two years, that’s amazing,” Chris Bradshaw, the founder of the African Library Project, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“To us, it’s a beautiful affirmation of the commitment of the city of Tracy to reach out and improve the world,” she said. “It means the most to those 26 villages, schools and kids. They now have access to books.”

The leader of the Tracy project is D.A.R.E. officer Steve Abercrombie, who said it began in 2013 while he was collecting books for the local charity Brighter Christmas. That group ended up with more books than it needed, so he began looking for a charity that could accept the overflow.

After he coordinated with the African Library Project, the children in his D.A.R.E. classes throughout Tracy kept the momentum going.

“I’m always looking for different things to get (them) involved in community service, because it’s not just all about them,” he said Wednesday. “I told them, as a productive citizen, they have to learn to give back, and this was your way of giving back.

“The coolest thing for a 10-year-old is they are helping some kid halfway around the world learn to read,” Abercrombie added.

Started in 2005, the African Library Project aims to create 300 libraries each year.

Bradshaw said the donated books have a big impact on the villages that receive them. Many schools in Africa have only a handful of books, she said, and most of those are used by the teacher for instruction. Libraries put books in the students’ hands. She said the donated books — both fiction and nonfiction — extend those appropriate for preschoolers to the eighth-grade level.

Abercrombie said he was “blown away” when he received the news last month that Tracy D.A.R.E. had been chosen to receive the award.

“It was quite an honor and pretty humbling, considering how many people are involved,” he said. “Definitely a team effort. The kids did a great job collecting the books, and parents did the fundraising with teachers, and some organizations gave us money.”

He said the D.A.RE. classes want to keep collecting books for Africa and already have 1,000 more in their storage bin.

Abercrombie is scheduled to accept the award on behalf of Tracy D.A.R.E. during an African Library Project fundraiser called Harambee on Oct. 8 at the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Menlo Park.

Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at drizzo@tracypress.com or 830-4225.

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