Rancho Santa Fe student leads successful book drive for African Library Project


Rancho Santa Fe 12-year-old Bela Gowda shared the gift of reading with African children through her grassroots book drive for The African Library Project. Over a year-long effort, The Bishop’s School seventh grader collected 1,000 books and $500 in donations to provide books and build a rural community library for school children in Ghana.

“I knew it would be a lot of work when I started,” Bela said. “I was excited when I actually finished it.”

Bela sent 35 boxes of books from the Rancho Santa Fe Post Office on Jan. 19 to the organization’s warehouse in New Orleans. The African Library Project will make shipments out to Ghana in February and Bela’s books will help stock the shelves at the Masi Anfoe School.

According to the African Library Project, most African children grow up without books and many African educators teach reading, writing, math and English without a single book to use as a resource. Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world and books are the key to increasing literacy and helping people out of poverty.

Since 2005, the African Library Project has donated over 2.6 million books and completed 2,585 libraries in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Nigeria, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi, Ghana, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Kenya.

Bela Gowda’s cookies for a cause.

While Bela has done other community service projects, such as volunteering at the San Diego Food Bank and Ronald McDonald House, this is the first big project she’s done by herself. Bela said she was inspired to take on the book drive by her mom Shilpi. Shilpi is the author of the award-winning and best-selling novels “The Golden Son” and “Secret Daughter”— her third novel “The Seekers” is slated for publication by William Morrow Books this year.

Mom and daughter read a book together nearly every night before bed and often take trips to the local library.

“I love reading and I thought it would be really cool for others to experience that too,” Bela said.

Bela sought donations for over a year. She sold homemade cookies for a $1 in the Rancho Santa Fe village and at her birthday party in May she asked for donations instead of gifts. She contacted the Library Guild of Rancho Santa Fe’s Books Cellar, which donated about 400 books to her cause. During the holidays, Bela sent emails out to neighbors asking for contributions of books and those who donated were rewarded with fresh-baked loaves of bread.

Once she had collected the books and funds required, Bela’s family members helped her with the large task of packing up all of the boxes to mail. As an extra touch, Bela added photos and notes to the boxes of books to personalize them, “so the students can see where they came from,” Bela said.

In her first big effort Bela collected over 1,000 books but shipped just 1,000 this time—she is already making plans for her next drive.

Learn more about how to start your own book drive by visiting