Last summer, I officially joined as a founding board member of a new start-up non-profit called Nargis Library Recovery (NRL). This NGO was started last year in response to the devastating 2008 Nargis cyclone (hurricane) which wiped out large portions of the Irrawaddy Delta leaving an estimated 135,000 people dead, 800,000 homeless, destroying much of the infrastructure … including about 2,000 libraries.
I want to do this until I die
In late 2007, I first met NRL’s founder, Dr. John Badgley, a well-known grassroots activist who started the Institute of the Rockies in the 1970’s and has had a distinguished career in the academic world with specialties in Asia Studies and libraries. Dr. Badgley is a Burmese speaker (Myanmar was previously known as Burma) and has extensive relationships in Myanmar with scholars, monks, librarians, business leaders and more. Dr. Badgley retired a number of years ago, but like most activist leaders, that just provided him more opportunity to focus on changing the world! At our inaugural board meeting, when we asked John how much compensation he would like/expect for being Executive Director, he responded by saying that it really didn’t matter as he was committed to supporting the recovery of the Myanmar libraries until he died.
In our recent board meeting, we walked through the humbling list of 2009 accomplishments we were able to make … all on a bootstrap budget of ~$40,000 plus LOTS of volunteer time and in-kind donations. Here is a sampling:
- Our “Green Card”. In Jan 2009, we received (very rare) special permission from the US Treasury to export books, computers and other materials needed to rebuild libraries in Myanmar (currently on US blacklist)
- Two Significant Corporate Sponsorships. 1,000,000 books from Thrift Books and 6 shipping containers (50,000 each) of books from USA to Myanmar from American President Lines.
- Books Actually Delivered to Libraries. We shipped and distributed more than 200,000 English & Burmese language books to more than 150 hand selected libraries in Myanmar. Estimated value of books and shipping cost of $625,000!
- A Scalable Book Delivery System. Now have refined an end-to-end scaled book delivery logistics system which includes: (a) sourcing books in USA; (b) selection, organization and packing of books into a shipping container; (c) transportation to ship; (d) ship transport to Singapore; (e) ship transport onwards to Yangon; (f) sorting and repackaging for delivery to targeted libraries in Yangon; (g) fundraising sales of some books for purchase of Burmese language books; (h) delivery of books to appropriate libraries.
- Public Charity Application. We applied for IRS 501c3 public charity status (currently operating as a project of Institute of the Rockies)
- Amazingly Generous Volunteers. Significant personal volunteer time received from many people in USA and Myanmar, but with special recognition to John Badgley (NLR Executive Director), Thant Thaw Kaung (NLR director, Myanmar-based partner) and his wife, May.
For 2010, we have some additional exciting plans including rebuilding our first libraries in addition to delivering at least 300,000 books in libraries in Myanmar.
Read more and see photos at Nargis Library Recovery