As 2016 draws to a close I find myself reflecting on Book Aid International's work over the last 12 months.
Thanks to our many thousands of supporters we have been able to send over one million brand new books this year, all donated by British publishers, to readers in community libraries, primary and secondary schools, prisons, universities and refugee camps across Africa. These books will reach children and adults who would otherwise have had few - or no - books to read, whether for pleasure or for study.
While all the books we send have the potential to enrich and to change lives, for me the modest 30,000 or so books we sent this year to Sierra Leone were particularly special. Thanks in large part to the support of players of Peoples Postcode Lottery, the first shipment of books left our warehouse in Camberwell for Sierra Leone on 18 April, 2016.
This small country in West Africa, rich in diamonds and iron ore but still one of the world's poorest nations, had been in the grip of an Ebola epidemic since 2014. The all-clear in early 2016 came only after nearly 4,000 people had died. Whole families were affected, many children were left orphans and all children having missed a year's education as a national shut-down of schools attempted to contain the spread of the disease.
The books we sent this year included children's story books, fiction and books to support primary and secondary education as well as medical and higher education books to contribute to the rebuilding of the economy. We hope these books will go a small way to help rebuild communities and, very importantly, bring the joy of reading to children who otherwise would have no books in their lives.
These books are already having an impact, particularly in schools across the country. Some of the teachers and students who have received books have shared their experiences in our Christmas appeal video:
The public libraries in Sierra Leone also played a crucial role in combating the impact of Ebola in communities, remaining open right through the epidemic and providing safe spaces for children, often at great personal risk to the librarians and staff. One of the librarians who was at the forefront of those efforts shared his experiences in a recent blog on our website.
Today the library service continues to contribute to getting people across the country back to reading and learning.
Stories like this remind us that Sierra Leone is a resilient place with the potential for a bright future. As we continue to supply the books that the country desperately needs, we look forward to helping Sierra Leone move forward - and beyond Ebola.
Book Aid International is delighted to receive support from players of People's Postcode Lottery. Find out more about how players support our work
Just £2 could send a book to Sierra Leone. Learn more or donate