Access to a surplus of reading material is a foreign concept to public university students in the African country of Burundi.
Students at the University of Burundi line up regularly to share one solitary textbook per 400 students. Director of Composition Dr. Stephen Dilks compares this deprivation to “the bible being chained to the pulpit.”
As the only public school in the country, the university’s enrollment exceeds 4,000 students, but still doesn’t garner enough attention to gain multiple copies of essential textbooks.
Dilks is adamant about spearheading efforts to directly assist Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.
Anita Doll, a Kansas native stationed at the U.S. State Department in Burundi, has been corresponding with Dilks.
Dr. Ildephonse Horicubonye, the chair of the English Department at the University of Burundi, has also worked with Dilks to determine the most effective way to carry to carry out this project.
Burundi’s dominant language is French, whereas neighboring countries all speak English.
This book drive hopes to expand the English Department at the University of Burundi to alleviate the language barrier.
“Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world,” said History Professor Lynda Payne. “Adult literacy is 25 percent for women and 50 percent for men and there is an urgent need for teachers, especially of English.”
Dilks’ desire to execute this project stems from more than his dedication to the English language and literature – the idea of giving back on a greater scale is what motivates him.
His personal contributions include running a half-marathon wearing a shirt that read, “Books for Burundi,” and organizing a music gig to be held at Jazzman’s Coffee House in the Student Union.
So far Dilks has reached out to UMKC’s faculty, high schools and leaders of student organizations in the English Department. The overall support for the project is substantial, he said.
Undergraduate English Council President Nick Melrose is anxious to get started.
“I became really interested in helping Dr. Dilks with this project after first talking with him and hearing how direct and how much we as students could help to create a positive educational atmosphere for our fellow students at the University of Burundi,” Melrose said.
He added, “What Dr. Dilks aims to do is very rare because he hopes to essentially donate books directly to the university, as opposed to simply donating money to a third party, so we will be able to see these books being used immediately, which is what makes Dr. Dilks’ idea so unique and appealing.”
There are three primary ways for students to help: raise money, collect physical copies of books and promote overall awareness.
Dilks said he intends to start a non-profit group, establishing a long-term relationship between the universities. He feels students would benefit from working with “a country we can hardly pronounce.”
History shows the oldest known remains were found near Burundi, a discovery called “Lucy.” Dilks feels looking into the expansion of the first civilization will help broaden understanding of Western culture.
Books on Burundi’s request list contains titles of textbooks for instructor use, as well as novels by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Lorraine Hansberry.