by Karen-Alexandra Nogues, Founder and Executive Director
Her name is Amenuveve. She was six years old when I met her on a visit to relatives in Gilgal, a small village in Togo in West Africa. Her name means “Grace”. I imagined her parents choosing the name for its religious meaning, but I thought of the grace of her movements as she danced happily, gracefully, her infectious smile never leaving her face. I was fifteen and a veteran baby-sitter. We became instant friends. Grace invited me to her home.
In the US, when invited to play with a child, I generally offered that we first read a few stories. But Grace had no books, save for some frayed textbooks.
Grace was playful and oblivious to the feelings of sadness and helplessness that overwhelmed me as I looked in vain for books. I silently regretted being unable to share my joy of books with her and thought of all the children with no easy access to books. I could not imagine a life without books.
I have always loved books. I grew up loving Dr. Seuss and his zany rhythmic tales. I loved how my single West African mother read them to my sister and me, her French accent mangling some of the rhymes. Coincidentally, Dr. Seuss and I share the same birthday, March 2nd, the date for National Reading Day, as my kindergarten teacher once informed the class. I remember my childish pride about this special connection to books. My mother read book after book to us, insisting that reading was our ticket to a wonderful life, and I believed her. Books, after all, were a major source of entertainment in our television-free house.
Grace was on my mind when I started the Megabook Initiative: a project aimed at distributing reading devices to children in underprivileged areas of the world.  The idea had stemmed from an award-winning essay by my sister about designing a solar powered electronic book. E-readers were not ubiquitous then. It would be loaded with thousands of books, she had written. On paper, she had called it a "Megabook". And I immediately wished for more than an idea written on paper. I wanted live “Megabooks” -- distributed to children with little or no access to books.
I was not prepared for the magnitude of the work that awaited me as I pursued the Megabook Initiative. Persistent phone calls to manufacturers followed months of extensive research. I called after classes and sent letters during school breaks. Relentlessly. Guided by a consuming vision of children with Megabooks in their hands, I proceeded trying hard to remain undeterred by discouraging initial responses. When manufacturers announced dizzying production costs, I called back to discuss alternate options. When publishing companies told of books too expensive to upload, I inquired about books freely available in the public domain.
I presented the project at every opportunity, in a constant search for partners and donors. Soon, assistance came. A youth leadership foundation paired me with a mentor who helped direct my efforts. We found a device best suited in price and technology. After a successful online fundraising campaign, the first devices were shipped in November 2013. A primary school in Cote d’Ivoire agreed to participate in the pilot project. The Megabook Initiative was happening!
I was elated when the first Megabooks arrived. I thought of the long road leading to this first achievement and was grateful for a lifelong lesson on perseverance.
I want to send more Megabooks to children in Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond that, to all the places where books are scarce. It is my silent promise to Grace and all of her friends. Soon, with their hands full of books, and “their heads filled with brains”, as Dr. Seuss would say, they “will be on their way” to a brighter future.