Sarasi Jayaratne, 18, of Potomac Falls, Va., a senior at Potomac Falls High School, collected more than 6,000 books for schools in Sri Lanka that were devastated by the tsunami of 2004. When Sarasi, whose family is from Sri Lanka, saw reports of the disaster on television, "I had this overpowering urge to help," she said. She initially raised money with her Girl Scout troop to support Red Cross relief efforts, but she wanted to do more. Then she learned that 168 schools in Sri Lanka were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami, and she immediately thought of sending books.
Sarasi met with school and church leaders to discuss her planned book drive, and developed a video presentation to persuade her community of its importance. She also garnered the attention of local news media to help spread the word about her campaign. Over the following months, Sarasi gathered books from friends, schools, churches, yard sales and libraries. She also canvassed neighborhoods door-to-door. When she had collected 2,000 books, she traveled to Sri Lanka to deliver them to 15 schools that she had selected; while there, she also tutored school children in English. With more donations coming in from across the country, Sarasi soon had 4,000 additional books to ship. She says her project, now formalized as the "Keep Reading Foundation," is designed not only to aid devastated schools, but also to promote English as a common language that can help children from different backgrounds succeed and get along with one another in the modern world. Sarasi's next book shipment will go to Cambodia as well as Sri Lanka, and she plans to expand her project to support children in other developing countries.