Shannon McNamara, 16, of Basking Ridge, N.J., a junior at Ridge High School, founded a nonprofit organization that has created libraries with a total of 21,000 books for three schools in rural Tanzania, and introduced an after-school reading program for Tanzanian girls who otherwise would have little opportunity for education. While preparing for a family service trip to Tanzania in 2008, Shannon learned about the scarcity of books there and the cultural bias that discourages literacy among girls. "While boys are encouraged to study or play, girls are expected to perform household tasks," she said. "I think this is unfair. Without an education, a girl's only option is to marry early, have babies, and this bleak life continues."
Shannon arrived in Africa with 500 pounds of children's books, school supplies, and used laptop computers that she had collected from friends and neighbors back home. With help from her family's volunteer group, she repaired and painted an unused, dilapidated room offered by a primary school for a library, and hired local carpenters to build bookshelves and install windows and a secure door. She then began using the room and her books to teach English and reading to 23 Tanzanian girls.
Shannon returned home more committed than ever to educating young Tanzanians. By organizing fund-raising events, conducting book and school-supply drives, and speaking about her mission at schools, scout meetings, churches and community organizations, she has been able to create three libraries in Tanzania so far, serving more than 2,500 students. And her after-school program now has four teachers helping 150 girls learn to read.