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Sweeney works to give discarded books new life
Tara Sweeney wants to send books and other educational items from a previous school reading curriculum to Guatemala, where she has a 12-year-old pen pal. Photo by Emily Etheredge

Books to Guatemala: Teacher aide working to give discarded materials new uses

Jul 5, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Tara Sweeney is on a quest.

She wants to get 80 boxes of heavy books from Riverton to Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

As the school year ended, Sweeney learned that both Jackson and Rendezvous elementary schools were in the process of adopting a new reading curriculum.

"I was surprised to find out the outdated programs were simply discarded when new material is purchased," Sweeney said. "It was heartbreaking to imagine textbooks, workbooks, teacher's manuals, lesson plans and even materials as generic as whiteboards, flashcards and short stories tossed into a Dumpster."

Pen pal

Sweeney, 22, said she immediately thought of her 12-year-old pen pal, Wilder, in Guatemala.

Sweeney said it was undeniable that someone somewhere could find the books priceless and be glad to have them.

"Huehuetenango is a city and region of northwestern Guatemala," Sweeney said. "Wilder lives with about 90 other orphans in a sanctuary called Fundacion Salvacion, and I thought he might love to have the books."

Brooks Baumgartner and a group of volunteers from Pepperdine University are gathering resources to build a bilingual school for the children.

Sweeney asked Baumgartner if he would be interested in the books and said he was thrilled at the thought of the children having the curriculum.

School District's OK

At first, the schools didn't know if Sweeney, a teacher's aide in Yvonne Thornley's kindergarten class at Jackson Elementary, would be able to accept the books because of confidentiality and funding stipulations.

"The superintendent approved me taking them in late May," Sweeney said. "Both schools were aware I was planning to donate them so everything ended up working out."

Sweeney is researching possible ways of getting the books to Guatemala. The 80 boxes are filled with books such as K-3 reading curriculum, two full sets of fourth- and fifth-grade anthologies, workbooks, teachers' manuals, science books, history texts and encyclopedias.

"I have talked to the local post office and was able to estimate, at book rate, it would cost me $67 per 66 pounds of material," Sweeney said. "I have also contacted the local FedEx and UPS stores, Fremont County library system, students at Pepperdine University, friends in the Air Force, and (I'm) preparing to write a Foreign Aid Proposal. I have also written Gov. Matt Mead, hoping for some direction or resources."

Sweeney is open to ideas and would love to find a creative way to have the books delivered to those who could use them.

Sweeney said that when she sent her pen pal a journal, pencils and pens for Christmas, he was thrilled to receive such small items, which demonstrated to her that the children would be grateful for the books.

Sweeney invites anyone who has an idea of how to get the books to Guatemala to contact her directly at 431-4906.

"I hope to be able to give these books a home because I can't imagine throwing value materials like these away," Sweeney said.

"It seems awful to fill landfills with materials that can have such a positive impact in children's lives."

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