Sunday, April 01, 2012

Donated Zimbabwe School Books Being Stolen

This is a sad story, and what makes it even sadder is that this kind of exploitation by those receiving  shipments of charitable and governmental aid is the rule - not the exception to the rule.

I spent parts of 1992 and 1993 in Algiers and would often walk a mile to the nearest bakery to buy fresh baguettes.  On most visits to the bakery, I would see stacks of 50-pound bags of flour that were clearly marked as having been donated by the U. S. government to the people of Algeria.  I often wondered if our government meant for the flour to get into the hands of private bakeries, but because the bread was sold so cheaply (less than 10 U. S. cents for a nice-sized baguette), I figured the system was working either way.  Families in Algiers make so little that putting food on the table is a constant problem, so anything that could help them stretch their food budgets had to be a good thing.

But this is different.  It appears that thousands of books donated by UNICEF to the school children of Zimbabwe are being sidetracked to private hands to be sold on street corners and in book stores by the thieves.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a few details: 
The United Nations Children's Fund has supplied 22 million books since late 2010 after a decade of economic meltdown that left many schools without teaching materials.
In some schools, scores of pupils had shared a single book.
The books, stamped and identifiable, sell for up to $10 on the street or $20 in a bookstore. 
Education Minister David Coltart said Friday that culprits behind the theft and sale of books - officially the property of government schools - would be prosecuted.  
A main teachers union said that teachers may be stealing the books to make up for poor salaries of about $220 a month.
Understandable as this is, especially considering the economic circumstances of the country, it is the schoolchildren (and Zimbabwe's own future) that are being cheated in this instance.  Too, it is hard to believe that the officials doing the investigating will either stop the practice or much punish anyone for having done it.  I have become too much of a pessimist to believe that will happen.


  1. I'm just impressed that there's a market for stolen, used books.

  2. That's a great way to look at it, Factotum, and it never crossed my mind.

    A good friend of mine who grew up there tells me that the Brits left a nice bookstore and reading legacy behind when so many of them were forced to flee the country, so I suppose there is a definite market amongst the upwardly mobil locals who want to give their children an advantage.