HELLO: more than just a greeting

Ebenezer Flomo, his wife Janelle Voxland and other HELLO volunteers hand-delivered over 40,000 books to more than 16 schools in Liberia over the holidays. (submitted photos)

Some of the elementary schools, Flomo said, were in poor condition with broken windows, dilapidated benches and dirty floors. He said a library inside a school he visited had only a single calculator, a couple broken computers and National Geographic magazines dating back to 1965. (submitted photos)

Local organization sends more than 40,000 books to Africa

It’s easy to just throw away an old book that’s been read a thousand times or a textbook that’s a year or two out of date. But some tens of thousands of those previously unwanted books are making their way to schools across the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to some help from an Oakdale-based organization.

Help Encourage Liberia’s Little Ones, or HELLO, was started in Liberia by Ebenezer Flomo in 2003. Its operations moved with him in 2005 when he came to the U.S. and married Oakdale resident Janelle Voxland.

Today, Flomo runs the organization from Minnesota while communicating with volunteers in Liberia. During a trip to the West African country over the holidays, he and Voxland helped deliver more than 40,000 books to more than 16 schools.

“We left [the U.S.] on Christmas Eve and arrived [in Liberia] Christmas Day and got to work immediately,” he said.

He explained that the classes resumed Jan. 6, and they wanted to deliver the books before then so students could start 2014 with better school resources.

Because English is the country’s official and widely-spoken language, there’s no literacy barrier for Liberian children reading the donated books.

Books for Africa

In the summer of 2012, Flomo went to Liberia to talk with staff and officials at a number of schools to assess their needs and evaluate the schools’ libraries (if they had one) and literacy resources.

“We outlined our expectations for what they would do with the books,” Flomo explained. “Would they let students take the books home, or would the books stay at the school? Would they bring books to class?”

After about a year of fundraising and book collections, HELLO was able to ship two containers of books to Liberia through Books for Africa, the largest shipper of books to Africa, according to its website. The non-profit was able to secure a matching grant for HELLO through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, an organization based in Nigeria.

A container of books through Books for Africa costs about $10,000 to ship, Flomo said. HELLO also purchased and sent a vehicle to Liberia with the intended purpose of using it to deliver the books.

However, Flomo said with disappointment, the car did not make it on time. Instead, volunteers had to use a truck that “wasn’t so good.”

“We made a delivery to a school in the interior of Liberia. It’s supposed to be a six-hour drive but it took 10 because the truck kept breaking down. The roads are very bad also.”

HELLO doled out the books to more than 16 schools, including a couple colleges, a nursing school and several local elementary schools.

“This [was] our biggest project so far,” Flomo said with a smile.

Future plans

Flomo, a student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis with dreams of becoming a social studies teacher, already has plans to return to Liberia in a couple months. He says he usually makes the 5,000-mile trip to his home country once every year or so.

Now that the organization’s book collection project is wrapping up, Flomo says a 200-acre parcel of land in the northern Lofa County, Liberia, is HELLO’s next undertaking.

He envisions the land, which costs about $30,000, as the perfect site for a clinic, church, library and school. While plans come together, the land will be used for farming.

“It’s between three towns, so it’s convenient for people to come from the villages,” Flomo explained. “We’re very happy to acquire it.”

Flomo and his family are members of Rockpoint Church in Lake Elmo, which has been an integral part of fundraising for the organization. The congregation is currently raising money to help buy the land in Liberia.

The Rev. Bob Brydges, who is also involved with volunteer work in eastern Africa, says the congregation is very encouraging of HELLO.

“Our church is pretty missions-minded. In particular we like to help the underprivileged,” he said. “They’re trying to help children in Liberia get educated, and we’re thrilled and support that.”

Rockpoint recently hosted a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the land, and congregants helped collect some of the books that were delivered earlier this month.

“They have been highly supportive of what we’re doing,” Flomo said.

For more information about HELLO, visit www.facebook.com/HELLOLiberia.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.


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