By Sharon Dunten

INDIANAPOLIS - Twenty tons of donated used textbooks started a journey from Indianapolis to West Africa, November 21, in what has been a year-long effort by two University of Indianapolis students to sort, label and box books for an oversea shipment of overwhelming proportion.

Lydia Fischer and Lyndsay McBride, two students who came back from Africa last summer after a three-week service with Indiana Area United Methodist Church's Operation Classroom, saw the scarceness of books in Liberian classrooms and developed a grassroots effort to collect used textbooks.

Fischer and McBride also are founders of Inches International, an organization to raise funds for scholarships and uniforms for students in Kpain, Liberia.

The word spread quickly for the need of used text books, and after a four-month collection period, books from several Indianapolis schools and an Elkhart school, filled 850 boxes for up to16,000 students at English-speaking schools.

The books left the make-shift warehouse at a former McDonald's building in Indianapolis and will continue to Belgium then to Africa's west coast. It may take up to four months for the books to arrive at the Liberian and Sierra Leone United Methodist related schools.

Usually 300 to 400 boxes of donated books are sent in shipments, says the Rev. Joe Wagner of Operation Classroom. "The girls put themselves out" to reach this substantial amount. Through Operation Classroom, the pair obtained a 40-foot overseas container in November.

The price tag for the book shipment to West Africa is close to $12,000 including custom fees.

Though Operation Classroom immediately shipped the books, Fischer and McBride continue to raise monies for the shipment through fundraising events such as concerts at the University of Indianapolis.

"The shipping is not a success - yet," said Fischer.

Once in West Africa, Operation Classroom will fork out an additional $25,000 to transport the books, school supplies and medical supplies to Liberian and Sierra Leone schools and hospitals supported by The United Methodist Church, Wagner told Together.

He said, "Supplies are shipped 25 times a year." Used medical equipment is also accepted.

"We have shipped ultra sound machines, hospital beds and even a whole physical therapy unit this past summer," said Wagner. He said 450,000 residents have access to two doctors with one Liberian hospital.

The used text book container also was shipped with a Minnesota and Colorado United Methodist churches' donations from the Operation Classroom's warehouse in Lapel, Ind.

Fischer and McBride started Inches International in 2008, an organization dedicated to educating children in Liberia and Sierra Leone. By selling metal bracelets designed by both students, more than 3,000 bracelets have been sold this past year at $5 a piece for student scholarships. Fischer said it takes $20 in sales to put one student in school for one year.

Sharon Dunten serves as a freelance writer for the Indiana United Methodist Communication She lives in Indianapolis.