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What You Wish For

November 2011

Hi, readers!

I first met Logan Kleinwaks when he contacted me with an idea for a project to support children in Darfur, Sudan. Logan is the co-founder of Book Wish Foundation, a non-profit organization with the goal of helping the people of Darfur. Darfur is a region in Sudan, Africa, about the size of California and with a population of about six million people.

In 2003 serious trouble began in Darfur when two groups of Darfuris rebelled against the central government in Sudan. These rebel groups believed that their people had been ignored and mistreated for years, and they wanted to be able to play a greater role in the political life of the country. The Sudan government resisted their demands and war broke out. Villages belonging to tribes supporting the rebels were completely destroyed and many people were killed. During the war, over 100,000 Darfuris fled to the nearby country of Chad to seek safety. Once in Chad, the Darfuris officially became 'refugees,' which means that they must live outside of their country because it is too dangerous to return home. Chad is a very poor country, and did not have enough money or resources to care for so many new people. Luckily, the United Nations stepped in, establishing makeshift camps to provide food, water, shelter, and medical attention. Many of the refugees were orphaned children who lost their families in the violence in Darfur. It's hard to imagine how frightened and alone those children must have felt.

Today, all these years later, the refugees remain in the camps in Chad, with little hope of returning to Darfur. As hard as life is for the refugees in the camps, at least there they are safe. But it is still not an easy life; every day the priority is to find food, water, and firewood. This constant struggle means that education is a luxury. While younger children may be able to receive a very basic education (what we would consider to be third grade), older children are offered very little. The camps just don't have the textbooks or the teachers.

Logan was inspired to help when he saw a newspaper article about a refugee who read the few books he owned over and over again for years because he had no others. What started out as a simple goal of providing more books to this determined refugee became the basis for Book Wish, which Logan co-founded with his mother Lorraine. Book Wish now raises money to build libraries and to provide educational materials to the current population of over 250,000 refugees who are desperate for knowledge—knowledge that gives them hope for a better future outside of the camps. As bleak as their lives can appear to be, the children in the refugee camps remain optimistic. They want to be doctors, pilots and teachers when they grow up. Through Book Wish, Logan wants to help make these dreams come true.

One of the ways Book Wish is raising money to support this goal is through the publication of a collection of stories and poems, What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur. I was honored to be asked to contribute a story to the project. Each of the contributing authors and poets (including children's authors R.L. Stine, Meg Cabot, Karen Hesse, and Cornelia Funke), was asked to write about the universal things that we wish for, no matter where we live or how old we are. My story, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, is told in an exchange of letters between two eighth-graders who become pen-pals through a school project. Their correspondence results in a friendship at a time when both are facing unexpected changes in their lives.

On October 20, I joined eight of the other contributors for a panel discussion at the United Nations in New York City. We each spoke briefly about our passion for books, reading, and libraries. The program included a former refugee who shared his experiences and talked about what education means for the children in the camps. His message was clear: the children of Darfur want to learn; they aspire to a better life; they remain hopeful in spite of everything they've endured.

I hope you'll get a chance to check out What You Wish For at your local bookstore. I think you'll enjoy the collection of stories and poems, and the different perspectives each writer has on the simple things that we all wish for. It was an honor to be part of this wonderful project.