Images courtesy of Jackie Spinner of Angel Says: Read

Jackie Spinner has a hell of a life story.

A journalist working for The Washington Post, Jackie went to Iraq in 2004 to report about the war for the paper.

She was almost kidnapped.

She survived a car bomb.

She came back to the US to write Tell Them I Didn’t Cry: A Young Journalist’s Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq, a book about her experience (co-authored by her twin sister), which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006.

Then she came to Belize to start an organization called Angel Says: Read, a literacy project in which travelers play a central role.

That’s where I met Jackie- reading, not surprisingly, on a porch in Punta Gorda.

We happened to be staying at the same hotel and as she talked with some other guests and expats, I heard a bit about Angel Says: Read. We talked about the organization some more over dinner.

Angel Says: Read is on Facebook and Twitter.

The idea behind Angel Says: Read is straightforward. Travelers tend to carry books with them, and often leave the books behind when they move on. Nothing wrong with books sitting on a hostel bookshelf or becoming part of a hotel’s lending library, but why not get some of those books into local libraries?

A volunteer carries donated books.

Belize’s official language is English, so local library users benefit from the donated books, especially as Belizean libraries receive no government funding. And Jackie says the books travelers to Belize leave behind aren’t crappy paperback romances. Memoirs and US bestsellers, mostly non-fiction, are the most frequently donated books.

What I really like about Angel Says: Read, though, is the fact that Jackie has involved Belizeans at all levels of the organization. The Board of Directors consists primarily of Belizeans, a local artist designed ASR’s logo, and Belizeans manage the collection and distribution of the books.

As a traveler, there are a few ways you can get involved:

-If you’re headed to Belize, check the list of collection points where you can leave your books behind.

-Make a donation. You can make a cash donation on the ASR website or a book donation by sending boxes of books to: The Word at Work/1400 Wolflin Ave/Amarillo, Texas 79109. Save your mailing receipt for a tax deduction.

-You can start a similar program in your favorite travel destination.

For more ideas, visit the ASR website.

Community Connection:

If literacy is an issue you care about, check out this article about the organization Big Brother Mouse. Or learn about other small ways you can make your travels count in the communities you visit by reading about the organization Stuff Your Rucksack.