Bethanie Johnson

My name is Bethanie Johnson and I am a freshman at Centenary College of New Jersey.  When I was in 8th grade at TEAM Academy in Newark, New Jersey, I joined a group called TEAM in Africa, where I joined Miss Nagle and my fellow students in a supply drive for students in Zimbabwe.  We collected things like shoes, clothes, school supplies, and money to send to our partners in Zimbabwe.  Miss Nagle told us that in the future we might do more with the program, like work with students in Kenya and Rwanda.

Later, when I was a sophomore at Newark Collegiate Academy, Miss Nagle asked me if I wanted to be involved with the program again.  I said yes!  She told me that we would be working on creating children’s books for the students of Kabwende Primary School in Kinigi, Rwanda.  I was really excited about this idea because I love to write and I love to help people.

I joined a few other kids from my school in forming the first group of Books & Beyond participants from TEAM Schools.  We worked with students from Indiana University to write stories.  My first writing partner was Melissa Bullinger.

Bethanie and Melissa smile for a photo during the first IU visit to TEAM Schools in 2009.

Miss Nagle told us to write stories on what it means to be with family and the feeling of home, so Melissa and I created a story about the different American holidays.  We explained each holiday and how we spend the holidays at home with our families.

Each day, I grew more and more excited as I worked on my story, knowing that my work would be published.  Eventually, someone would read my story!  I also loved the fact that I was helping someone overseas, an experience that I will always cherish.

At the end of the year, the stories were finished and we found out that because of all of our hard work, the program was awarded enough money to publish the books and take them to Rwanda.  I also found out that there was enough money to take one student from my high school to Rwanda that summer.  I went home and filled out the application right away.  Two days later, my English teacher told me to check my e-mail.  I had been chosen by my classmates to go to Africa!  I was elated because I love to travel and experience new things and I was excited to have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives at the same time.

Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Rwanda, and I was very happy to be headed towards the land of my ancestry.  My eyes were glued to the new surroundings and different people that I saw each day.  I felt like I was in a whole new world.

I finally met the children of Kabwende Primary School when we distributed the 2,000 books that we brought with us that summer.  Their kind faces stared at me in awe and I was amazed as I watched them hold the books for the first time.  They made so much effort to sound out the words!

Bethanie poses with several copies of The World is Our Home Volume I before distributing them in classrooms at Kabwende.

Their thirst for education made me realize the way that some kids in America don’t value a good education. It made me realize that I should take advantage of the educational opportunities given to me.

When I returned home, I asked myself, “How did I change from this experience? Am I a different person?” I realized that it is possible for one person to impact another person’s life.  All you have to do is care and to work hard to make a change.  I now follow the four virtues of Books & Beyond in my life: read, learn, teach, and grow. I am willing to read to educate myself, to teach others how to make an impact in the world, to learn how to be a better person, and to grow into a magnificent person, the kind of person that my parents would be proud of.

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