Creative volunteers are writing and illustrating free books to help kids in South Africa with literacy

Book Dash is working to make sure that all children in South Africa see themselves in the stories they read.

The nonprofit was founded in 2014, and brings together volunteers to write and design books for South African kids. Each team has a professional writer, illustrator, editor, and designer, and over the course of a 12-hour "dash," they put together a picture book.

The topics range from the silly to the serious, and over the last seven years, more than 140 books have been made and 1 million copies distributed. The books are passed out by literacy organizations and charities, with the free PDFs posted online. Most are written in English, but several have been translated into other South African languages, to reach a wide audience.

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In 2016, the South African Book Development Council found that nearly 60 percent of homes in the country don't have a single book. Books are expensive there, and with about 6 in 10 South African children living in poverty, it's clear why so many kids don't have access. Book Dash Director Dorette Louw told The Christian Science Monitor the organization was started because "we were devastated by the idea that having a book was a luxury good in South Africa."

Growing up, graphic designer and Book Dash volunteer Thokozani Mkhize was always reading. She realized as an adult that almost all of her books came from abroad, and there was a real lack of South African stories. Book Dash is changing that for this generation of kids, and Mkhize told the Monitor she is happy to be part of the movement. "You see yourself in these stories and these characters," Mkhize said. "You can feel, 'I am normal, my experiences are normal, and my stories are important, too.'"

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.