STEPHEN Kamal has a dream – to deliver one million books to children in a war-torn region of Africa where he grew up.
Last week, with the help of many Catholic schools across Brisbane, Mr Kamal oversaw a shipment of 30,000 books – stage one of his ambitious plan to help educate young people in his Nuba Mountain homeland.
“Our people have experienced nothing but war for the last 30 years,” Mr Kamal, who arrived in Australia as a 16-year-old, said.
The Nuba Mountains is geographically in Sudan but the Nuba people were allied to the South Sudanese during many years of fighting.
They were persecuted because of their Christian beliefs.
Mr Kamal arrived in Australia with only his aunt.
It was not until three years ago that he saw his mother for the first time since his childhood.
Mr Kamal, now 30, finished his senior schooling at St James College, Spring Hill, and has continued information technology studies at the Queensland University of Technology.
He firmly believes that a good education can transform lives.
“My life is brighter through education, and it’s the same future I want to give my brothers and sisters who are still experiencing the horrors of that civil war, famine and hunger, and a lack of education,” he said.
In the Nuba Mountains more than 100 schools were flattened by targeted bombing campaigns in 2015.
Today, many classes are conducted under trees and in dilapidated buildings that are remnants of the war.
“Some schools are actually located near caves, so that when the Antonov bombers come through to target the villages, the kids can escape inside the caves,” Mr Kamal said.
By setting up a charity called One In Four – the number of children who are illiterate in many countries around the world – Mr Kamal has called on some old school connections to launch his project.
He contacted St James’ teacher Andrew Ebrington, who said he was interested and started the collection of used text books from Catholic school libraries across Brisbane.
Some school communities asked students to go through their own personal book collections and donate books they no longer needed.
Box by box, generously donated books started to arrive.
Finally there were 1000 boxes containing 30,000 books.
Collecting the books was one thing – getting them to a remote African village is another challenge.
Mr Ebrington contacted another past St James student – logistics expert Todd Crowley, operator of Crowleycorp, to help in the delicate task of ensuring that the first shipment of books could clear all customs requirements and reach the village of Tiberi where Mr Kamal grew up.
Instead of just sending the books in a hired shipping container, the One In Four has bought a container that will stay in the village so local people have a “permanent” library where the community can access books and education.
“I thought it would be such a good idea to transform a shipping container into something that is going to give the people a new lease on life,” Mr Kamal said.
Mr Ebrington is full of praise for Mr Kamal’s charitable initiative and his commitment to help children read and write.
“We’re hoping this is just the start for One In Four, that we can do this again.
“That’s the plan,” he said.
“There are refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda that we hope to target.”