Causes Week 2021: Selling used books to help schools in Nepal

Causes Week, which is into its 10th iteration, runs this year from Dec 21 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community, for children and youth, in sports and arts, among others.

Mr Randall Chong, founder of Books Beyond Borders SG. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

SINGAPORE - "Do one thing that scares you next year." A book with this quote scribbled on it sent Mr Randall Chong on a trip to Nepal, and it was also through books that he found a way to give back to the community there.

Mr Chong received the book in 2016 as a Christmas gift from a friend. The following December, he made good on that resolution by trekking to the base camp of Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

At that point, he had been working at various start-ups for the past five years and wanted to "get away" for a while. Having long nursed a passion for entrepreneurship, he was also hoping to find his purpose in life.

In Nepal, he was struck by how children as young as 16 had to work, while those in school faced blank walls and untrained teachers.

The 29-year-old said: "I realised that I could go back to Singapore, call some friends, raise some money and come back to paint some walls. Or I could dedicate one year to raising money for schools there. I chose the second route, and it's been three years."

Mr Chong went on to found social enterprise Books Beyond Borders SG, which sells second-hand books donated in Singapore to raise funds for the education of Nepalese children.

To date, Books Beyond Borders has raised $30,000. This amount was remitted to its partner enterprise Teach for Nepal, which trains educators before deploying them to rural areas.

Books Beyond Borders also awards one-off grants to teachers hoping to spearhead new initiatives in their schools, such as starting a science lab in a school that does not have one. The social enterprise decides how many such projects it can fund every six months based on its net profit.

During the pandemic, it funded a project by Teach for Nepal to print classroom syllabi and record lessons into audio clips that could be broadcast over the radio for students. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, schools in Nepal were shut for an entire year and in rural areas, students lacked technological support.

Books Beyond Borders also funded the rebuilding of a school that had been partly destroyed during a flood in July this year.

"School is not just a place to learn and study. For a lot of students, it's a place where they feel safe. It's a place where they feel like they belong somewhere," he said.

Prior to Books Beyond Borders, Mr Chong had dabbled in other fund-raising methods such as selling cookies, which contributed to part of the social enterprise's total funds raised today. But when the pandemic struck, he decided to stick with collecting and selling second-hand books.

He said he has always been a fan of recirculating used books, which is better for the environment. He started out storing the books in his grandfather's bedroom, then moved them to his aunt's warehouse, where she runs her own business, for around eight months. Before long, space there grew scarce, too.

"My aunt kind of hinted that I had to find my own space because the books were just piling up," he said with a laugh.

In July this year, Mr Chong set up The Book Barracks at Kong Beng Industrial Building in Jalan Pemimpin. The 450 sq m space houses nearly 5,000 donated books and is open to the public for buying books every Friday to Sunday.

"The people who donate to our cause, be it in monetary terms or by donating books, all have a passion for literacy," he says.

For more details on Books Beyond Borders SG or to book a visit to its space, go to Books Beyond Borders' website.

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