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Book drive for South Africa: Dickinson native and Peace Corps volunteer asking for books to create a rural school library

Submitted Photo Jessica Fisher and a co-teacher pose for a photo near the Rabali Primary School in Venda, South Africa.

Jessica Fisher is sending an appeal from halfway around the world to help create a library.

Growing up on a farm near Dickinson, Fisher’s adventuresome spirit led her to pursue a Peace Corps experience. She now teaches at the Rabali Primary School in Venda, South Africa.

“One of her projects is to develop a library for the school where she teaches English,” said her mother, Joy Fisher of Dickinson. “There is a desperate need for books in many parts of Africa. This particular book drive has been organized through an organization called The African Library Project.”

Communicating from South Africa, Jessica wrote that she majored in English at University of Minnesota. She graduated with a double minor in cultural studies and comparative literature and studies in cinema and media culture. She then spent a year tutoring children in reading and teaching after-school classes.

Always wanted to travel

“I always knew I wanted to travel and see more of the world,” she wrote. “I wanted to fully experience and gain perspective on my own life in America.”

She felt the Peace Corps would be an avenue to achieve her dream of travel.

“When I got the invitation for South Africa, I was glad because it was a country I some knowledge,” Jessica said. “I also knew that it would be quite a fascinating country to live in with all their recent history. I applied in early winter of 2012 and went through a very long application process of essays, interviews and medical exams. I was on my way about eight months later.”

Her main focus is to teach two sections of sixth-grade English with approximately 40 children in each class.

Love of books

Jessica’s love of books was the basis to create a library.

“I’ve always been a book lover and have always wanted to be a writer, so to be somewhere children don’t have access to any books quickly inspired me to build the library,” she wrote.

People in Dickinson can help by donating books appropriate for grades 1-7 or donating money for the shipping. 

“We welcome most topics, except things that might be offensive to the culture here, like witchcraft,” Jessica said.

With an enrollment of 600 students, she is excited to share pictures, videos and stories of how the school will react to their very own library.

Life in South Africa

Fisher lives next to the school, but takes an hour-long ride into a nearby town for groceries and sometimes to meet with other volunteers.

She was a runner back home; and even though it is more difficult in South Africa, she hopes to train for a half marathon. She also reads, writes and watches movies on her laptop and continues to learn the Tshivenda language.

“As far as community, the people I work with have been great,” she wrote. “Sometimes, volunteers struggle when working with people who are unmotivated, but I find most of the teachers put in a lot of effort. They’ve also taken pride in making our school beautiful. Litter is a big issue here, but the last principal made it a priority to not be allowed on the school grounds.

A typical Peace Corps volunteer is expected to stay with the program for 27 months, Jessica said.

“I might travel a tiny bit before coming home, and then I will either look for a job, hopefully in writing or go to grad school,” she said.

Peace Corps is a lot different from when it was founded the 1960s. Now, most volunteers have access to technology, Jessica said.

“For me, it is still relevant because I’m not sure how else I could have learned so much about the lives of people around the world. I think it will always be a challenge for volunteers to know when they are being helpful and when they are being harmful.”

“We have to learn to let go of any expectations we had of volunteering and make sure we are respecting our hosts,” she wrote. “It can be frustrating at times especially if there is a language barrier. But you learn a lot about yourself as well.”

On winter break

Jessica just completed her second term, so students are on winter break, even though it is summer in America.

“I’ve learned about the extent of pride Africans take in their culture,” she wrote. “I do admire the beautiful Venda clothes and the people in the village get very excited to see an outsider wearing them. I also enjoy the love of dance here and can watch for hours. They are quite talented and I’m hoping I will learn from them.”

Jessica’s parents, Joy and Wayne Fisher, have talked about the possibility of going for a visit this fall. In the meantime, Joy appreciates being able to communicate with her daughter via Facebook and email.

Efforts back home

As Hagen Junior High School’s library media specialist, Joy appreciates her daughter’s desire to create a school library in South Africa. School dismissed before she could get the word out about the need for books this spring, so she is turning to the community.

Working through the African Library Project, Joy has collected approximately 700 books toward her goal of 1,000. She needs approximately $600 in donations for shipping.

“I’ve been saving books over the years, but some are well-used,” she said. “I didn’t realize the need for books was so extreme.”

Jessica welcomes books about Africa, world social studies books, recreation and sports books and illustrated novels for youth and adolescents.

 Of greatest need are books at the primary level (preschool to fourth grade), she said.

“Our biggest need continues to be monetary help with shipping, but we still welcome book donations,” Joy added.

Additional funds beyond the cost of shipping will be used to purchase library supplies for the school.

Collection boxes for books are at the Dickinson Public Schools central administration office and at the Dickinson State University Stoxen Library.

Individuals wishing to help with the book appeal may send a donation to “Jessica’s Book Drive Donation Fund” at Wells Fargo Bank.

For more information about the project, check the website,

To view a video of the children at Jessica’s school singing for their morning exercises, visit the link: To contact Joy Fisher, email or call 701-225-2563.