University Park, Pa. -- As a Peace Corps volunteer working in the village of Kalechelo, Zambia, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences alumnus Chuck Cascio noticed that the young people were in dire need of books and other educational materials.
Cascio, a 2009 animal sciences graduate, saw the village's school library had books for very young children, but nothing for the older kids.
"The older students would ask me for my books and magazines," said Cascio. "That's when I really thought of getting 'No Empty Shelves' started, and I hope that it becomes a secondary project for other Peace Corps volunteers when I leave."
In January, Cascio reached back to his alma mater and to the Penn State chapter of the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences to work on "No Empty Shelves," a project to collect agricultural reference and teen books to fill a library in the village.
The club focuses on one internationally based fundraising opportunity each semester, explained club adviser Ketja Lingenfelter, study-abroad coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences. "We felt it was an especially meaningful project for the club because Chuck's an alumnus and a former club member."
The most important reason to send books to the people of Kalechelo is to offer opportunity, explained Cascio. "Knowledge spreads quickly throughout the community," he said. "One book doesn't expand the knowledge of just one villager, but of a whole village. The books will help students with their English, in turn giving them a huge advantage when trying to get a job."
The majority of the population lives in what many consider poverty, noted Cascio. "Due to a lack of extra money, most villagers live in mud and thatch huts," he said. "However, Zambians are uniquely friendly and accommodating."
This opportunity gives students a chance to connect with alumni, said Lingenfelter. "And it shows that even a small accomplishment here can have a global impact."
Penn State's International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences is currently accepting monetary donations to cover shipping costs. Anyone can donate by getting in touch with Lingenfelter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-863-4164.
"The student club has been the most helpful partner in this project," said Cascio.
The club turned to students, faculty and employees in the College of Agricultural Sciences for the drive, receiving large donations of books at the end of the spring semester, when students and professors were finished with their textbooks, Lingenfelter said.
"The club set a goal to send at least one shipment of books before students left for the summer," she said. "We accomplished that and still have many books ready to ship, thanks to all the donations by employees and students of the college."
The club is suspending book collection for the fall to focus on raising money to ship more of the books already donated. The books that the club is unable to send to Zambia still will go to a good cause: they'll be donated to the annual book drive sponsored by the State College branch of the American Association of University Women, said Lingenfelter.
Cascio's other Peace Corps activities include teaching aquaculture, small-animal agriculture, 8th-grade mathematics, proper sanitation and beekeeping to the villagers. He also coaches soccer and raises HIV and AIDS awareness. "I love this place," he said. "It's an amazing community, and I think it will benefit tremendously because of this project."