PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Born in Sierra Leone, Carol Bangura is founder of Schools Without Borders, an organization that provides education to girls who experienced trauma. Over the past few years, Bangura has served as a catalyst of change, collecting and donating tens of thousands of books to children in West Africa and in and around Southwest Philadelphia. But Bangura’s effort merges her passion with her pain.
“Reading helped me,” she says, “it was my escape.”
Bangura and her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was five years old. She grew up on Percy Street in North Philadelphia, but her differences — accent, language and culture — made Bangura a target for bullying.
“We were booty scratchers and because of my dark skin, I was “Black Carol,” says Bangura, “it was very challenging — experiencing this type of trauma makes you question who you are.”
She recalls hiding her pain by going to her local library for hours, burying her head in a book.
“It helped me find my voice,” she says.
Fast forward and Bangura and her sons started the Million Books Project in 2008. Their goal was to send books to children in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The effort expanded over the next two years to include Turkey, Ghana, Liberia, Vietnam and Philadelphia, with the group collecting and donating tens of thousands of books. But soon, Bangura realized there was an extreme need right in front of her.
“People were like books for Africa — people need books right here!” she says.
Bangura then started Schools Without Borders, focusing on educating girls, like her, who may have experienced trauma — sexual abuse, child abuse, bullying, and more. The other goal — provide resources in the under funded area of Southwest Philadelphia where school libraries are scarce.
“I wanted to help them find a way out,” she says.
Bangura says her reach expands to thousands. Now she holds literacy workshops, as well as workshops to help girls deal with their trauma at SWB office at Connell Park near 64th and Elmwood Avenue. Bangura says there are many immigrant children living in Southwest Philadelphia and with limited integration services for children from African countries or the Caribbean her services and empathy is needed.
“I have one girl who was from Haiti who sat quietly in class until she could pick up English because there was no support for her,” says Bangura, who grew up speaking a Creole combination of Sierra Leonean languages.
Through her work, Bangura says she has seen young girls blossom.
“I wished someone would have saved me,” says Bangura, “so when the girls come here they know this is a safe place.”
For more on Schools Without Borders, go to http://www.schoolswithoutborders.org/home.html.