“My ticket out of a life of poverty was reading. It opened up a world of imagination and new possibilities. With reading, I began to do well in school. I was prepared to take advantage of opportunities as I went along.” Honourable James Karl Bartleman, 27th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
When two Oakville, Ontario teenagers learned that many First Nations children in northern Ontario communities had no access to books, the avid readers did more than empathize. Sisters Emma and Julia Mogus decided to do something about it. Inspired by Bartleman’s quote and by the book drives he had sponsored for Aboriginal youth, they set out to collect books for the most remote communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN).
They started with their own money, buying used books in good condition from secondhand stores and garage sales. They had a goal: 1,000 books for northern children. Media attention for their mission brought a flood of donations. They told the National Post in July 2012:
They’re our brothers and sisters up north and they deserve the opportunities and education that we get. We hope to fill up their public libraries.
With hundreds, then thousands of books piling up, they needed a place to store them and then a way to ship them. The local Hopedale Mall offered to be a drop location. So did Panago Pizza. The mall offered to help with shipping costs. Then the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) offered to make arrangements for truck transportation to Wasaya Airways in Thunder Bay.
Wasaya Airways, the air lifeline to remote NAN communities, offered a 90 percent discount on the shipping. Fundraising brought in those dollars, and 5,000 books winged their way to northern Ontario communities.
The Mogus sisters did not rest on their laurels. By the time they visited Fort Severn First Nation in May 2013, Wawatay News reported they had sent more than 18,000 books to remote NAN communities. Along with the books they have sent warm winter clothing, craft supplies and more.
They were two teens with a dream, and they worked hard to make it come true. Next time you feel too small to change the world, remember Julia and Emma Mogus. Their efforts are rippling outward in the big pond we all swim in. They give me hope.
Update: On September 27th the sisters posted an update on their Facebook page, with the news they have sent a total of 27,000 books. Check out the video of their trip to Fort Severn.