While geologists from all over the world
are scouring the depths of offshore West Africa for new oil fields,
many African young people are trying to conquer the fields of higher
learning to better themselves and their countries.
Unfortunately, universities in developing African
countries are sorely lacking in the basics that students in western
countries take for granted — basics like books.
But one Canadian oil finder who appreciates the privileges
and opportunities he's had all his life is giving something back
to change that situation.
Students, of course, are the beneficiaries of his
efforts. But the Canadian is the one who got an education.
AAPG member Tako Koning, residential development
manager for ChevronTexaco in Luanda, Angola, first organized an
effort in 1997 to collect geology and petroleum-related books and
journals to donate to African universities.
"When I was posted to (then) Texaco's Lagos (Nigeria)
office as exploration manager the gentleman I replaced had been
lecturing on petroleum geology and economics at nearby universities,"
Koning said. "I stepped in and took over that role."
And as he would visit the universities he noticed
that the libraries were severely lacking in books.
"Growing up in the West, I know that the library
is the heart of any university," Koning said. "Without books how
can students learn?"
It's easy to understand why these West African universities
are short on books: The average new geology or geophysics textbook
costs about $75 or more — a huge expense in developing countries,
where university professors typically are paid about $100 per month.
Koning decided that on a return trip to his home
in Calgary he would try to collect a few books and journals from
local geologists and take them back to Africa. Little did he know
that germ of an idea would grow into something so much bigger.
"Calgary is a city with many working and retired
geologists and geophysicists, so in 1997 I published notices in
… publications of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists
and the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists asking for
used books to ship to universities in Nigeria and Angola. I called
it the 'Books for West Africa Project.'
"I was overwhelmed by the huge number of books that
were donated," he said, "all of which I had to store in my garage
until shipping arrangements could be made. I was swamped by the
donations. I received more than I could handle to the point that
I had difficulty parking my car in the garage, which can be a real
problem in Calgary in the winter!"
Koning sees the impressive response as a result of
the love of knowledge shared by geoscientists and their caring,
"In an oil city like Calgary geologists and geophysicists
have accumulated a lifetime of books and journals," he said. "This
was a chance for them to clear off their shelves and at the same
time give the gift of learning to students in developing countries
where the need is so great."
From Here to There
The whole project, however, would not have been possible
without the cooperation of Texaco's management, Koning stresses,
who agreed to handle the shipping arrangements for the books.
The logistics, which can be difficult and expensive,
became relatively simple. Texaco added the books to a moving van
from Calgary to its Houston office, where they were loaded on the
African Star supply vessel, which regularly takes drilling materials
and other supplies to company operations in Nigeria and Angola.
Koning arranged for delivery of the over 500 reference
books and 15 sets of journals to the universities of Ibadan and
Lagos in Nigeria and the University of Agostino Neto in Luanda.
He said it was critical to have company personnel
in the country to see that the books reached their destination.
Without that hands-on oversight it would be difficult to ensure
that the books arrived at the universities.
"The net effect of this project was that with almost
no financial costs," he said, "geologists and geophysicists were
able to donate surplus books and journals to countries (with) a
real need for these materials."
Still Going, and Going ...
Books for West Africa project continues to gain steam due to the
efforts of Tom Klopf, a geophysicist in ChevronTexaco's Houston
office who last year with Lucas dos Santos, ChevronTexaco's Angola
exploration manager in Houston, and Sandi Phillips, ChevronTexaco's
portfolio manager in Luanda, helped coordinate the shipment of 215
boxes of books to Angola.
"Most of this shipment was excess books from Texaco's
corporate library," Koning said. "This shipment wasn't just geology
and geophysics books, but included a large number of engineering,
physics, chemistry and biology books … books on any subject are
welcome — not just geology and geophysics."
ChevronTexaco has delivered two additional shipments
of books to Nigeria as well. One of those shipments included 175
boxes of books from Texaco's discontinued corporate library in New
Orleans. Just last summer a fourth shipment of 120 boxes of books
was sent to Nigeria.
"While we have been successful in our small efforts
to help provide books to a few African universities, I think the
larger lesson that can be learned here is that this kind of project
can be carried out anywhere in the world," he said. "An appeal for
books would be well received in any 'oily' city in the world —
Houston, Dallas, London, Aberdeen or wherever.
"Transporting books is a trivial cost for large oil
companies, but can mean so much to local students."
Koning calls education "the most important issue"
to help these countries prosper.
"I know that some 34 years ago when I started my
geology studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, that the
library was the heart of the university for me," he said.
"This kind of project enables oil companies who are
investing money into oil and gas projects in developing countries
to further the education of the local students — some of whom they
may eventually hire."