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Effort Puts Books in Students' Hands

Donations Go to Nigeria

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.

Image Caption

Geologist Tako Koning has provided untold numbers of geology and geoscience students in West Africa a chance to learn through his efforts to get used books into university libraries.
Photo by Marianne Helm, courtesy of Tako Koning

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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.

Clear the Shelves

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, philanthropic nature.

"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 ...

The 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."

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