University of Toronto medical students recently wrapped up their second annual “Books With Wings” project to collect textbooks and other resources for medical students in Afghanistan. The books are boxed up and ready to ship; all the group is waiting for is a date when the Canadian military will transport them to Afghan students in need.

This year, the books will go to Al Beeruny University Medical School in the city of Gul Bahar. The donor institution was chosen last year, when current project coordinator Shira Taylor traveled with last year’s load of books to their destination at the Kabul Medical Library. During her visit, Taylor saw the state of Al Beeruny’s library and decided that they could benefit from the following year’s program.

“It is a very needy school [with] barely two dozen books,” said the group’s public relations coordinator, Yusra Ahmad. The school also has a rural-based physician population, and an impressive 30 per cent of the students are female. These are just two among many factors that influenced Taylor’s decision.

The program began initially as a class project at Manitoba University’s medical school, and was the brainchild of radiologist Dr. Richard Gordon. U of T got involved last year, as the Books with Wings initiative quickly spread all over North America. The Canadian Federation of Medical Students first sponsored the effort.

Approximately 30 U of T medical student volunteers are responsible for mobilizing the project this year. The need for books and other resources was publicized on the radio and through flyers. Dean David Naylor of the medical school also backed the initiative.

Multiple donation sites were set up around the campus, and while individuals donated many books, the larger collections tended to come from corporate donors. Some of the companies involved include Login Bros., Toronto Stamps, Klaus Strankowski, U of T Bookstore, and Candem.

Student groups such as the Medical Society, the University of Toronto International Health Program, and the 0T5 graduating medical class were ardent supporters of the project, too.

Once the books were collected, volunteers sorted and catalogued them, making an effort to send only recent texts that are less than 10 years old. Money donated will be used to buy other materials for the library, such as bookshelves to house the collection of 2,200 medical textbooks that Al Beeruny will soon receive.

Taylor will travel to Afghanistan again this year to see the Books with Wings project take shape.

Though the books are all packed up, extra donations have continued to pour in.

“We had to have a book sale last week,” said Ahmad. “We can use that money to defer the cost [of the trip].”

Gordon said he has future plans to take the project even further by sending librarians to train staffers in Afghan libraries.

“There is a lot of potential for this to expand,” said Ahmad. “What really impresses me is that so many sectors of society have come together. It’s a real collaborative effort [and it] speaks to the incredible generosity of the community.”

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