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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 11, 2003

Woman finds 10,000 ways to help kids

Flora Lu, left, and Agnes Yu of China Airlines watch as Lu's efforts to help Taiwan children learn to read and write come to fruition. Workers picked up 10,000 donated books Friday at the Lucoral Museum to send to Taiwan to help replace those destroyed in a major earthquake in 1999.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Thousands of used textbooks, children's books and novels are on their way to Taiwan to help children there learn to read and write English thanks to the efforts of a Waikiki businesswoman who saw a need and is trying to fill it.

How you can help

• To help with the book drive, call the Lucoral Museum at 922-1999.

Flora Lu, who makes jewelry and runs the Lucoral Museum of gems and stones, was returning from a trip to Taiwan in October when she read in an in-flight magazine about how books were desperately needed to replace ones lost when schools were destroyed in a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck central Taiwan on Sept. 21, 1999, killing more than 2,300 people.

"I'm far away, but I want to help the kids," Lu said.

Programs to collect books were started in Los Angles, San Francisco and New York, and Lu, 52, decided to start a book drive here.

She sent 300 letters to local schools, churches and community groups asking for help and made space at the museum to store them. By last Friday, 10,000 books has been collected, boxed and picked up for delivery to Taiwan.

China Airlines is shipping the heavy load for free.

Architect Hong Ji Kuo, Taiwan's commissioner of overseas affairs in Honolulu, helped Lu pick up books at several locations and asked Chinese groups on O'ahu to also contribute. The Taiwan government encourages the use of English as a second language, he said.

"She started with children's books and magazines, then decided to add textbooks," Kuo said. "School facilities in rural areas were really damaged and they didn't have enough resources to buy new books. It will help them tremendously."

Margaret Yamamoto, principal of Our Lady of Sorrows School in Wahiawa, responded to one of Lu's letters and donated close to 1,000 extra textbooks and workbooks to the effort.

"Books that have been crowding our shelves for quite awhile," Yamamoto said. "My Catholic school background from young childhood was you never waste anything. My teachers wanted to clean out their cabinets, and I couldn't let them. I knew somebody, somewhere could use those books."

Yamamoto also sent her third-graders home to collect books no longer needed and added them to the drive.

"Flora came with her SUV and we sent her off with the whole thing packed with only a smidgen of a spot for her to sit in and her passenger," Yamamoto said. "I really know that those books will be put to good use."

Yamamoto said Lu loves children and wanted to be a teacher, but she had to run her family's business. She created her museum to be a hands-on experience, allowing children to pick up and learn about gems and minerals, Yamamoto said.

On a subsequent trip to teach a free seminar on jewelry making in the Marshall Islands, Lu walked into a small schoolhouse and saw very few books. Now she is starting a new drive to collect 10,000 books to send there.

"In Hawai'i we throw away lots of old books," Lu said. "So, I want to send books to Marshall Island as gifts next Christmas."

Yamamoto said her school and students will help again with the next collection.

"It is an example of how we all work together to make this world a better place," Yamamoto said. "It is a great endeavor and everyone can make a difference."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.