HONOLULU (KHON2) — A student from Punahou School is making a profound impact on the lives of students half a world away in Kovel, Ukraine.

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Her initiative, “Books are Bridges,” is turning the power of books into a catalyst for positive change.

Elyse Everest’s journey began when she formed a friendship with a Ukrainian student named Eliza through Punahou’s Distinction in Global Education program. Their bond revealed a troubling issue: a shortage of English books in Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict with Russia, which had disrupted book deliveries.

“I have always had this huge love for learning and reading. And I really want to share my passion for libraries and education around the world,” said Elyse, 17.

Elyse decided to create “Books are Bridges.” She embarked on a mission to collect books and raise funds for their shipping, working with Tribenni, a fundraising platform founded by a Punahou alum.

“Through this journey, it really showed me just how many bridges could be built through different cultures.”

Elyse learned from Eliza about the challenges students in Ukraine face. Due to the war and limited access to electricity, many students had to rely on online learning. But she was told this mode of education was inadequate, especially for those learning English. Physical books were essential for their education and personal growth.

“Liza was telling me the inaccessibility to even attend classes. So her school has been essentially online learning, since they can’t attend classes due to not having ample bomb shelters. They also have a really limited access to electricity. So this online learning system wasn’t really working. So it was especially important for people who want to learn English, to have physical books to be able to learn and continue learning.”

The endeavor to send books to Ukraine was not without its challenges. Shipping a single box of books to Ukraine costs about $100, and the shipping process itself is difficult due to the ongoing conflict.

But Elyse says the effort is more than worth it.

“One of the things that Liza told me was that a lot of the Ukrainian language is based in Russian, and a lot of the people speak Russian and Ukraine. So to have this language that’s very separated. And it’s feels like something that’s almost like becoming their own as they speak it with their families, she said, is very empowering, to kind of be shaping this new future and new community in Ukraine.”

Elyse’s efforts highlight the significance of books as windows to opportunity and promise.

As for her own future, she envisions a path in human rights and education.

“I think I would like to become a representative for human rights at the United Nations,” said Elyse.

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For those interested in supporting this initiative, you can contribute by sending books or assisting with the shipping costs through Elyse’s fundraising page.