A nonprofit started by two Northeastern students has donated thousands of books, dozens of computers and hundreds of notebooks across three continents to promote literacy around the world.
Second-year students Seema and Suraj Korumilli from Plainsboro, New Jersey created their nonprofit organization Literacy Movement 4 More, or LM4M, in 2013. The organization builds libraries and provides people crucial educational materials such as technology and school supplies.
The twins felt inspired during a trip to their ancestral village in Kapileshwarapuram, India the year before they founded their nonprofit.
“It felt like a crime for us not to give back to this place that was so central to what made us into who we are right now. The best way we knew how to do that was through academics,” said Seema, a business administration major.
In July 2013, Seema and Suraj shipped 500 books to the ALC Orphanage in Kapileshwarapuram as well as a table and chairs to furnish the orphanage’s first library. The books they donated ranged from children’s books to college-level textbooks. The twins also purchased Telugu-English dictionaries for the library.
The majority of the books the twins gather are donated from unused book sections in libraries.
“At every public library, there is the basement of unused books that they always try to get rid of through book sales and other various means, but they are unable to,” said Suraj, a computer science and business administration major. “That’s where we come in. We swoop into their basement and we just take their books and repurpose them.”
As the organization expanded, Seema and Suraj started donating laptops and other technology to the schools and organizations they partnered with.
Many schools are implementing new technology and getting rid of the old but still-functioning computers, Suraj said. The twins take these computers from these schools and repurpose them.
Suraj, who focuses primarily on the technological side of LM4M, downloads new operating systems, educational software and digital libraries of over 500 books onto the laptops.
The twins also applied for grants from banks and various organizations and sought sponsorships from companies such as Scholastic and Educational Testing Service. They also have held fundraisers for materials including school supplies, backpacks and bins in addition to books and laptops, Seema said.
Several professors and clubs at Northeastern have also helped Seema and Suraj expand their organization’s impact since they enrolled at the university last fall.
“Our biggest resource here has definitely been my professors,” Seema said. “It’s just really a big network of professors who have really just given me so much advice.”
Her business professors have been integral in finding transportation resources and drafting a business plan, she said. Seema also referenced mathematics professor Rajini Jesudason as her biggest mentor.
“She really has taught me a lot about my management skills in terms of the nonprofit,” Seema said. “[She has] given me access to a lot of resources in terms of those skills that I need to implement to really menial stuff like finding storage space for books on campus.”
In June, Seema and Suraj donated 15 laptops, 12 desktop computers and all of the accompanying accessories to the Early College Experience program, a series of courses held over the summer at the university in conjunction with the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, according to the LM4M project reports. This donation was their biggest project to date.
“[Seema] told me about her nonprofit and I said we had this need and she said, ‘I’m just going to go back to my school in New Jersey. I know they’re getting rid of some of their technology,’” Jesudason, who is a teacher in the program, said. “She just made it happen.”
Following the Boston project in June, the twins studied abroad in the United Kingdom and completed a project at the Meadows School in Kent, U.K. Seema and Suraj collaborated with Barnardo’s children’s charity to donate over 400 books, several crates and a laptop loaded with a digital library and other educational applications to the school.
“When we’re abroad, we definitely want to give back to a community in a way that we can establish ties with the country that we’ve been to,” Seema said.
In addition, they want to start impacting whole areas and implementing more technology to focus on digital literacy.
“We want to get big… We’re not just targeting like a small village in India right now,” Suraj said.
Jesudason believes this mindset will take them far.
“It’s nice to see people who see problems instead of complaining about them,” Jesudason said. “They see this waste, and they see this need and instead of just complaining about things, they’re like ‘why don’t we take the computers that are being thrown away or stored and have them put to good use.’”