How a Shipping Container of Books Turned into a Reading Program in Belize

Nina Barango
Mar 23, 2023
9 mins

In 2005, Bob Brumbaugh’s wife gifted him a trip to Belize to celebrate his retirement. The couple fell in love with the country’s natural beauty, its delicious cuisine, and the warm hospitality of its people — so much so that they ended up purchasing nearly 1,000 acres of Belizean jungle. It was an impulse buy Bob refers to as “dumb luck, stupidity, or a combination of the pair.”

Little did he know at the time that he’d soon be spearheading efforts to expand education and bring much-needed resources to the local community with the help of shipping containers. Here's how it started: Bob noticed that trees were being cut down during a visit to his property shortly after purchasing the land. He went to the local village council and expressed his wishes to keep the land wild and forested. He told leaders that his plan was to eventually create trails for eco and wildlife-watching tours, as his corner of the jungle is home to tapirs, jaguars, exotic birds, and all kinds of unique flora. He proposed an exchange: if locals would refrain from cutting down the trees on his land, he would help facilitate continued education for their children by sourcing sponsors to help cover the costs.

In Belize, schooling is free only up until the sixth grade, at which point it becomes unaffordable for many local families. The village leaders agreed to the deal. Since then, no more trees have been cut down on Bob’s land, and many of the kids he’s helped have stayed in school, graduated, and acquired community-benefiting jobs.

Early on in the creation of Belize Birds LTD, Bob encountered a challenge that needed solving. The nearest high school was 18 miles away from the village, requiring lengthy travel via bus along traffic-clogged roads in very poor condition. To make it to class on time, students often had to leave home at six in the morning and didn’t get back until late in the evening, leaving them precious few hours to review what they learned in school. What’s more, they had no places to study or read outside of the school itself, as the village lacked community building with books and other educational resources. 

Bob realized that what the community needed was a library. As a child, Bob suffered from polio and found refuge and escape in libraries. He understood their importance as a center for learning and personal development. So he enlisted the help of local hardware stores in northern Belize, many of which donated materials to build a concrete block building that could serve as a library and study hub.

The next step was to gather books for the new building. Bob knew he could easily source donations in the U.S., but he needed an efficient and secure way to get the books from Delaware, where Bob is based, to Belize without incurring damage along the way.

Bob decided that a shipping container seemed like the ideal vessel for transporting books. Secure against moisture and the elements, it could keep contents dry and safe as it made the long journey south from the United States through Mexico to Belize. The next step was sourcing a shipping container. In his search, Bob stumbled upon the Boxhub website where he learned that not only did Boxhub source the containers, but they’d also handle the delivery straight to him in Delaware.

Bob worked with Boxhub to find the ideal container for storing books and other donated supplies. He also purchased a used garbage truck to transport the container. He sold the compactor off the truck and put a flatbed on it, then welded the container to the flatbed. Voila! The container-on-wheels became a kind of “bookmobile,” so to speak. By the time it began its journey from the Mexican border to Belize, it carried about 238 cases of books. 

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After multiple border inspections along the way, the contents arrived safely at Bob’s new library in the Belizean jungle. The library is currently stocked, fully operating, and its reading courses have been a hit among local students and their families. Bob anticipated having 23 attendees at the library’s first two-week summer reading course. More than 60 kids are enrolled in the program. 

Speaking on the experience of working with Bob, Priyanka Manikeri, Boxhub’s Logistics Lead notes, “Working with Robert Brumbaugh was amazing! His project is a labor of love and we wanted to help in any way we could – including providing a CSC inspection and certification for his container that would eventually be utilized to ship the books to Belize.” Priyanka wasn’t the only one moved by Robert’s mission. The sales representative that initially worked with Robert was a former Early Educator and sent him a wide variety of books as a donation to help further his cause. 

Bob has since purchased a second container from Boxhub so he can transport even more books, as well as necessary health items that locals don’t have access to. On working with Boxhub, Bob said he’d definitely buy from the platform again if and when he needed to purchase another container. “It’s clear that everyone takes their job and customer service seriously,” he said. 

Stay tuned for more updates on his project, Belize Birds, and how the local community is benefiting from its efforts by visiting their website here.

About Nina Barango

Nina Barango is an experienced content marketer and container expert with a proven track record in the tech and logistics industry. Having worked with various startups and SMEs, she bridges the world of marketing, tech and shipping containers. When she's not creating content that'll revolutionize global container trade, you can find Nina reading a book or mastering her video editing skills.

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