There's an image that sticks in James Owens' head. It is of a small boy he met while opening a library in a devastated region in Indonesia through his charity, The World Is Just a Book Away. The child picked up a picture book and remarked that he'd never seen such a thing.
"Even though I'd traveled around the world, it was very hard for me to believe that in 2009 a child had never seen or held a storybook," he says. "I hold this image in my head when I work on each project because I've experienced firsthand the difference it makes in the lives of children who really have nothing."
"WIJABA, Marshall and USC are very close to my heart. I love the way the charity allows me to be so interconnected with USC and the Trojan Family, and it's very synergistic with my teaching." - James Owens, associate professor of business communications
Since 2008 WIJABA has built 90 libraries and two mobile libraries (vans serving 50 schools each in Indonesia) that have served 70,000 children in three countries. This year they also hired a man who delivers books to schools in 10 remote villages on a volcano in Indonesia --- on horseback.
Owens, an associate professor in the Dept. of Business Communication, is celebrating another achievement: the publication of his anthology, "The World is Just a Book Away," by USC Libraries Press. The launch party in November served as a fundraiser for WIJABA.
Although nearly 15 years in the making, "The book actually led to the charity," Owens explains. "I thought it would be interesting to ask prominent people who inspired the world or who inspired me about how books and reading inspired them." The anthology, edited by Owens, features some 60 essays by some indeed inspiring people.
Over the years he secured submissions from Liam Neeson, his wife (the late) Natasha Richardson, and Vanessa Redgrave, as well as from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who answered his out-of-the-blue request. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev contributed an essay. So did the Dalai Lama.
Proceeds from the book will go to the charity.
USC has been integral to WIJABA. Since its founding in 2010, the WIJABA USC Club has raised thousands of dollars to build libraries for children in Indonesia and Mexico.
"WIJABA, Marshall and USC are very close to my heart. I love the way the charity allows me to be so interconnected with USC and the Trojan Family, and it's very synergistic with my teaching," says Owens.
To learn more about the book and the charity, please visit www.wijaba.org.