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Friday, December 22, 2006

The Power of One

The Pine Bluff Commercial reports on a fine example of what just one Russian person can do to stand up for change in Russia:

Elena Kirillova is building bridges. Those bridges span from Yellville to her native country of Russia simply by words.

The 35-year-old sends American books to Russian libraries in hopes of helping her countrymen learn English. Her desire to provide books to libraries comes from her own struggles to find English books in Russia. Since March, Kirillova and her American husband, Pat Barr, have sent nearly 2,700 books and 350 magazines to Russia in a program they began with their own $500. The Ozark Book Connection, as they call it, collects donated books and mails them to 23 libraries in Russia that cannot afford to buy English books. "I think I'm helping my country," she said, eyeing a stack of books ready to be mailed. "It's not just my country. I'm building a bridge between America and Russia." Kirillova said there is a great interest from the Russian public in learning English and about the cultures of the United States. "Everybody wants to learn English," she said, an accent detectable. "Even in Soviet times people wanted to learn English. If you want a career, it's good to have a second language." Kirillova said she moved to the United States four years ago with her husband and still is improving her use of English. She said she learned the language from her mother, who spoke limited English, and the Russian school system. The avid reader of fantasy and fiction books said she often would visit libraries in Russia to gain knowledge of America and enhance her speech, but books written in English were hard to find. That's why Kirillova said she feels it's important to get literature to Russia. Barr also has a love of books that allowed him to embrace his wife's program. He said it's not uncommon for him to be reading four books during the same time period. "If I take a break (from farming), I pick up a book," he said. "I even have a book in the truck. I can read 400 to 600 pages a day." Kirillova said the response to the program has been overwhelming. More libraries are requesting books.

She said while it is expensive and time consuming to mail the materials, her payoff comes when she receives thank-you letters from library officials.

"They get excited about the books," she said with a smile.

"They open them up and look through them. They are like children with Christmas presents."

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