Monday, November 15, 2010

Books Heading to Haiti

Nancy Marshall, a volunteer with First Church in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, is heading down to Haiti with 260 French-language children’s books that Reader to Reader collected.

The First Church has for a number of years supported a 6 story office/school/clinic building run by CONASPEH (Conseuil Natianale d’Eglises Sprirtuel d’Ayiti (National Council of Spiritual Churches of Haiti) in the Tabarre section of Port-au-Prince. The building was destroyed in last January’s earthquake. Thankfully, none of the school’s 600 pre-school through 12th grade students were in the building at the time of the quake, however, 14 nurses, several staff and others were killed.

The building is now being rebuilt, and Nancy Marshall provides an overview of the importance of CONASPEH’s library.

“The feather in CONASPEH’s cap was that it had a whole, real, library. In all the times I’ve been to Haiti, I never saw any other library anywhere, nor did I ever see a book store. Classes are taught by rote; i.e. the teacher has a book, from which (s)he teaches, but the students don’t have books. At first, the books I donated just stayed in the CONASPEH library, and were proudly shown off to visitors. It took a bit of careful teacher education and encouragement with the primary school principal to accomplish loaning each classroom teacher a basket of books for a month, and to let the youngsters peruse one a day as a reward, and then get a new bunch of books the next month. The youngsters love them and are so proud of the books! Also, selected high school seniors were taught and entrusted with “library duty” (in return for scholarship funding) during which time they sat at the library entrance and monitored students and adults who visited the library and could use any book, for as long as they stayed in the library. At first, as I’ve said, all of the books were housed in the Tabarre building, for show, but as the library grew and the teachers and students learned to love books, the pastors/teachers in the smaller outlying parishes began to beg for books. So the need for books is ever growing!

Books have not been allowed to go home with students or adults, because books are “hard to come by” and therefore, expensive. Even if a child promised to bring back the book, someone else might take it and sell it, because one can eat quite a few meals for the price of a book. It has been about 4 years since I’ve been bringing books-in-French to CONASPEH, and in that four years, books have gone from being “those revered things up on the top floor” to something they love and cherish and use. It will be a while before the lending library concept can be implemented in Port-au-Prince, but know that a growing number of children there are learning to love books because of CONASPEH, and because of Reader to Reader!

The 6 story building was leveled January 12 and it was weeks before all the bodies and rubble was sorted through and disposed of. We received a proud email in March telling us triumphantly that there were a number of books that were salvaged, so they at least had a small start on replenishing the library. From where else but Haiti would you hear such a story? Classes began again in April on the CONASPEH grounds in huge tents, and work is just now commencing on rebuilding the building, thanks to contributions from all over the US and Canada. Many people prefer to donate to CONASPEH and CRUDEM because they know the people and know the money is going straight into use by honest Haitian people, with no middleman agency.

If you can ever hear of a nursing program that is replenishing their French text books, those are a top desire – they’re expensive and hard to come by.

Our group will return to CONASPEH in mid-November 2010 and we always ask what they wanted us to bring in the 2 fifty pound suitcases we’re each allowed to bring --- guess what they said --- BOOKS!!!!!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU ! ! ! “

Nancy Marshall, PhD, OTR/L

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