THE PROPOSED DESCHAPELLES LIBRARY
The creation of a library in Deschapelles was the first project initiated by Sister Cities Essex Haiti and ODES.
Despite the fact that all Haitians value education highly there are few libraries in rural Haiti. Although the official language in Haiti is Kreyol, until recently there were very few books written in Kreyol as French was and still is taught in elementary, secondary and University level schools. French is also the language used in formal governmental, business and international communications. In rural Deschapelles, there are very limited opportunities to borrow books or to purchase books even if one had the funds. ODES would like to change this by providing a space with opportunities for learning and reading.
Because electricity is scarce in much of rural Haiti, including Deschapelles, students have no place to study at night and can often be found studying under the few street lights provided on HAS grounds. Even HAS depends entirely upon its own generators for power.
Both the SCEH Board and the ODES Board created Library Committees to work with one another to establish the library, including identifying the site and building for the library, locating suitable books in French and Kreyol, determining a source of electricity, advising with respect to furnishings and equipment, assisting ODES with respect to its operations, and raising necessary funds. ODES will take responsibility for the library’s operations, including hiring staff, enlisting volunteers, setting policies (including the hours of operation, book lending systems, use of the building by community members and groups), establishing rules and regulations, and setting a budget.
The SCEH Library Committee, in collaboration with the ODES Library Committee, spent several months assessing the most suitable site for the library. In February 2012, a long-term renewable lease was entered into with a Haitian-American for a parcel of land located near the main road running through the center of Deschapelles. Previously used for growing crops, the land is highly suitable for constructing a library building.
The committee is currently exploring different construction options including portables (shipping containers) as well as traditional concrete block construction. The group looked at bamboo construction and determined that it would be too expensive as well as being a relatively new form of construction in Haiti. One goal of SCEH is to employ local craftsmen and materials as much as possible. We are also exploring the possibility of constructing the library in phases.
At present, we have five architects on the committee including two Haitian architects, one familiar with construction in Haiti and a local Essex architect who has assumed responsibility for schematics and plans. Another member of the committee has a background in design and is helping us to explore sources for lighting, power including solar power, and other technology (eg internet), and is researching grant opportunities as we recognize that help with construction costs as well as the library’s resources will better enable us to serve the community. We will review plans with ODES in early March as their input is crucial. We have also begun the process of exploring construction costs.
FOKAL (La Foundation Connaissance et Libertè/Fondasyon Konesans ak Libète) has agreed to serve as a source for training and administrative guidelines. FOKAL, which is an independent foundation in Haiti supported by the Open Society Institute and other international and local organizations, provides a range of education, human development and economic activities to local communities in Haiti and has become a leading organization shaping the future of Haiti. One of FOKAL’s many programs is support for community libraries throughout the country including training and administrative guidelines and support. FOKAL has agreed to work with ODES to provide opportunities for the training of a librarian and staff at no charge.
The SCEH and ODES Library Committees collaboratively selected three individuals to run the library. Besly Belizaire and Charles Odverne, residents of Deschapelles, have successfully completed an internship program with FOKAL and will become Assistant Librarians. We are hopeful that our Librarian candidate, MacKenzie Charles, will be able to participate in the FOKAL Librarian Training Program in the very near future, which we have been advised is almost near completion but is still under development. To learn more about FOKAL, click here.
Library Without Walls: While the library is being constructed, Sister Cities Essex Haiti and the ODES Library Committee are working not only to train the necessary librarians at FOKAL but also are providing library services in Deschapelles–a library without walls concept. A group of teen-age girls have been reading to children in the HAS Nutrition Annex. In addition, the Essex Girl Scouts and a group of teenagers in Deschapelles have begun a Pen Pal Program exchanging letters with one another about their respective lives in their towns. Furthermore, a group of physical therapy students at HAS who submitted a list of books that they would like the future library to have, have received several of the requested books, including several copies of the Victor Hugo version of Romeo and Juliet.
The community of Deschapelles is very enthusiastic about the prospect of having a library as a place to study and to have access to books. Just as the Connecticut libraries are well used, well regarded, and broadly supported by their communities, so will be the Deschapelles library. The Essex Library can serve as a model for the Deschapelles library with areas not usually thought of in Haitian libraries, such as a children’s area, a lending library, study areas, a community center, and information resource center. The Deschapelles library will become, like Connecticut libraries, well used by many constituent groups such as children and their families, service organizations, businesses, schools, churches and technical informational meetings.
The Deschapelles library could be used as:
A place for students to study after school particularly after dark. Since most households do not have electricity, children are routinely found studying their schoolwork in the evenings while sitting under the few street lamps found on the HAS campus or under rare isolated pools of light in the community.
A lending library for children and adults. Even adults who learned to read have few opportunities to read for lack of books, and thus lose their facility for reading. Reading for rural Haitians is almost all education-oriented, and reading for pleasure is rare.
A place for students and adults to conduct research on a variety of subjects of interest. Many Haitians view libraries as a place to research and learn about a variety of topics.
- A place for mothers and fathers to bring young children for exposure to books for pleasure and educational “toys”.
- A community gathering place, especially on subjects of interest such as educational, technical and environmental seminars.
A potential site for a composting latrine and model gardening systems.
Initial costs will include the rent of the land and the construction of the building or purchase of portable structures. Other costs will include:
- lighting fixtures so students can study at night
- tables, chairs and benches so people will have a comfortable place to study and read
- librarian’s desk
- library materials such as membership cards and card catalogue
shelving for the books
- books in French, English and, for young children, in Kreyol
- blackboards and slate boards, as paper is a luxury many cannot afford
- DVD/TV for educational videos
- power source (generator and/or solar) as there is no other available source of electricty
- landscaping for beauty and for model gardens
- possibly a composting latrine
After the library/community center is operational, additional items could be provided such as computers, landscaping, walkways from the street, and a covered terrace.
Through generous contributions from Essex and elsewhere, Sister Cities Essex Haiti has sufficient funds to purchase or lease the land, and to purchase books, lighting, tables and chairs. Sister Cities Essex Haiti has received donations of books in French and Kreyol. Additional funds are being sought through grants.
Ongoing Costs of Library/Community Center
Since the library/community center would be primarily staffed by ODES volunteers, the ongoing costs are anticipated to be:
- One librarian and one librarian assistant to administer the library and coordinate volunteers
- A caretaker (groundskeeper)
- Replacement books
- Children’s toys—replacement
- Fuel for generator to provide electricity
- Computer equipment (possibly)
Sister Cities Essex Haiti, through the generous support of area residents has already raised initial funds for the library and grant opportunities are being explored. To help with this project and make a donation, click here.
Most people do not have the luxury of having electricity, candles or kerosene for lamps. Consequently, children either have to study before the sun sets or after it rises or try to find a place to study in the isolated pools of light cast by the few street lamps. The proposed library would give students a lighted place to study after dark.
- Most Haitian homes are small and households may have only one table that is used by all family members for many activities. The proposed library would give students a quiet, safe place to study after school.
Paper is scarce and expensive. The proposed library would have chalkboards and slates for children to practice their math and handwriting.
- Because there are few opportunities for many adults to read, they lose that skill once they leave school, in part, because they do not have access to books.
- Electricity is scarce because government electricity is expensive and unreliable. Private electricity generation is not available except through privately purchased fuel-operated generators which becomes expensive.
Mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are prevalent in the area so the proposed library would have screens.
- Ceiling fans are not planned for as part of the project as fans would add to the cost of electrical generation.
There is limited public education in Haiti and the two largest expenses for a family are food and school fees and supplies.
- A venue is needed for “internally displaced people” (IDPs-those who have left Port au Prince for the countryside after the January 2010 earthquake) to rebuild their lives.
- A composting latrine at the library/community center could be used to introduce the concept to area residents for disposal of wastes and use of such wastes for fertilizer.