Bringing literature and hope

by Andrew Tyndale, Board Member

The unfinished road had been ravaged by successive wet seasons without any real work on it and, in turn, took it out on our “soft-roader” 4WD car. No rain had fallen recently, and the pale dust we stirred up coated everything and worked its way into the door seals.

Once again we found ourselves pulling up alongside the high walls and iron gates of a small school in one of the poorer areas near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Before the earthquake Croix des Bouquets was a largely agrarian area servicing the demand for food from nearby P-a-P. In the 3&1/2 years since the quake, much of the land had been sold down to build new residential blocks, and the compound walls had gone up much faster than any infrastructure could keep pace with.

This time, our way on the narrow lane was blocked by a line up of mainly women and young children jostling to get through the gate and into the compound. The sun was growing hotter, and I was grateful when we were ushered to the front and through into the courtyard. We had come with the Library For All team to visit Ecole Shalom, a privately run elementary school of 250 children in years K-6.

Our host is Samuel Darguin, one of a new generation of Haitians we met quite frequently on this trip. Although educated in the US and with a successful career in sight, he chose to return to Haiti after the earthquake to help his father, who had founded and run Ecole Shalom
for many years. He is passionate about not just rebuilding buildings, but building his nation into a strong and prosperous future…starting with educating children.

Haiti has a literacy rate of only 49% and, with 89% of the population under the poverty line (US$1.25/day), education is an important foundation. The Government runs less than 20% of some 17,000 schools across the country. Most rural schools have poorly equipped and
educated teachers, and no money to change this. Library For All is a digital library, sourced from almost all the major publishers, as well as open sources, local publishers and individual authors. It currently has over 600 titles, including some 250 in Haitian Creole, now being pushed as the first language and the language of early education. Schools need power, access to the internet, devices to read from and a small annual subscription. Most importantly, they need a director committed to excellence and to using technology to access resources otherwise unavailable.

Samuel certainly fit that description. Late 20s and fluent in at least 3 languages, he is committed to both a holistic education, and integrating the school into the community. The line up we’d seen was for one of the medical and dental clinics they host for the surrounding neighbourhoods with visiting doctors and nurses. In another classroom, US ambulance officers were teaching emergency response and first aid to local parents and others keen to be equipped for any future quakes.

The school was also the base for a small micro-finance program, helping 250 school parents supplement their income (down from ~500 immediately after the quake). Oh, and did I mention the English classes there every afternoon for 350 locals? Samuel had growth plans, and we toured a partially-built new wing, which will host an expanded school and a large community hall meeting room. He’s also planning the expansion to 2 more sites…but that’s next year’s project. He showed us the computer storage room, where early projects to provide schools with tablets had failed, leaving stacks of now useless equipment. His vision included a large solar array to reduce dependency on unreliable city power, and expensive generator fuel. Samuel’s commitment to excellence also extended to ongoing teacher training: 2 hours every Friday afternoon, and a whole week retreat in the summer holidays.

Altogether a perfect school partner for LFA: needy children with a hunger to learn, enough infrastructure to make it work, and a director committed to bringing his kids into this century.