One day when I was teaching last year, my students were learning school-related vocabulary. I had pictures of the words and the words in English, and together we tried to match them. This one’s a student, this is a school building, here is a teacher, etc, etc. My students were pretty participative. There were about 100 of them, so usually someone was able to blurt out the correct response. The next picture I pointed to I believed to be quite obvious. No one responded. I explained, in French even, that it’s a place where we can read and take books. Still no response. I translated the vocabulary word into French, unebibliotheque, but still nothing. It took me a minute to register that it wasn’t the word, it was the concept. These students had no concept of a library. They had never seen one and they had never heard of one. Their only response was a question: what is a library, Madame Katie?
So what is a library? It is more than a place that has books. Being privileged as I am, I have grown-up surrounded by libraries my whole life. I remember when my parents took me to the Olympia Public Library to enroll in the summer reading club and I tried to collect as many stars as I could (by reading the books with mainly pictures). I remember in middle school and my teacher gave us an assignment to find an autobiography and I chose the one on Walt Disney.I remember using my university library to do research for a mid-term paper or getting lost (literally) in the section of public health journals. And most recently, I remember using the Peace Corps library here in Cameroon to find resources to improve prenatal consultations at the hospital. Regardless of where I have been, regardless of what information I needed, I have always had access to a library. I had free access to learn, research, and stroll through the titles that make my to-read list more of a dream list.
The point of this post is this. Since that day back in my 6th grade classroom, I realized that a library could be a benefit to the children and community of Nyambaka. Literacy levels are quite low and because my village is predominately Fulfulde-speaking, any extra exposure to the French language can really make the difference on whether children will or will not succeed in school. Take for example my 6th grade class of this year. Do you remember what your reading level was like in 6th grade? You probably could easily enjoy a Baby Sitter’s Club or Goosebumps book without much difficulty, right? Well nearly 20 of my 100 students this year can’t even read. They can write. They can copy the letters they see on the board into their notebooks. But they cannot read. One day I wrote a dialog up on the board between two people, Nono and Belinda, and asked my students to read the dialog in pairs. I walked over to two girls – two of the 15 girls in the class – and asked them who was Nono and who was Belinda. They looked down at their notebooks and said they were just going to sit there quietly, they can’t read.
I realize that in a community like mine, just building a library isn’t the solution to our literacy issues. But it’s a start. I am lucky to have a motivated community that has already donated $1700 to the project – which is a lot of money here. I have a motivated group of teachers, students and community members who have started a library committee to assure the sustainability of our project and will work to promote literacy activities in the community (including a reading club!). We have received over 500 donated books and the school is going to donate around 150 as well. It’s a small start but it’s a start nonetheless. So the real reason for this post is that even though my community is motivated and invested in this project, it is a project that is too big for them to finance completely by themselves.
I have submitted a proposal to the Peace Corps Partnership Program that posts approved volunteer projects on the Peace Corps website that people back home can donate to and support. If you are interested in donating to help make our library project a library, or know someone that may be interested, please visit the link to my project below. One can donate directly on the website or mail a check. Because they recommend FedEx-ing checks, another option is to mail the check to my parents address as they have offered to collect checks and FedEx them all together. Please email/message me for their address if you would prefer this option: Meehan.firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you in advance, merci beaucoup, mi yeti mon jur!