I was on a mission to find Jeanette LeMons-Attisso, who I reported on last week.
You’ll recall, Jeanette was visiting Haiti before the quake struck, as she was working on her Haiti Reads library project. I was curious as to how she, and her library were doing.
Here’s my interview with her.
A.B. After watching the Haiti Reads library video posted on Youtube, I wondered if you were okay? Could you share where your library is in relation to the earthquake?
The Haiti Reads library is located in Delmas 24, Port au Prince. It is on the bottom floor of a large, and luckily, well constructed school called Institute of Grace. The school itself is four stories tall not counting the bottom floor where the library is located. Despite the height of the building being the tallest structure in the entire area, it withstood the earthquake with only minimal damage. In fact, classes were in session at the time of the quake and everyone made it out of the building alive. The library was not open at the time. If it had been, it would have been full of children. Knowing that the library withstood the quake, I know that the children and parents who would have visited, would have been safe.
I think it is a blessing that the library was not open at the time of the earthquake because, even thought the building did not collapse, I am sure there is enough structural damage which would have probably made it difficult to lock the doors after the quake. This way, everything is locked up and safe until I return to Haiti in March to assess our damage. Right now, we really don’t know what the damage in the library is since everyone has left the building. Even thought the building has only minimal visible damage, the damage may be far greater than the eye can see and currently no one is staying indoors of any buildings in the capital and surrounding areas.
Our future plans for the library is to relocate. We will most likely keep the Haiti Reads library in Delmas 24 but will have a larger more easily accessible space in another section of town. We always had plans for expansion and this, we feel, is the right time to do so. With much of Haiti’s capital and surrounding areas destroyed, we will take advantage to rebuild the library to have more of an impact in a location that is visited by more people from various walks of life.
A.B. What made you decide to work in Haiti? How did you get started in your "adopted homeland?"
This question is a question I get a lot. Why Haiti? And I always say, “Why not?”
Since I have been asked this question a lot, I have answered it a lot. Here is the question again from Sammy Haiti’s Blog: Thanks for loving Haiti.
A.B. Why Haiti Reads? Why Haiti? How long have you been around?
In August 1994 I got into a cab at the airport. The driver was a Haitian man who ended up becoming a good family friend. Besides driving a cab, he also hosted a Haitian Radio show in Chicago. He invited me to come to his show a few times and after some time, I ended up working at the station answering phones. During that time, I really didn’t know much about Haiti at all but I started to learn all about Haitian music. Unfortunately, I was never encouraged by anyone to travel to Haiti so about three years ago I took that challenge up on my own. I booked a two week vacation to Haiti. This was a life changing event for me. I met some of the nicest people while there and one of them encouraged me to “do something for Haiti”. Combined with my passion for books, seeing that most children in Haiti don’t have good quality books, if any at all, the idea for the library was born.
A.B. What were your struggles before, and what lies ahead? (if there was any damage, feel free to embellish, here)
Our struggles are always money. It is very difficult to get people excited about literacy. Amazingly enough, many people just do not seem to see the value of it. They cannot put themselves in the shoes of someone who has never had the opportunity to go to school and to learn how to read. Something we take for granted is not accessible to many in Haiti.
We need passionate people who understand the need for this library and who will invest time and money in this project. The library is going to serve as a community center, a place for learning, a place for children to go. a place for their parents to learn basic literacy, a place for artists to work on their skills, and a place for teachers to access resources for their classrooms. We will have books for schools to loan and activities for children to do. The building will need money to be build and the book mobile that will visit schools will have to be purchased. We have a budget of many thousands of dollars to rebuild. We need passionate investors to help us get back on our feet. After that, we will work on having the library sustain itself through teaching of classes and fundraisers.
A.B. Share with readers, what you hope to accomplish with Haiti Reads.
We want to get people in Haiti excited about reading and to understand the importance of reading. We also have a great love for the Creole language which is the language of all Haitians. We have started to look into writing books with Haitian artist in Creole because we feel that there are just not enough materials available for young Haitian children that are relevant to their lives. There will also be information available to visitors in Creole giving them various ways to improve their lives concerning topics such as health care and environmental science. Non literate adults will be offered free reading classes. Literacy and learning will also help promote better employment opportunities for the community. We hope to reach out to all members of the community, especially those who do not otherwise have educational opportunities afforded to them.
Right now, helping the survivors of the earthquake live on a day-to-day basis is our priority. At some point, the recovery and rebuilding will begin. Haiti Reads and other educational groups will need the financial support to rebuild so that we can provide the much-needed educational enrichment to the people of Haiti.
If you would like more information on how to help Jeanette, please visit her website at HAITI READS.