What in the world are we doing? (Rotary Australian Book Project)
It all began simply with the RC of Encounter Bay club President returning from a visit to Haiti to meet with a fostered child his family had been supporting. His return coincided with an advertorial in the Rotary Down Under magazine seeking authors to write and illustrate children's books for the poverty-stricken country of Haiti. Providence prevailed, for the Encounter Bay Club had a retired Principal and author illustrator who could fit the bill. Indeed, the ROTARY CLUB OF ENCOUNTER BAY had already printed and published a member's book to raise funds for several International Programs - and so a linkage began with a group of volunteers in D7750, South Carolina. The Haiti Australian Book Project was born.
95% of the population in Haiti are of South African (slave) descent and for them the spoken language was Kreyol even though the official language of Haiti was French. The language was spoken constantly, but it had not been officially documented.
They are doing it tough in Haiti. It is the second poorest country in the world. Only 15% are literate and the country of 11 million people are in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. There is a corrupt administration which aims at keeping the population illiterate. Being illiterate makes written communications almost impossible and being poor means social isolation doesn't work as people need to earn money to feed their families. Things we take for granted like clean running water and soap or a social security safety net aren't available. Following the Cholera outbreak in 2010 where 80,000 people died - many were killed, as this was their way to control that epidemic. Many want a similar approach to COVID-19. It doesn't pay to declare illness in Haiti!
- Most family incomes average <$2 per day
- 60% of students drop out before the 7th grade
- 50% of the population are younger than 24 years
- 55% of adults and parents are illiterate
- 65% are unemployed
- Teachers are just now receiving their first trainings
– until Rotary efforts over the past two years most teachers were unable to read or write
Our ROTARY CLUB OF ENCOUNTER BAY program began humbly. We had the book "Roo Goes to School" written and illustrated by a club member and translated into Kreyol. 750 copies were sent to assist another voluntary group (Summits Education in Haiti) and a start was made to assist children on the central plateau to read. It was a steep learning curve, for we quickly discovered that few children went to school, teachers themselves could not read, and the Kreyol language had not been fully documented. But, giving a child a book was like giving a teenager a motor car! There was a thirst for learning.
With the assistance of South Carolina Rotary Clubs, Summits Education, Partners in Literacy Haiti, and several Haitian people, we set out to develop alphabet cards, document common words, and liaise with the various groups with similar objectives. Perhaps our greatest achievement thus far is to get these groups working together to bring about literacy for all in Haiti.
The Rotary Club of Encounter Bay then embarked on a most rewarding but ambitious program. It set up a writing group from amongst its members that did a number of things
1. Learned as much as it could about the Haitian Culture
2. Wrote 7 children's books reflecting interest levels and cultural priorities
3. Had these books translated from English into both French and Kreyol
4. It appointed and paid a Haitian doctor as a project specialist, and engaged 7 different Haitian artists to illustrate the books - a brilliant strategy to develop project interest and quality art work.
5. Used a Haitian company to print 6000 copies for use in schools
In the meanwhile, the Kreyol language was documented and approved by the Kreyol Academy. This included our alphabet charts.
The Rotary Club of Encounter Bay wrote, translated and established detailed training manuals for teachers, librarians and trainers to introduce the alphabet chart and to teach children to select, read and use the colourful books produced.
the Rotary Australia Book Project now brings together the Rotary Foundation (https://www.rotary.org/en/about-rotary/rotary-foundation), Partners in Literacy Haiti (https://haiti-literacy.org/),Summits Education (http://www.summits.org),and HEPI (https://haitiepi.com) with 40 participating schools and approximately 1900 students. The Cange Library and LaChapelle library are also participants. Collectively we have trained Haitian trainers, taught teachers how to read, and hope that by the end of 2021 some 40,000 children in Rural Haiti will be able to read books written in their own native language.
Over the past five years over $30,000 has been invested in a project that can change the outlook of people in Haiti. These are exciting times.
Being able to read opens new ways for children to make sense of their world. It provides new opportunities for the future and helps develop young minds. Understanding the written word is one way the mind grows in its ability. It is central to learning, to being entertained, or to gain further understandings of subjects of interest. As children learn to read, they gain a deeper understanding of a text, increase their reading comprehension, expand their vocabulary, and improve their writing skills and their knowledge of the world and the opportunities before them. It is a pathway out of poverty and suppression.
Participating partners led by Rotary will reach 150 teachers and 40,000 students during 2021. From humble beginnings, we can and will change their future.
Dr Peter Manuel for the ROTARY CLUB OF ENCOUNTER BAY