A Community Where There Are No Books for Children to Read

by Deborah Dimmett

haiti-14023_640This summer I spent two weeks in Bainet, a seaside town in Haiti located about 60 miles from the capital. Over the past 11 years, I have visited this small town to provide seminars to teachers on strategies and methods that do not require many material resources. Most learning in Haitian schools takes place through rote instruction; and, when books are required, it is the student’s family who must make these expensive purchases. This means that a lot of children miss out on school because their families cannot afford to send them.

This summer I interviewed children, parents, teachers, school directors, community leaders as well as peasants and peasant groups in the town of Bainet and its nine communal sections. Although the interviews focused primarily on economic and environmental issues, I included questions about levels of education for members of their family, whether or not their children were attending school, and how they afford to pay for their children to go to school. Their stories were full of hardships and hopes. Each school year, tough decisions had to be made. Which children in the family will be able to attend school this year? Do they have enough charcoal or a goat(s) to sell to raise the money needed to purchase the requisite books and uniforms? Will they be able to give the children they send to school enough nutritional sustenance so that they complete a school day and do their homework?

The questions about schooling and education lead me to ask about the availability of books, in general. I asked my interviewees whether or not there was a community, school, or classroom library for children to practice independent reading and simply read for enjoyment and information. Some chuckled while others adamantly shuck their head “no.” Although I knew the answer to this question, I did not want to make assumptions. Upon my return to Tucson, I wondered what are the implications for children who grow up without access to books—particularly books written or translated in Creole rather than French, an official language in Haiti that only the educated few read, write, or speak sufficiently well.

I recently posed this situation to my American pre-service teachers whose responses opened up a new discussion on the implications of living in a society where few, if any, books were available for children to read for enjoyment or information. Their responses included, but were not limited to, the following:

With little or no availability of books, children would have . . .

•little exposure to global perspectives
•very few opportunities to read stories in their own language, Creole
•little exposure to other places around the world
•fewer opportunities to see how other children (fictional or nonfictional) might solve tough problems
•no opportunities to investigate problems or topics they are interested in
•a diminished conception of what the future could hold for them
•few opportunities to have good models for other essential skills such as writing.

For most of us, it is impossible to imagine a life without access to books or other reading resources. We cannot imagine a school where children might learn to read functionally, but never have the resources to read for pleasure or to independently gain new insights and knowledge. Perhaps the first step in giving Haitian children a better future is to provide them with the resources that could help them to imagine a world outside the dire poverty they experience each day and with rich informational texts that help them to develop a knowledge base that could shape their identity, giving them hope and propelling them into a better life circumstance.

Note: If you are interested in working on a Books for Bainet project, contact Deborah Dimmett at deborah_dimmett@msn.com. Please include Books for Bainet in the subject line.

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