Sharing A Passion for Reading in Haiti

By – Pierre Balthazar, Co-Founder of Return 2 Haiti

This summer my wife Cindy and I will lead a volunteer group of people leaving for Haiti from Michigan in order to set up a reading room as a precursor to a lending library in Belle Anse, my hometown. I am thrilled about this idea. To me, nothing is more urgent than making books, magazines and other materials available for everyone to read

Reading has many advantages, mainly for the children. It develops a broader vocabulary, increases general knowledge, and offers a better understanding of other cultures and the world around us. It develops the child’s imagination through identification with the characters, the plot or situation, and gives them the chance to experience the story as if it has happened to him or her.

When I was growing up in Haiti, the closest lending library was located in the town of Jacmel, about thirty miles away from my home, this was and is about a 2-day journey if traveling by foot or by boat, the common ways to travel. As a youngster I attended a parochial school in Jacmel run by Catholic Brothers; it is there that I developed a passion for reading, which ultimately carried me to a college education and a career in teaching and counseling students in the United States. Today, I am driven to inspire a passion for reading with the less-fortunate in my hometown of Belle Anse and beyond.

In my opinion there are three reasons why the introduction of a library should be part of any educational reform in Haiti:

1. Illiteracy is rampant in Haiti

The literacy rate is estimated at 67% but this statistic is misleading. Due to the absence of reading material, especially in the countryside, it is doubtful any of the graduates from secondary school are able to read above the 3rd grade level.

2. The Haitian culture is at risk

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Currently this adage is not true in Haiti because most of the communication is done orally. The folklore, the mores, and customs are transmitted orally. The problem with this is the younger generations continue to leave the country and do little to share these orally transmitted values and customs with the next generation. We cannot overlook that reading has a positive effect on writing. Writing about our world, our customs, and our values secures our traditions. Without reading and writing, I believe our indigenous traditions are at risk.

3. Access to the internet can be a game changer

We live in the age of the World Wide Web and around the world today’s libraries offer access to the internet even in economically and socially distressed countries like Haiti (although the challenges of connectivity are more complex in Haiti, especially in the more remote parts of the country, it is possible).

The internet can be a great learning tool, which requires the ability to read and understand what is read. With improved reading skills and access to the internet, universal education is no longer a distant dream. Remove illiteracy and improve the knowledge of Haitians, wherever they live, and real democracy and participation in the government can take root in Haiti.

Library in Belle Anse needed. Parents participate in art project with children inspired by book.It is my mission to open the first public library in my home region of Belle Anse in SE Haiti. I believe we can create a model that can be replicated throughout Haiti. This is what Return2Haiti is about, creating sustainable solutions which include the local residents in the process. And, in Belle Anse it is the local leaders who are insisting on a library which everyone can access.

I can’t think of a greater gift than the gift of knowledge. We can help Haitians give this gift to themselves. Will you help me make this dream a reality? You can contact me directly to share your ideas and resources at pierrea.balthazar@gmail.com or use this GoFundMe link, and feel free to share with friends.