One Library At A Time in Honduras

Susan Dancy Aldrich, Founder and Director

While searching for potential sites for a children’s library, we pulled up to a two-room school house on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Although visited by cruise ships and scuba divers, the Roatan population lives in extreme poverty. Compulsory education stops after 6th grade. Many children do not attend school at all. (Our estimate is about 5%, which, according to the National Institute of Statistics population figures for 2006, translates into 368,000 of the 1.7 million children ages 5-12.) Children are needed to help support their families. They can be found selling hand-made trinkets or begging in the streets, especially when the cruise ships arrive. Even students who attend school are frequently absent on “cruise ship days.”

Working with local leaders, One Library At A Time visited a K-3 class to determine the potential for a library in Roatan. Sandra (a pseudonym) was not alerted to our visit in advance and so we were able to get a candid view of what went on in the classroom. She taught the K-3 class in the morning and asked the children to read for 10 minutes at the beginning of each day—reading from her collection of seven books. The children read these same books over and over each morning, learning to read in cooperation with each other. Sandra talked with us about her students, sharing her love of reading and explaining how she was trying to pass that love on to her students.

Before we left, we gave her seven new books as a gesture of appreciation for allowing us to observe her class. With tears in her eyes, she thanked us for doubling the size of her library. She held up one of the new books, Yertle the Turtle, to show the children the title and author’s name. She reminded them how to turn pages and how to put the book away with the spine facing out. Juan (also a pseudonym) exclaimed that he was going to spend the night at school so he could be the first one to read the new book in the morning!

One Library At A Time returned six months later to partner with Sandra and her oldest students (6th-graders) in creating a library of approximately 300 books. Over the course of a week, we worked together to set up a catalog using an abbreviated Dewey Decimal System. Students sorted the books into stacks of fiction and non-fiction, gaining a lot of practice alphabetizing during the process. Teachers, students, and One Library volunteers worked together to hand write catalog cards and hand label the books and then shelve them. During breaks, students read from the books they were cataloging.

One Library brings all the necessary supplies to establish a library and, most important, uses locally available materials. In addition, we use—and leave—a procedures manual translated into the local language. We want the library to be sustainable and to grow. We use the Dewey Decimal System so children who are able to continue their education will feel at home in a library. Working together, we transform suitcases full of books into a catalogued library and the teachers and students blossom as librarians and readers.

To celebrate the “opening” of the library, we shared the story of how this special library was made possible by students of the Global Ambassadors Club at Randolph Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, who studied Honduras for a semester and raised all the money needed. We passed out bookmarks decorated with encouraging words about reading that were made by the U.S. students. We also provided blank bookmarks, crayons, and stickers to the Roatan students, who made bookmarks to send back to the students in Charlotte.

After a year, I returned to Roatan to work on another library. I stopped by the Sandra’s classroom to see how things were going. When I arrived, Sandra stuck her head out the door and screamed in surprise! We hugged and she invited me in to her classroom. The book shelf was almost empty! Juan ran in, pulled out a book, and boasted, “I wrote a report on this fish!” Sandra looked at me and said, “You cannot imagine how my teaching has changed now that I have a library.” I turned to look at the class. Students were pulling books from their backpacks and out of their desks. These children have caught the love and habit of reading from their teacher. With one library full of books, the world is opening up to them.

One Library At A Time opens the world of knowledge by creating libraries around the world for underserved children in developing nations and the United States. One Library At A Time is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization. For more information, visit our website at www.onelibraryatatime.org