03/10/2007, Portsmouth, Dominica
Preparing to do this trip required a great deal of research using books and references from the internet. Throughout our travels, we need access to a range of reference books – navigational, weather, boat maintenance, fishing guides – and of course, we have our books for pleasure that we regularly swap with other cruisers. All in all, books are all around us and we rely on them everyday. When we first visited Dominica last May (’06), you might remember we visited a small Primary School in the village of Dublanc. We met with one of the teachers, Miss Vanessa Hilton who was involved with Sandwatch (a UNESCO program). As we chatted with the Principal, Mrs. Green, it became obvious that the school wanted to convert an empty classroom into a school library. Used books had been donated and were in boxes on the floor. We could see that a lot of work was needed but with only 4 staff, and no resources, the job was daunting. When we left the school, we made a promise we would return on our trip north and build bookshelves. So, following 6 days in the south of Dominica our next destination was Dublanc Primary School. Our mission was Project Bookshelf.
After contacting Mrs Green, who gladly welcomed us back to help with the library, we were off and running. First, we had to organize the wood. Thankfully one of the two building supply stores had everything we needed, which was very unexpected. (We thought we’d have to wait at least a week for the supply ship to come in). With the help of one of their workers, Stephen (a political refugee from Haiti) we were able to cut the wood to David’s plan. The tools were limited in the lumber store, so David and Stephen took turns using the handsaw to cut the wood. As the wood was being cut, I inquired about the materials being delivered to the school the next day. After pleading and begging, we were promised an early delivery.
The next day we arrived at the school and to our delight, we could see that the staff had started the process of building their library. Most of the books were still in boxes in two big piles on the floor, but Mrs. Green had arranged for two workers to build some shelving. After a quick assessment, we realized that the shelving David had designed (sight unseen) would fit right in with what they had started. The wood arrived early in the morning, as promised, so we got started with no time to waste.
Our first step was to get a little help from the grade 6 students to move the pile of books on the floor so we had a place to work and the space to fit the new shelving. Next, David took over the measuring, cutting and building while I started going through each of the books one by one to see if they were appropriate for the students. Books were sorted into different piles for each of the grades. Books that were inappropriate (ie The History of the United States Military in Vietnam, or Grade 10 Mathematics) were boxed and organized to be distributed to other schools. By the end of day one, the shelving was finished and the process of organizing books onto the shelves had begun.
Day two at Dublanc started the same way as day one, with Mrs. Green picking us up near our boat and driving together to school. This gave us all an opportunity to talk about other school needs. The children recognized us and warmly greeted us into the school yard. As we walked into our workroom (and their new library), faces poked in through the door looking at the construction zone. Although the bookshelves were in place and some books on shelves, the room still needed a lot of work. So, with sleeves rolled up, we got started immediately. We knew we only had 4 hours to finish the job.
David could see that boxes and furniture needed to be rearranged to open up the room for the students to use and so he got started on that task. He also reworked a taller bookshelf (cutting in half) and arranged it along another wall, as an area for teacher resources. I continued culling and sorting books. My criteria -if the book had no cover and pages were ripped, discoloured or unappealing, they were give-aways. In the end, I was able to salvage enough books to partially fill shelves for all grades. And there was a nice selection of fiction and non-fiction books for everyone. ( I recognized some books I have in my classroom) With space now cleared and the room opened up, David arranged tables and chairs so that classes could come in and browse books together or individual students could come in when the room was opened and have somewhere to sit and read.
At the end of the day, teaches and students came back into the room to see their new library with rows and rows of books. Together, we were all impressed. On behalf of the staff and students of my school in Toronto, Island Public/Natural Science School, we presented the school with a delightful series on Canada, In addition, the school is making a financial contribution for the Principal to purchase a rug and upgrade the windows. And my family and friends from Newfoundland donated money to help pay for the bookshelves. Sincerest thanks to everyone’s contributions. You’ve made a difference to so many. From earlier enquiries, I was able to locate a source of new books for the school. So starting next year, Dublanc Primary School will receive brand new books from American (and hopefully, Canadian) publishers every year through a program called Boaters4books. And with room on the bookshelves, it won’t take long before Dublanc Primary School will have a library to be envied. Staff and students of Dublanc Primary School, happy reading and I hope books open up the world to you, as they have for us.