As my special project, something to leave behind for the community of Blue Creek, I chose renovation of school library. This was something I’ve wanted to do, and I remember thinking “This could be my special project” when I first saw the old library, in our first week here.
The old library is a relatively nice (from outside) but tiny building across the road from the school. The access is limited by freely growing bushes and the fact that it took us about a week to find out who has the key (then it took us 2 more to be able to tell who the owner is – in the end it turned out that the library belongs to the primary school). That was already telling us something about the frequency with which the library was used.
When we finally got inside… Well, let’s just say we weren’t impressed!
The space was smelling of mould and things better left unmentioned, and wildlife had taken over the building: wasps’ nest, bats, lizards, scorpions, spiders… this would be a perfect haunted house for Halloween, but not necessarily a place for reading and learning. Last but not least, the books themselves were in a very bad condition, obviously not taken care of very well. Some were on the ground, others thrown haphazardly onto the shelves many… months? years? ago. Something needed to be done.
At first I thought about cleaning the room, painting a little bit inside… But the fear that it would quickly go back to the way it was, forgotten on the other side of the road, kept me thinking that moving the book collection closer to the school would be beneficial. At that time we started talks with the school about many different projects, library was one of them. After about 2 months of hesitation, we’ve finally agreed to move the library into the main building of the school, where it would always be open and visible for the students. Since American entrepreneur working in Blue Creek (owner of the canopy tour zip line adventure, Tim Sise) has started fundraising to bring some used computers for the school, we decided to make it joint learning laboratory with bookshelves on one side and computers on the other. The blackboard hanging at the front would still make the room (former preschool) usable for teaching.
First things first, I went on a day-long adventure to buy paint. Since the principal vetoed my favorite wall color – white – I decided to go for warm, a little dark lavender for the walls and steel-blue for the shelves. In two days the yellowish/vanilla/cheesecake walls were covered – with the exception of two big murals painted 10 years ago, depicting Belize and the Caribbean.
Then came the shelves, dismantled and moved from the old library building (that would be later used for storage). Since all the shelving units were connected, they had to be broken down into pieces and brought into the new room where we proceeded to clean and re-assemble them, not unlike Lego blocks.
On February 14th we’ve organized a big building action. Alessia and I had put posters around the village, invited teachers, parents, village council and Humana employees to spread the word and come to help with both our special projects. About a dozen adults and half a dozen children worked for a whole day together. The work was hard but enjoyable and by the end of the day the results were clearly visible.
In the meantime I was trying my best to acquire new (used) books for the children. I contacted the Gaia Movement in Chicago, USA and got a donation, free of charge, of selected books for young readers. I got in touch with library in Punta Gorda and local Rotary Club. The Education Center in Punta Gorda provided a box full of books. I’ve also found a private donor from Canada whom I’d met on his visit to Belize. In my budget I got a small sum of money for buying new books, however it’s not that easy in Belize – in Punta Gorda, the Toledo district capital, there is are no bookstores at all.
Of course, there were quite a lot of valuable books in the old library – books that, I’m sure, no one even thought could be found there. However, there were also a lot of useless books, “donated” by some libraries in Canada or USA – books that were outdated by the time they reached Belize, I’m sure. Manuals on computer programming from the 80’s are the most striking example, though I can’t imagine the art of flower arrangement has a lot of practitioners in the jungle, either, let alone breeding and training Dobermans.
One the bookcases were constructed, I’ve started to bring the books from old building to the new one (often with the help of students)and cataloguing them in the computer database, and later, making codes for each of the books and labeling them. That was the “modernization” part of the project, which, honestly, took about two weeks to complete. In the meantime I would clean, sand and paint the bookshelves to make them more pleasing to the eye.
When the paint dried (and after I enlisted Alessia’s help to finish painting the last one while I sat there labeling the books), all that was left was to print out the categories’ names and put them, along with the books, on the shelves.
Aside from the electronic database, which has been given to the principal, I’ve printed out the catalogues for each of the categories to help locate books on the shelves. I’ve also printed out “Reader’s Cards” that will be used to document any book that is taken from the library. It was agreed with the principal that not only the students, but other villagers as well, will now be able to borrow the books.
New Blue Creek RC School Library – March 2015:
You, too, can do your own projects in Belize!
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