IBBY Children in Crisis: Haiti
Natural and environmental disasters in Haiti
Psychological impact on children & the healing power of storytelling and books
The project started in July of 2009. So far the IBBY Haiti (Ayibby) bureau has been able to recruit a project director and a secretary. Most activities have been conducted as planned, although the sessions with the schools had to wait until the schools reopened after the summer break.
Selection and training of aide counselors
The project director with the help of Ayibby’s bureau has identified the first 15 people to receive training in bibliotherapy. The sessions were offered in Port au Prince in September. A second group of 14 people participated in the October session in the area of Montrouis closer to the cities that have been affected. The participants came from Petion Ville, Cabaret, Monrouis, St Marc and Gonaives. The majority of the people were teachers recommended by their school principals and by community members. Even though the organizers found that it was a good thing to have people who were familiar with children, they had to emphasize the fact that the atmosphere in a bibliotherapy session is quite different from the traditional reading class. Many exercises were provided to teach how to empathize with children without lecturing or moralizing.
The first day was devoted to the objectives of the training, the general goals of bibliotherapy and the specific needs of the children from the target zones. On the second day, several relaxation techniques were introduced. Every participant had a chance to use one or two of the techniques from breathing exercises to more complex exercices. The third day, they practiced the art of questioning, leading without imposing. The participants were introduced to very specific listening skills. The criteria for selecting books were also discussed. Books were distributed to all participants for readings and questioning. They learned to read meaningfully, manage pauses when necessary in order to let the children assimilate the story and penetrate fully into the characters. Follow up activities such as drama and composing poems, drawings and puppets were conducted.
The second week was devoted to actual reading sessions with children in a regular school setting. Follow-up activities included an evaluation of the outcomes for the students as well as for the counselors.
Identification of the schools
The project staff and the Ayibby’s bureau has been able to locate the Petion Ville students who lost more than 100 comrades when their school La Promesse evangélique collapsed. Many of those students are now attending three neighborhood schools: new Star de Petion ville, College Jean Fatima Moreau Section Primaire et College Moreau Section Secondaire, Ecole Nationale de Cabaret and College NotreDame du Mont Carmel in St Marc and Piti Piti in Montrouis, whose children were affected by the storms were selected. Some of those families are still living in tents, one year after. Three schools in Gonaives (Ecole nationale des Gonaives, College Notre Dame and the Sisters School) were chosen based on specific criteria: Children coming from devastated areas, willingness of the director to participate and support the project, interest in reading improvement programs in general.
Selection of books
In the initial planning, the project had to select two kinds of books: the ones to translate from another language and the ones to buy from existing publishers.
The project staff and the local Ayibby board decided on three titles: A selection of short poems from well-known authors such as Laughston Hugues, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and many others. The second choice was a picture book from Anne Pellowski: If I were…. The third book is the well-known Little Prince from Antoine de St Exupery.
The first two books are in print and will soon be added to the titles distributed to the schools. The translation of Little Prince requires more time and is still a work in process. The general feeling was that since there are only very few international classics in Creole, it was worth the time, the effort and the money.
The Books for the school libraries
100 titles were selected from five different publishers. They range from picture books to young adult literature. Books in Creole were prioritized since Haitian schools were more likely to receive French books than Creole titles, if they receive any books at all. In fact, none of the selected schools had a library. The children do not have any fiction books at home, just a few textbooks. Each school received an initial package of 60 books after a few hours of training for the person in charge of monitoring the books. Children and teachers participate in covering the books before they were shelved. Six of the schools could not keep the books because of lack of secure facilities, such as a proper room, shelves and teacher or personnel on duty for the task of managing the stock. The children of those six schools are able to use the books in the other facilities. The remaining set of books will be delivered at the end of the sessions. This will allow the personnel to evaluate how the books are being used and provide help in the process, since a counselor will be regularly working at the school for a number of weeks.
The bibliotherapy sessions
In Haiti, most schools start in October, although mid September is usually the official date. Ayibby were able to start 10 bibliotherapy sessions on the third week of October, 10 others started in the first week of November and the remaining 16 on November 11.
Specific outcomes for the mid term of the project
The training was very useful for the counselors. The concept of using books for healing was new to most people. However, the use of traditional storytelling does help the participants to master some specific areas in bibliotherapy, such as how to introduce stories or the interactive approach.
Learning to read meaningfully was also an important area of training. The common mistake to think that since it is a children's story, one does not need to be prepared was fully analyzed. Most participants realized how important is is to know the book well before you present it to the children. During the experimental session, participants had to adjust their knowledge to the specific situations and discovered a few patterns. For example, sessions which open with a well-chosen short poem were really a good introduction for many children. School directors were pleased to receive the books and more incline to let the counselors work with the students after that. Some directors as well as some teachers had to be constantly reminded that the purpose of a bibliotherapy session was not the same as a traditional reading lesson. Discipline was also an area of concern and again one has to reaffirm that we wanted to create a relaxing atmosphere during the session while staying in control.
In the schools in Petionville, the sessions started with the group of students who came from the school that collapsed. Some of their schoolmates wanted to join the bibliotherapy sessions. The counselors had to adjust to that reality since we can only accommodate a number of students in one session.
Another strength of the project is that Ayibby is now better known in two departments West and Artibonite, the two target areas for this project. Durable development in the area of reading relies on the availability of good translations of the best children books available. It serves the purpose of improving reading and cultural awareness, but it also facilitates the acceptance of minority languages such as Creole. If this good book I heard of, can be in Creole, then Creole is acceptable. thus, the minority language gains in prestige.
The people who receive the training will be available to help in some similar situations. The constructions in the slums, the large areas devastated by erosion makes people in the cities as well as in the rural areas the targets of constant natural disasters. Recently a tragic flood in Carrefour, just 30 minutes away from the capital of Port au Prince, in which some families lost their loved ones and all their possessions - shows the urgency and the importance of projects like this one.