When the earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, volunteers heeded the call to provide medical care, food and water, and to help them rebuild their lives.
But in addition to food and water, Deborah Lazar, a librarian at New Trier High School, says the Haitian people also need access to books.
In a country where many people can’t afford to go to school, Lazar says libraries serve as a place where people can get their own education. “I see libraries as not only community centers … but also part of democracy,” Lazar says. “I believe in the power of libraries and what they can bring to the people.”
Lazar, of Evanston, fell in love with Haiti when she first visited the country 2 years ago as part of a New Trier service project. After the earthquake, she visited Haiti again in August 2010 to see how she could help.
As she toured the town of Petit Goave, where only 4% of the rubble had been removed, the directors of the local library told her how much it would mean to the young people in the community if they had a place to gather again. “Seeing the library rebuilt would mean the world to the people there,” she says.
Now, Lazar’s mission is to rebuild the libraries in Haiti and bring books to those still living in tent camps by encouraging people to donate to the Haiti Relief Fund established by the American Library Association.
Lazar says the ALA has raised $40,000 so far, and the International Office of Migration has pledged to donate $100,000―a far cry from the $350,000 needed to rebuild just the one library in Petit Goave. To raise awareness, Lazar has built a website, given talks at churches and public libraries and on the radio. She’s worked with libraries at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and Washburne Middle School in Winnetka to host fundraising read-a-thons.
And she’s also organized a project at New Trier where students translated children’s books from English to French to send to Haiti.
In June, Lazar is scheduled to speak with Francoise Thybulle, the Director of National Libraries in Haiti, about the cause at the ALA’s convention in New Orleans. And Lazar says she will continue to promote the cause. “You just never know who will hear, who will want to help,” she says.
For more info, visit rebuildhaitilibraries.org.
Interested in other stories about philanthropic efforts in Haiti? Check out:
Haiti Mission Trip
Helping in Haiti: Sue Walsh of Little By Little Shares Her Story in a New Book