Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Haiti reads (an interview with the founder)

As you've probably realized by now the purpose of this blog is simply to promote Haiti. If I see a Haitian rising internationally specially in the US I will promote him and this goes as well for organizations thriving for the welfare of the people of our country. I know there are many doing good deeds then I could never know but unfortunately I have to select some and I am looking forward for some suggestions as well as always.

Today, my guest is Jeanette Alfred, she is the founder of Haiti Reads and I had the opportunity to interview her via email and here is the transcript:

Q- Tell me a little bit about you!
A- I came to the USA from Germany in 1991. I grew up with a passion of wanting to help people and used to take most of my pocket money when I was a child to buy bread for homeless people on my way to school. I grew up poor in a single parent household but always thought that whatever I have, I could share with others.
Because of the lack of money we had when I was little, there was never money for books in my home. I remember begging my mother for a book when I was a child but she never gave in to buy me one. Once I moved to the US and started earning my own money, I went a little crazy buying book after book, so many in fact, that I ended up having to donate a majority to several Chicago Public Libraries and some to private schools. When I learned that only a short distance from the United States, in Haiti, children were longing for books and education; I set out to bring books to the children of Haiti. This is how Haiti Reads was born.

Q- Why Haiti Reads? Why Haiti? How long have you been around?
A- In August 1994 I got into a cab at the airport. The driver was a Haitian man who ended up becoming a good family friend. Besides driving a cab, he also hosted a Haitian Radio show in Chicago. He invited me to come to his show a few times and after some time, I ended up working at the station answering phones. During that time, I really didn’t know much about Haiti at all but I started to learn all about Haitian music. Unfortunately, I was never encouraged by anyone to travel to Haiti so about three years ago I took that challenge up on my own. I booked a two week vacation to Haiti. This was a life changing event for me. I meet some of the nicest people while there and one of them encouraged me to “do something for Haiti”. Combined with my passion for books, seeing that most children in Haiti don’t have good quality books if any at all, the idea for the library was born.

Q- There are many other troubles in Haiti why did you choose to tackle illiteracy?
A- I could write a book on this but I think this quote by U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown sums it up the best:
"Reading is a ladder out of poverty. It is probably one of the best anti poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of."

Q- Where is your organization located?

A- In Haiti, we are located in Delmas 24, Port-Au-Prince and we currently work in partnership with two schools; one in Merger, Haiti and one in Fort Mercredi, Haiti. We have Haiti Reads Volunteer Clusters in San Diego, California, New York, New York, Chicago, Illinois, and Port-Au-Prince Haiti.

Q- Is this for kids only or do you help adults as well?
A- Our focus IS actually adults. We would like to see as many parents as possible to come to us to learn how to read or become better readers. If we can target parents, they can go home and teach their children and help them become literate. If they are unable to send their children to school, the parent can become their teacher. If the child is in school, the parent can help them with their assignments. It is a vision we hope to fulfill. Parents as teachers first!
Our work with children entails that we bring books to schools on a weekly basis. Of course, most of the patrons of the library will be children as well.

Q- Where do you get funding from?
A- We rely on private funding from people like you. In addition we are going to start selling T-Shirts and crafts various students in Haiti and the US will make for us. However, it is a catch 22. We need money to order the t-shirts we want to sell and currently Haiti Reads does not have a budget for that.

Q- How can people reading this help?
A- One way of helping is that they spread awareness of our work in their community. The next thing they can do is help us raise money by hosting dinner parties, holding yard sales and asking friends and family for support. In relation to other organizations, our budget is small. We are currently looking to raise about $5000.00. This money will enable us to buy solar panels, inverter batteries, get tables, chairs and shelves build, ship the remaining books to Haiti and pay for a teacher to teach the literacy classes. Since we are an all volunteer staff, all travels to and from Haiti and accommodations in Haiti are paid out of each members pocket and do not come out of the library budget.

Q-What's the most amazing moment you've had with your organization and what was the most discouraging one?
A- The most amazing moment was when I opened the doors to the library for the very first time and saw the place painted and cleaned. Jean Baptiste, one of the members of Haiti Reads, painted the place a wonderful light and bright color and really surprised me with this wonderful gift.

Our most discouraging moments are when we have to put our very important work on hold because of the lack of funding. This is currently the case.

Q- Do you have a success story that you wanna share with us?
A- We have several success stories. Last year The Special Library Association awarded us with a check for $500.00 for the work we do in Haiti. This was a momentous moment for us. We, out of thousands of entries, were chosen by a panel of librarians for the work we do in Haiti.
Another great moment was when we were contacted by Looking Glass Theater to partner with them on the production of Fedra. Because this imaginary theater play deals with Haiti, we will be serving as a cultural bridge between our organization and the theater company to get the Haitian community of Chicago interested in this event.

Q- Thanks so very much for your time, what would be your last words?
A- My last words would be a warm heartfelt thank you to you and this wonderful blog you keep. Haiti is a wonderful country with so many possibilities. Our work in the field of literacy is very important to the community it serves, Haiti and its future.

Jeanette Alfred
6415 N. Ravenswood Ave #100
Chicago, IL 60626
USA: 1-773-616-0043

Haiti: 011-509-3-879-6642
Haiti: 011-509-3-866-2601
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Warm temperature, ranging year-round from 70-93° F in the coastal regions, and 50-75 in the mountainous areas; rainy seasons are April-May and August-October.

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