Community EngagementEducation

More than a library, an agent of community transformation

The front view to the entrance of the Haiti Projcets' Community Library

This post is also available in: Kreyòl (Haitian Creole)

"A library is a first step sometimes in transforming a community. Maybe something that someone has heard there, or read there or participated in there will change the course of their lives…will make them teachers, leaders, actors, poets, writers…”

The Haiti Projects’ Community Library sits nestled at the center of Fond-des-Blancs, a rural town in Haiti’s southern peninsula. The Community Library opened in January 2018 as much more than book stacks and copy machines; it’s a community hub that’s empowering women and their families through vocational training, a mobile library, creation of artisan and beekeeping jobs and access to quality health care, including mobile clinics.

Haiti Projects has been a pillar in the region for more than two decades, helping women to provide for themselves and their families.

Today, Haiti Projects is the second-largest employer in Fond-des-Blancs, providing Fair Trade jobs to more than 150 women artisans who create handmade embroidery and knit products that are sold in the Haitian and U.S. markets. Haiti Projects has operated a tiny community library for about 20 years, but recently conceived and built a 10,000 square foot library with maker space.

The library is home to Haiti’s first-ever maker space.

Commonly known as a “hackerspace” or “hacklab,” a maker space offers library patrons access to various technology and materials to create. Haiti Projects’ Community Library is offering training in coding, dance, robotics, literacy, language and more. The concept of building a maker space grew out of Haiti Projects’ connections to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is modeled after MIT’s maker spaces, including one in Boston that serves kids from all over the city.

From the moment its construction began, the library represented a dream. “How can we connect kids in rural Haiti to the rest of the world so that we can open doors to learning as wide as possible,” said Cherie Miot Abbanat, Haiti Projects’ chief executive officer.

Two Haitian girls reading in Haiti Projects' Community Library
Two Haitian girls reading in the Community Library. (Photo courtesy of Haiti Projects)
Haitian youths learning about sound production in the Haiti Projects' Community Library's TechnoClub.
Haitian youths learning about sound production in the Community Library's TechnoClub. (Photo courtesy of Haiti Projects)

The Library stands as a symbol of the community’s progress and possibilities. Today, the library’s large conference room serves as a convening space that cultivates creativity and innovation to mobilize community action.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge in Fond-des-Blancs, but Haiti Projects was able to quickly pivot its artisan program to produce handmade reusable and washable face masks to slow the spread of the virus in the region. This prototype mask, created in partnership with MIT’s CO-Mask project, is unique, made of canvas with a double layer of 100% cotton batiste and a pocket for an additional filter. With adequate access to all the materials needed, the artisans can produce as many as 1,100 masks per week.

To date, Haiti Projects has worked with local leaders to donate more than 3,000 masks to the community. The organization is eager to train more women to make the masks and add more shifts to meet the needs of the more than 100,000 people in the Fond-des-Blancs area.

Face mask production is only one key aspect of Haiti Project’s response to COVID-19.

"We need more stories. We always need more stories because we need to hear stories from places like this too. To better understand our country, we need to not leave any voices behind."

They are also providing educational information in Haitian Creole through the local radio station, shifting their mobile health clinic and staff to provide preventative care to the most remote villages, offering their mask production technique to other NGOs and screening their family planning patients for COVID-19.

The team behind the Haiti Projects’ Community Library has continued to adapt to the community’s most pressing needs with practical solutions and deep resolve. One could say this multi-purpose library is not only a collection of rich literature but an incubator of ideas and a place that’s writing a story of its own.

Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian-American award-winning author, spoke with foresight at the grand opening of the library on June 29, 2018. Danticat’s words echo inspiration and a visionary hope for the library and what it will mean for the stories that are created, told and shared with the world:

“We need more stories. We always need more stories because we need to hear stories from places like this too. To better understand our country, we need to not leave any voices behind,” says Danticat.

Check out the video below to learn more about Haiti Projects’ Community Library.


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