The Global Outreach Committee of SLA NY held a special event on April 19 at Baruch College in recognition of International Special Librarians Day. The speakers, Diane Tukman and Mary Jane Fales were from the nonprofit Bridges to Community (http://www.bridgestocommunity.org/) and spoke about the different projects the group gets involved with. The Westchester based community development organization works with local communities in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic under the program areas of housing, health, education, and economic development. They bring volunteers to build water systems, homes, schools, and more recently libraries. Over 800 volunteers a year go to Nicaragua and they are a diverse group of individuals that range from students to business leaders. The speakers explained some of the reasons that Bridges to Community choose to focus their efforts in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
- Lowest education rate in the Western Hemisphere.
- Suffer from housing deficit of over 500,000 homes.
- 47.9% of Nicaraguans live below the poverty line.
- Only 79% of Nicaraguans have access to sources of potable water.
- Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere with friendly and welcoming citizens. Safety has to be a consideration since hundreds of volunteers are sent to work on projects in these countries.
- The western highlands along the border with Haiti contain some of the most impoverished communities in the Western Hemisphere.
- Limited economic and educational opportunities.
- Access to clean water is a major concern.
- The people are gregarious, inviting, and eager to tackle difficult jobs.
- Bridges to Community was able to partner with another organization already established in the Dominican Republic.
The projects that Bridges to Community works on are community generated. The community tells the organization what they need, not the other way around. This year they built their first library for the rural community of Los Lopez in Masaya, Nicaragua. The community’s old school was destroyed in the 2000 earthquake and its replacement was too small, forcing 119 children to squeeze into 4 tiny classrooms. Other children had to cross a busy highway to attend another school. In addition to new classrooms, the community expressed a wish for a library that would provide access to books as well as a quiet, safe place to study. The also wanted the library to have electricity so the adults could come at night to read and study. Several generous and devoted donors made this community’s dream a possibility. The library building was the size of a house and capable of fitting about 20 people. The building also contained a kitchen where healthy lunches could be made for the kids. The kids and community were so excited about the new library that they all came dressed in their uniforms during school vacation to welcome the volunteers from Bridges to Community. The entire community was present at the ground breaking and lined the roads to applaud the volunteers. Getting donated books for the library through customs was a problem so the best option was to buy the books in the country. The teacher who is in charge of running the education program also takes charge of the library and there are still things that need to be figured out. For example, right now no one can take books home with them because a lending library would be problematic in a poor community.
Funding has already been secured for the organization’s second library project that will begin this summer in July. The library will be for the community of Rosa Grande in Siuna, Nicaragua. The rural area is home to mostly farmers and many people walk hours just to obtain water. Few communities in Nicaragua have libraries and so those that do are proud of them. Everyone who attended also received a copy of The Librarian’s Cookbook.