Haitian children living in the United States are fortunate to be able to go to a library or bookstore and find children’s books. Children in Haiti are not that lucky.
Whether or not their parents can afford to buy them, it’s difficult to find children’s books. That’s why the pediatric literacy project, Timoun Annou Li (Haitian Creole for ‘Children, Let’s Read), is a godsend for kids in Haiti.
Next month, Jane Hale, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Brandeis University, and Patrick Momplaisir, a 2003 Boston College graduate and the coordinator of the project, will once again head to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to deliver children’s books to participating area hospitals and a clinic. Modeled after Boston Medical Center’s Reach Out and Read pediatric literacy program, Timoun Annou Li , was founded in 2009 by Dr. Bron Anders, Professor of Pediatrics at University of California, San , and Dr. Nicole Prudent, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center. They aim to provide participating doctors in Haiti with developmentally appropriate books to prescribe to disadvantaged children when they visit them.
“The goal is to expose these children to books and reading before they begin school, enable them to create their own stories and promote literacy in their households,” said Momplaisir.
Similar to Reach Out and Read, Timoun Annou Li serves children aged six months to six years old. However, kids as old as age 13 also ask for books.
Professor Hale, who has worked with the Haitian community in Waltham for years, says that the books are purchased with grants from Brandeis University and private donations. She and some of the students from her “Language, Literacy and Culture” class founded a literacy project for Haitian families in 2010 called Fanmi Ki Li Ansanm (Families Reading Together). Their mission is to encourage the development and distribution of beautiful picture books for young children about Haiti and its culture for families to share at home. She and her students have distributed these books to kids in Haiti and here in the states. They aim to create a database of over 250 Haitian children’s books to distribute to Haitian families and organizations that serve them. The books are in Haitian Creole, French and English. Thus far, Fanmi Ki Li Ansanm has donated about 280 books, at a cost of $2,000, to Haitian families.
“When you give a book to a kid in Haiti, you know it’ll be read by at least 50 people,” Hale said.
Timoun Annou Li is currently partnering with four hospitals and one clinic in Port-au-Prince. At these facilities, pediatricians are taught effective strategies to use when reading to kids so that they can in turn teach parents how to read to their children. This is very important; in Haitian culture, most parents believe that teaching children to read is the school’s responsibility. As the project’s coordinator, Momplaisir recruits readers, volunteers who are paid a small stipend, to read Haitian Creole, French, English or bilingual books to children.
“Ideally, we’d like to teach the kids to read in Creole first,” he said.
Dr. Prudent adds, “Since we don’t have enough Haitian Creole books, we also buy books written in English. It’s vital that the books have pictures so that parents can talk about the pictures if they themselves can’t read.”
The program has been so successful and well received in Port-au-Prince that there are hopes to take it outside of the capital in the future. As one can imagine, there is a need for many more books in order to ensure that every child who visits these sites leaves with a book.
Those who would like to help can do so in a couple of ways. “We’re looking for Haitian-Americans to become Literacy Outreach Volunteer Educators (LOVE) to bring fresh thinking and excitement to the project,” said Momplaisir. “They would be trained at Boston Medical Center and then work in the project in Haiti.”
Dr. Prudent adds, “It’s especially important for Haitian college students to get involved with this worthwhile program.”
To volunteer, contact: Haitian Health Institutes at: HHI@bmc.org. Donations to help buy picture books are also needed. Checks can be made out to: Pediatric Foundation of Massachusetts and mailed to: Pediatric Foundation of Massachusetts, c/o MCAAP, 860 Winter Street, Waltham, MA 02151 (indicate that it’s for Timoun Annou Li). You can also donate online at: rorsd.org/donate.html .
Yolette Ibokette is a veteran educator and longtime contributor to the BHR.