Rotary collects books to fill school libraries in Belize
BY FALON MCCAIN
Imagine an elementary school library with empty shelves. Impossible? That's what a Rotary member found on a trip to Belize two years ago.
Shocked by this report, District 6510 Governor and O'Fallon Rotary member Catherine Taylor Yank decided to start a districtwide book drive.
District Chairman David Sharpe of the Carbondale Rotary told the district of his findings in Belize in a district newsletter. Sharpe's club then sent 1,200 books to Belize and divided them between two schools.
"David Sharpe talked about these beautiful libraries in the schools that have (little to) no books," Yank said. "I decided to challenge each Rotarian to collect five books and each club to collect 500. We're calling this project 'Build a Book Bridge to Belize.'"
District 6510, which includes 47 clubs in Southern Illinois, with five local chapters -- Belleville, Fairview Heights, O'Fallon, O'Fallon Sunrise, and Swansea -- has been participating in an ongoing program with Belize since 1977, treating Belezan children with orthopedic problems at Shriner's Hospital in St. Louis. Sharpe was following up with a child who had participated in the program when he made his discovery.
"I visited Guadalupe Primary School in Sandhill, Belize, and found a very small collection of books for the 120 students that attended the school," Sharpe said. "A 6-year-old girl read a book to me on 'Clifford the Big Red Dog.' She only had a problem with the word island, because of the silent 's.'"
Sharpe continued, "It confused her. As we talked about other strange words I thought (to myself), this library can't help her expand her reading skills. Schools in Southern Illinois have thousands of books in the libraries to entertain, challenge and help students learn and grow."
Sharpe said the poor, developing nation struggles to supply its schools with paper and pencils. Because of this, a budget for school library books would be out of the question. That's why District 6510 hooked up with managers of Anglican and Catholic school systems to implement the book bridge project into 20 primary schools in Belize.
Belezan schools function through joint efforts between the government and religious denominations -- government pays the teachers' salaries, students pay small tuition fees and religious organizations take care of the remaining costs to operate the schools.
This project is estimated to help more than 10,000 Belezan schoolchildren. It will provide one to two books per child. In the United States, the national average is 20 books per child. Yank expects to ship 20,000 books by the end of the Rotary year in May.
"Sandhill relies on the generosity of people like us," Sharpe said.
Interested in helping out? The district is collecting new or gently-used, up-to-date, literature and library books appropriate for kindergarten through eighth-grade. Encyclopedias or funds to purchase a set also are needed. Hardback books are preferred, but paperbacks will be accepted. Money for shipping can also be donated. Contact Belleville Rotary Club member Darrell Coons at 234-2358.