Haiti is a poor country. Basic services are in short supply. Families do not have food to eat. The thought of a well-stocked school or public library or books in the home is a dream. But, for students at St. Gabriel’s the dream has come true.
Haitians speak Creole, and this is pretty much the only language they hear and learn until they arrive in school. Schools teach in French, putting young students at an immediate disadvantage. The lack of French-language textbooks or other books in the home, or even in the school, means that students have a tough time passing their national exams.
Little French Book is the brainchild of Jennifer Shotwell, a professor of French at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. She challenged her students to be creative with their French, and write stories that would capture the imagination of young readers, especially at-risk youth who are learning French. She also tapped into her talented pool of student illustrators
Last year, the first shipment of hand-printed and illustrated books were delivered to Haiti, but they were merely sheets of stapled paper, unbound, and quickly disintegrated from use. Shotwell turned to Kickstarter, a peer to peer fundraising platform, to raise money that would allow her to produce the books digitally, and with hardcovers. The Little French Book campaign exceeded its fundraising goal, collecting $2,200 USD.
With the donations from the Kickstarter campaign, Shotwell was able to deliver in June of 2015, approximately 100 hardcover books to the 600 students at Haiti’s St. Gabriel’s school located in Lascahobis. Before receiving the donated books, the school’s library was practically empty.
Little French Books are adventure stories about princes and princesses, knights, and big adventures, filled with colorful illustrations that keep the young reader interested. According to teachers at St. Gabriel’s, each time the student enters the book, he obtains new knowledge, improves his French literacy skills and journeys to new worlds.
For the college students it was an opportunity to learn how to express themselves freely and artfully in the language they were learning. For many it was quite a challenge, as they were struggling with language acquisition. The Little French Book project is bringing literacy to Haiti’s poor children and literary accomplishment to the college students at Randolph-Macon.