Summer Camp: Service Style! Dedicated to Susan Ei

A bookmark printed by the St. Francis Indian Mission in St. Francis, South Dakota has the following Indian prayer: “Great Spirit — Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” Hearsay attributes the prayer to Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.

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Before departing this earth, our children’s librarian, Susan Ei, encouraged us to create a Summer Service Day Camp where we could share our knowledge of the world with local kids, and create a fun learning environment that would spark both compassion and enthusiasm for others through literature and service.

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We decided to tackle this task by geographic region, and by thinking about the people to whom we most commonly donate. We wanted to be sure to include literature, crafts, games, education and a service project in each day’s meeting.

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Africa We began with Africa because we have donated so many books to multiple countries in Africa: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. We read Patience Mariza Goes for Water by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, a native of Uganda, who has built a school for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

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This story, although a picture book for children, is very revealing. Patience is faced with unimaginable hardships that a storybook American child would never encounter. She is beaten by her aunt, and accosted by a strange man, worried she may have AIDS, and exhausted by her daily trek in search of clean water. Eventually, she is adopted by a kind grandmother.

 

Many children in Africa walk to school, sometimes several miles, barefoot. Shoes can be made from found objects. We helped our campers understand this by helping them create their own shoes from found objects and then experimented to see how far they could walk….(not far!)

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They also decorated donation boxes that they brought from home and filled with their own shoes so that they could share these with others.

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Haiti To begin our lesson on Haiti we read Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams.

IMG_1215This warm, funny story is about a girl who goes to the market with her mother and after making a little extra money she and her mother are able to ride the taxi-bus home (tap-tap) instead of walking.

We know from our relationship with our friends at Haitian Education Initiatives, that a major part of Haitian children’s education is learning to make things they can sell in the market.

In particular, children learn to sew and to make painted paper-maché bowls. After the Tap-Tap story, our campers sewed beanbags and made painted bowls. They were very beautiful, but perhaps not yet ready to be sold at the market,

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Native Americans Having just returned from South Dakota, we had many stories and adventures to share. We also read Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac and Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson.  These stories told of the bravery and beauty of the American Indians as well as some of their beliefs and dreams.

The Native Americans believe that Dream Catchers can catch bad dreams and spirits while you sleep and keep you safe.

Our campers made Dream Catchers from found objects, feathers and beads.

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Food Lottery Each day, like every wholesome American Day Camp we had Snack Time. Who doesn’t? Well, many of the children we help don’t have snack time. We discussed this each day, and one day we decided it was time to emphasize what that might mean. Each child drew a piece of paper from a basket. Those with an X were given a snack. No X, No Snack. This was a pretty shocking moment, and after a while some pretty human responses occurred. Some kids “stole” some snacks. Some kids secretly “shared” their snacks with others. Some were publicly outraged, while they gobbled their own snacks. Politics as usual.

Read to Feed We wanted to emphasize that reading is for everyone. We brought in a basket of books, the ones we usually donate, and had the campers choose their own books.

Then we made posters and made a Read to Feed program for our local library. Children can be sponsored to read and by reading they can help purchase farm animals that can bring food to a family or village in another community. (Heifer Project)

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Appalachia We have been donating books and building children’s libraries through Project Appalachia since 2012 so we are pretty committed to helping children in this region.

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We read Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds by Cynthia Rylant and Barry Moser. We also discussed other American communities that are in need of books and supplies. There are kids that need books and supplies that live in our own communities and we need to reach out and help them as well as helping kids that live far away.

Our campers decorated boxes and brought them home to be filled with books that they could donate to children who would love to own their own books.

Around the World and Banana Ball We also played many fun games, like an African version of soccer played with a ball made from banana leaves (although of course we didn’t have any real banana leaves) and “around the world” frisbee.

Hospitalized children We always remember kids who are sick in hospitals. So we talked about illness and had the campers put together care packages of painted bags filled with our Knot-Yet-a-Blanket kits and poetry books.

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Lemonade for Literacy Our final project was to involve our campers, and our community, in our annual lemonade stand.

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Our Summer Service Camp jointly donated and boxed hundreds of shoes, books and school supplies, and created many Blanket Gift Bags. They had walked in handmade shoes, made dream catchers, fought over food, read stories from around the world, and committed to continue reading on their own.

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It’s time to create global literacy with lemons!

Cheyenne River Reservation: Simply Smiles

While we were delivering books to Pine Ridge Reservation, we received an email from Brian, founder of Simply Smiles, an NGO that supports Cheyenne River Reservation.

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Pow Wow location at Cheyenne River Reservation

He said, quite simply, “Cheyenne River Reservation is only about 4-5 hours from Pine Ridge. In South Dakota, that’s like going out for a cup of coffee…” Well, we kind of laughed about that, because after spending some time in South Dakota we knew what he meant. It takes hours and hours to go from one place to another, and as noted by Emma, you can never use the GPS. Only a map will work.

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After ditching our trailer, and packing our Suburban to the top with boxes of books, we decided we were up for the challenge. We restocked our peanut butter and jelly, refilled our water bottles, and set out on our journey.

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We did run into a 30-minute roadblock of one car, not that unusual we found, and, of course, miles of empty, sandy roads.

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Visiting the Simply Smiles community center, located in Sam Different Horse’s community building on the Cheyenne River Reservation was amazing. Brian and Zachary and their team are welcomed into the Lakota culture. The volunteers all have close relationships with the community.

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The wind blew incessantly, but fortunately the community center had one indoor room and we were able to set up a series of folding tables and create an entire room for our “free” book fair.

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The kids were really excited and grabbed as many books as they could carry. That evening Simply Smiles was hosting a reservation-wide dinner. All the parents and grandparents were able to also come and choose books for their families.

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One woman shyly asked if she could keep some of our better-conditioned cardboard boxes to use as furniture to store her clothing in her new home. We were humbled by this simple request.

Simply Smiles imports soil and has created functioning gardens that produce enough food to feed a substantial portion of the local community.

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The greenhouse was built when Simply Smiles volunteers and Lakota Indians worked together. Zachary explained how difficult it was to stretch the plastic sheeting over the metal hoops and secure it down while battling the constant wind. We could barely imagine. The paper flowers are remnants from the previous night’s decorations when the greenhouse served as a teen dance hall.

We have continued our relationship with the Cheyenne River Reservation kids, inviting some of them to our home when they were traveling near us, visiting NYC. They joined us for dinners, swimming and basketball on several occasions. We have supported Brian at local fundraisers for Simply Smiles. We are so grateful that we have had this opportunity to get to know some of the Lakota kids and we hope to see them again. To learn more about the efforts to sustain the Lakota peoples of the Cheyenne River Reservation: Simply Smiles

Enjoy a film our team made about our trip to the three reservations: Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River:

 

 

Pine Ridge Reservation: Red Shirt Table

By Emma

Hey Siri!  Pull up maps…oh wait…

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Here in South Dakota, as we wandered on and off of the reservations, in search of the correct entrance to Pine Ridge Reservation, we discovered that our cell phone services and online maps let us down. We learned this only after driving hours through undulating lands surrounded by miles of prairie grass and getting lost after driving hour upon hour in the wrong direction.  Learning opportunity!  We had to drag out this huge Atlas, which I hadn’t seen since I was 3, when they were still being used, to navigate where we were going. On the upside, notice there is no problem pulling over on the highway and standing in the middle of the road, bare foot discussing our next move!

 

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Site of Massacre of Wounded Knee – Pine Ridge Reservation

We did finally make it to Pine Ridge Reservation, but getting to Red Shirt Table was another matter…

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We were thrilled to see some friends from back home, and we were welcomed with a picnic lunch and water bottles.  After that it was time to get to work.  We decided to set up the books over 3 picnic tables so that the children could choose their own books.  Here it may look like Quinn is being lazy, actually he is holding onto the books to keep them from blowing away in the constant wind!

The whole trip was made worthwhile when we got to read the children their new personal books

and watch them collect more and more.

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We also got to play with the children on the playground, and in a game of kickball.

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It was really saddening playing with these children, and then learning of their unimaginable situations at home, yet it helped us to understand why the children were so grateful, and it continued to motivate us to help them more.

IMG_0792We were inspired by the determination of this lovely girl to bring home a boxful of books for her younger siblings.  We hope to follow her example!

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Last spring when one of our team members became ill she requested that blankets and books be given to children’s hospitals throughout our community to bring cheer to children who are suffering, and quite probably bored while lying in bed in a hospital.

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Wonderland BookSavers has been raising funds, creating Knot-Yet-a-Blanket kits, packaged with books, and distributing these gift bags to the Child Life teams in pediatric hospitals in which various team members and friends have been patients.

Partnering with Wetherbee School in Lawrence Massachusetts, dozens of children from this Title I school have been able to participate in their own “service project” by creating amazing paintings for our gift bags.

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We were excited to return to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, NH. The team at CHAD, Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, is terrific., and they took great care of one of our team members.

IMG_1263We are happy to be able to contribute to the CHAD Child Life Program.

Care to join us? Click here: Knot-Yet-a-Blanket Funding Opportunity

 

 

 

Reading for Rosebud

 

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The Rosebud Children’s Garden on the prairie

By Claire Langdon

A few months ago, we attended an event held at our local library, Pequot, where Sage, a Lakota Indian who lives on Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, visited. He introduced us to his people’s culture with oral stories and native dances. Yet, despite this cheerful congregation, mission groups from two local churches, Southport Congregational and Trinity, told us of the crippling poverty rampant on the reservation. As education is frequently championed as a portal out of poverty, we decided to help by donating books to the children on South Dakotan reservations to facilitate their academic success, and to introduce them to the “magical awesomeness” of reading!
To make the book donations even more meaningful, and to experience the living conditions of our books’ recipients, we packed up and caravanned to South Dakota.

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Over the span of our trip, we donated 70 boxes of books, each brimming with books on a plethora of topics and a range of reading levels

First stop: Rosebud Reservation

When we arrived in South Dakota, we were struck by the beauty of the landscape, enveloped by never-ending sky. However, the prairie was settled in many ramshackle homes and buildings, illustrating the poverty upon the reservation.

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The Episcopal Mission’s church at Rosebud

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Claire, Chair, and Pierce, Vice-Chair, delivering books to the Episcopalian headquarters

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Brooks Barry, Pierce, Wills, and Emma delivering boxes of books

After meeting with the group from Trinity, we brought the books into the Episcopal offices on the reservation. They are taking the boxes we donated, and are distributing the books to twenty different locations across the reservation. The mission group is building shelves in each community center, so that children all over the reservation, which is about the same size as Maryland, will have access to a library.

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Meeting the Episcopalian mission with our books

Visiting Rosebud was an eye-opening experience. We witnessed the poverty of one of the areas to which we donate books, as well as the gratitude from the people involved. These in-person experiences continue to motivate our mission: to spread quality literature around the world, especially to those less fortunate.

Next stop: Pine Ridge Reservation!

Knot Yet a Blanket, Always a Book: Hospital Cheer Brown Bagged

Knot Yet a Blanket Funding Opportunity

When planning our goals for this year we reflected upon some unexpected medical challenges that our team members recently encountered. These experiences increased our sense of vulnerability and deepened our appreciation for expressions of random kindness from others. We decided that this year, in addition to donating books, we really wanted to reach out directly to children who are hospitalized. We know, from personal experience, that kindness really matters and small gestures of compassion have great impact when everything else seems out of control.

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posing with the hospital clowns as we donate blankets

In previous years we have donated blankets, as well as books to children’s organizations as well as to immigration service organizations.

This year, after several extensive hospital stays by different WBS team members, we decided that entertainment, as well as comfort would be the way to go. And so we developed the idea of Knot Yet a Blanket kits, a blanket kit that child patients can easily make themselves while resting in bed.

The patterns are bright and friendly. The fabrics are soft and warm.

We want the blankets to be safe and clean, so we make them in a pet-free, sterile environment and then seal them in plastic.

But we want to make the packaging fun so we paint all the bags by hand. In fact, we sent 100’s of bags to different schools to be painted by students in various Art Departments. These bags will be sent back to us in April. Our goal, as always, is to have as many kids as possible participate in our mission. Painting bags provides the perfect opportunity for all our Title I schools to partner with us and help make a meaningful contribution.

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And since we are all about literacy (always!) we include a book!

Our very first blanket went directly to our favorite-of-all-time-best-ever children’s librarian, Susan. Our prayers are with you, Susan, every minute of every day. We are here with you, awaiting your miracle.

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Our first Knot Yet a Blanket & Book donation has gone to Lehigh Valley Hospital Muhlenberg Campus Pediatric Oncology/Hematology Ward in Allentown Pennsylvania. Shannon, our WBS friend and long-time volunteer with the pediatric oncology program will share them with the patients during their chemotherapy sessions.

We are scheduled to make our next Knot Yet a Blanket deliveries to Yale-New Haven Pediatric Hospital in New Haven Connecticut, Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Lebanon New Hampshire. These will be delivered in April.

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Unlike our book donations, blankets are not recycled, and so we need to raise funds for this project. Each blanket has a tag from the sponsoring donor, handwritten by Reid.

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We would love to have you have your donation and send your blanket on with love!

Knot Yet a Blanket Funding Opportunity

Please consider joining us in this mission! You may send your blanket (s) in the name of someone you love.  Kindness counts, we know from personal experience!

 

(Y)Our Books Arrive: Ghana & South Africa!

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“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea.” e.e.cummings

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In this case, it is our books that we have found, resurfacing after their long journey at sea.

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Many of you will remember that all summer and fall we packed and sorted thousands of books, ultimately sending 15,000 beautiful children’s books to both Ghana and South Africa.

img_6111These books have a long journey, spending several weeks in metal containers before finally being loaded onto the ships that will carry them across the ocean and to the African continent. From there they must make it through customs and be loaded onto trucks and bump along through towns and villages until they finally reach their intended destination: children who love to read!img_1465

We are so excited to receive some photos of children enjoying these books! It is so much fun to realize that although these children are so very far away, in another sense, we are really all part of one world, enjoying the same stories and jokes and learning about the world from the same books.wbs-african-children-5Today we are truly able to say that we are fulfilling our mission,

“Helping children realize the magical awesomeness of reading!”wbs-african-children-2

Please continue donating children’s books! We have recently received an urgent request from some  parentless children in Kenya who would love some new books. We are working to gather books and help with shipping costs so these children too can enjoy imaginary tales and learn from science and history books.

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With your help we can continue to improve global literacy, at home and around the world. Many thanks, always! The Wonderland BookSavers!

Mustard Seed of Charity

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We have been fortunate to be supported by many wonderful organizations, one of which is St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.  Father Martin has provided us with the opportunity to speak at 4 Masses this weekend.  We want to thank the parishioners for their very generous support as they have donated 1,000’s of beautiful children’s books these past few years.  We also want to reflect upon our growth, which we feel is like the parable of the Mustard Seed.  We are of very small beginnings, but with humble faith, we continue to grow and make room for others to come rest in our branches.

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Andre/Brooks: Good Morning.

My name is Andre /Brooks and Father Martin was kind enough to allow my friends and me to share with you the adventures of our community service book club, the Wonderland BookSavers.

We founded this children-for-children charity five years ago when I was eight years old. We began as a summer book club, and the first book we read was A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. After reading A Single Shard, we decided to create a banner with an inspiring quote from the book. This quote was, “Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo, but you must not tell your body. It must think, ‘one hill, one valley, one day at a time.’ It that way your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”

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These words proved to be more true than we could have ever imagined.

Claire: We feel that expanding access to books will help to increase global literacy, allowing children to grow into adults that can have more meaningful lives, and will provide the opportunity for more people to follow Christ, through their ability to read the Bible.   Our own reading of the Bible has taught us, “For I can do everything, through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13.

The Wonderland BookSavers, now an official international 501(c)3 charity, began five years ago with the simple ambition of using literature and Christ’s love as an inspiration to serve our community.

Our initial goal was to donate 500 books to a local school. We have surpassed our expectations by donating over 140,000 books, 1,500 pairs of shoes and countless supplies including blankets, school supplies and Band-Aids to kids around the world.

With inspiration garnered from literature and from the love of Christ, we now regularly fill libraries in Haiti, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, China, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. We do not neglect our immediate community, providing supplies to kids in Bridgeport, New Haven, Newtown, Massachusetts, Appalachia West Virginia and Tennessee.

We are extremely grateful to our adult partnering organizations. They provide shipping and trucking to remote locations.

Of course our most important partners are people such as yourselves, sitting right here at Mass today. The children that receive our donations, both locally and in South America and Africa are so grateful for your contributions. It is hard to understand sitting here in Fairfield today, but something as simple as lacking a pencil or a pair of shoes, can prevent an African child from attending school.

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Maddie: We compare the growth of our charity to the parable of the mustard seed in the Bible, Matthew 13:31-32.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

We planted our seed with the simple step of taking action. With humility inspired by Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, we have gratefully watched our seed grow.

In the process, we have learned some things that we had never imagined.

Do you know what a teacher does in Zimbabwe when she gets a new box of pencils? She breaks them all in half, so that every child can have one.

Did you know that many African children walk barefoot to school, sometimes 5 miles or more per day?

Did you know that Jesus lives in Zimbabwe? We received a package of drawings and letters this year from children in Zimbabwe, thanking us for their books, and every single letter referenced Jesus, saying, “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.” We truly felt blessed by their words.

The most important lesson we have learned is that charity does not have to involve collecting money.

In our society, we leave books on shelves collecting dust, we have old shoes that are “two sizes too small” cluttering up the back of our closets, we have random crayons, pencils, markers rolling around in our drawers. These are all opportunities to bring joy to a child.

We fill shoeboxes with Baggies filled with all kind of marking tools. One shoe box like this, (show box), contains enough school supplies for an entire classroom in Africa.   Please help us continue our mission by simply gathering books, shoes and crayons you no longer need, and donating them so another person can enjoy these items.

Together, we can increase global literacy and help the mustard seed of faith and charity grow in our hearts.

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Emma: We would like in turn to thank you, the parishioners of St. Thomas. You have been so exceeding generous these past two years, donating numerous children’s books, school supplies, pens and pencils. These gifts have been truly appreciated. In September 2015, Father Martin was kind enough to allow my friends and me to share with you the adventures of our community service book club, the Wonderland BookSavers. At that time we were proud to have donated over 30,000 books to children across the globe. Now, with the support of Father Martin and you, the parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, who have generously supported our efforts, we can say that together, with Jesus at our side, we are truly spreading the gift of literacy. In just the past 2 years we have shared over 100,000 books with over 500,000 children in over 14 poverty-stricken regions throughout the world. These children are learning to read and grow and will be able to build meaningful futures for themselves and their families.

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Ella: On behalf of the many children we serve, we humbly thank you, and as the children in Zimbabwe say, “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.”

             

          Thank You, The Wonderland BookSaver Team

Meeting with Susan Whitcomb to Discuss the Hurricane and Haiti

Last Friday, we met with our long-time community partner, Susy Whitcomb, the Founder and President of Haitian Educational Initiatives. Haitian Educational Initiatives was established as a response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Hurricane Matthew has razed Haiti, and we have been supporting Haitian Educational Initiative’s recovery efforts following the natural disaster.

Headlines about Haiti and Hurricane Matthew from BBC, Reuters, and The Weather Channel

During the 2015-2016 school year, we undertook the task of donating $1,099 worth of Haitian-Creole books to Haiti. Haitian-Creole has only been a written language since 1979, making Haitian-Creole books incredibly rare. First, we held a community event at the Barnum School in Bridgeport to raise awareness. Then, we partnered with the corporate healthcare business ZappRx. We met with the ZappRx PR team in Boston when we donated 2,000 books with ZappRx stickers to the Reach Out and Read program at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. In exchange, Zoe Barry, the Founder and CEO of ZappRx donated us funds she won from the contest ONEin3, which is sponsored by the mayor of Boston. One of the initial reasons we decided to transform into a 501(c)3 was so that we could accept these funds and purchase Haitian-Creole books.

Children reading our donated Haitian-Creole books

We sat with Susy to discuss the conditions of the children, their families, their homes, and their schools. Haitian Educational Initiative’s schools in Jacmel and Cayes-Jacmel both sustained damage, and the school in rural Cayes-Jacmel was afflicted with severe flooding. Fortunately, our books were not harmed; proper precautions were exercised to ensure that our books and other school supplies were not damaged by the hurricane. For the most part, the children and their families were safe, but 80% of their crops and livestock were swept away.

Susy affirmed that since the children are equipped with education, during these dire times, the children are actually more apt and able to recover. Unlike their parents, the children can read, and have a breadth of academic knowledge. At school, the children have also learned crafting skills to create goods to sell at the market. These goods range from clothes, to sunglasses made from plastic bottles, to bracelets and jewelry, to pottery, and many other items.

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A Haitian bowl made from a special paper mâché technique

Susy showed us pictures of the school in Cayes-Jacmel. In the pictures, rapids of muddy brown water race over the concrete platform of the school. The school in Cayes-Jacmel is open air, and consists of a concrete foundation with posts from which a tarp is draped over to provide shade, or protection from rain. Susy explained that now the school is being excavated from the thick layers of mud and debris.

 

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Flooding in Haiti. Photo credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

While most of the children and families Haitian Educational Initiatives serves were unharmed, a fourteen-year-old boy was injured during the hurricane. Susy explained how the boy, who attends the school in Cayes-Jacmel, was crushed by a tree, breaking both of his legs. He is receiving medical attention, but the medicine in Haiti is not very advanced, and this injury could have severe, lasting effects. We have asked Susy to put us in contact with the boy and his family, and we hope to assist him in any possible way. We are hoping to deliver him some books and other school supplies so he can continue studying while he recovers.

After meeting with Susy, we presented her with a check written by Reid to support the relief Haitian Educational Initiatives is providing. If you wish, you may donate to Haitian Educational Initiatives to provide food, clean water, and the basic living necessities here.

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Presenting Susy with relief funds

Additionally, at the end of our meeting, Susy presented us with gifts from the children in Haiti. When we donated the children in Haiti books and school supplies, we also sent poster pals, which are banners with notes of love, drawings, and pictures from us and school children in our area. In return, we received paper mâché figurines and pottery.

 

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We are very grateful for our wonderful friends in Haiti and we will continue to assist them and Haitian Educational Initiatives in every way possible.

Imagination and Idealization: The Grim Parallels Between Poe and the Salem Witch Trials

By Claire Langdon

On Friday morning, Madeline, Emma and I led a tour at Pequot Library, entitled the “Poe and Witches Exhibit”. The exhibit was centered around the theme of imagination and idealization, especially in reference to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and the Salem witch trials: perfect topics, as Halloween is just around the corner!

When the elementary school class from a local town arrived, we began an architectural tour, as it is important to appreciate the unique patterns, art, and craftsmanship that can be seen throughout the library. On the library’s exterior, there are often overlooked dates chiseled above the arched, pink granite entrances, which read 1637 and 1887. The latter represents the year of the library’s opening, and the former represents the year of the first recorded event in Southport, Connecticut: the Great Swamp Fight. The battle marked the ending of the Pequot War, and it is believed by experts at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation that many artifacts still lie beneath homes and wetlands in the surrounding area.

As we continued to lead the group of children throughout the library, we arrived at the “stacks”. Originally donated by renowned town philanthropists, the Wakeman family, the stacks still house adult books in the extensive rows of books, which are bejeweled with Tiffany glass windows. The upstairs of the stack, which was most students’ favorite part of the tour, has a thick glass floor and retired gas lines, which, historically, would provide light for the readers on the floor below as evening fell.

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Upstairs in the Stacks, Courtesy of tappe.com

After the architectural tour, we lectured the students on the witch trials of the 1600’s. Though most of them had heard of the Salem witch trials, they were surprised to hear that Fairfield has a dark history of trying and dunking or hanging accused witches. After discussing the significance of primary sources with them, we read aloud from a book in the display case that entailed the ideas of witch trial proponents Increase and Cotton Mather. In relation to the theme of imagination and idealization, we discussed with the students how the imaginations of the people at the time, who had little proof of cause if anything went awry, might be fueled by influential writers such as the Mathers, or town leaders such as Rodger Ludlowe. Additionally, we discussed how the term “grim” is applicable to both the trials and Poe’s works, and how thematic parallels can be drawn despite the difference in time period. We finished by conversing about our current idealization of witches; how we imagine them to be evil with green skin and a pointy hat, or kind and fairy-like, as Glinda is portrayed in the Wizard of Oz.

Following out tour of the witch exhibit, we transitioned into Perkins Gallery to explore imagination and idealization in the context of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Specifically, the focal point of the exhibit was Poe’s dark imagination, and what he triggered in our own imaginations, as well as others’. Alongside his own works, many of the artifacts were renditions of some of his famous works, such as cartoon posters of The Raven, a miniature cat jack-in-the-box version of The Black Cat, and tiny coffin-shaped copy of The Premature Burial. Grim daguerreotypes and compositions transported our imaginations back to the grim lifestyle of the Puritans during the period of witch trials.

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The Black Cat

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A quote from Poe, expressing the grim darkness that plagued his life and trickled into his literary works, as well as a blown up picture of his daguerrotype.

By exploring both the Salem Witch Trials and the works of Edgar Allan Poe in the context of imagination and idealization, as well as how our own imaginations are impacted by literary works, the students were able to make connections between two separate points in history. By exploring a common theme in the light of two different time periods and multiple different authors, parallels can be drawn between idealization and works of art and literature.