Ometepe Island Elementary School Libraries

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain

IMG_5762Imagine a world where books are rare… where children are never read bedtime stories… where there are no libraries…no understanding of reading for pleasure…Oh the Places You Won’t Go without Dr. Seuss…no teacher literacy training…nothing to help advance literacy in children. If you can’t imagine this world, all you have to do is come to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

Three years ago, I started a lending library program for the elementary schools on Ometepe Island. As the books slowly came to the island, I categorized and distributed 100 books to each school. Ten simple rules for my lending library emphasized the need to wash hands before reading, keep the books in the classrooms, return them on time, and most importantly…enjoy and have fun reading.

IMG_5972However, all was not well in my lending library land. One school lost my container of books. Other schools set my containers in a lonely corner, where they sat unopened until I returned. Many of my books were either stolen, sold, or destroyed.

My intentions were good. My methods lacked understanding of a readerless society. I made too many assumptions. I assumed teachers knew how to hold a book to read to their classes, were trained in literacy methods and reading strategies, understood how a lending library worked, and could foster the love of reading. Boy was I was wrong!

IMG_1863Back to the drawing board! Who can resist these adorable children? We learn to do what we learn to love. I am determined to teach them the love of reading…but how?

IMG_1857                            My Top Five Strategies for Creating a Reading Culture

  1. Create a reading environment
    The rural elementary schools in Nicaragua are tiny and serve students in first through sixth grades. Each classroom holds at least two grades. Most schools only have three classrooms. There is usually one small room for office space and a small storage area in each school. I wanted to create a space for a small library separated from the classrooms. Every school needs a library.
  2. Offer a range of reference materials and audio-visual technology
    This year the government ran out of money for textbooks. The elementary students in my neighborhood school have no text books. The teacher reads from the textbook and the students copy the information into a notebook by listening to the teacher.  OH my! I need to stock the library space with a variety of audio-visual materials. If I could have one document camera and a small projector in each library, the teacher could project the textbook to the students on a wall of their classroom. Every student needs reference material, maps, and the teachers need a way to disseminate the information.
  3. Offer a range of books
    Since the students have never read for pleasure, I need to start with very low-level children’s books in Spanish. Picture books with a few English words would work well, too. I’ve sent chapter books to the schools and they have never been used. Baby steps for a readerless society are necessary because chapter books with few pictures are intimidating.
  4. Volunteers wanted
    Since I cannot possibly go to each school and read to the classes on a regular basis, I would like to start a volunteer program in each school where tourists, grandparents, parents, can go to school and read to a small group. I want to make a volunteer box with activities for several books, paper, crayons, puppets, and other supplies for fun activities after a book is read to a small group.
  5. Training and a part-time librarian
    When I ask teachers how I can help them, one of the things they mention the most is money and training for a part-time librarian. The teachers are overwhelmed with two grade levels per classroom, sometimes over 40 students crammed into a hot, empty space. If I have the space, the books, and the materials, of course I need to hire and train a person to be the librarian.

I have a lot of work to do…but wait until you see what is happening in my La Paloma Elementary School now! The Gift of Reading in Nicaragua will blow your mind! Thanks to a little comment on my blog, we now have an exciting sister-school program for the La Paloma Elementary School. With a little help from my friends…oh the places we can go!

You can help create a world for all new readers that’s full of the joy of discovery, imagination, and information.

12 thoughts on “Ometepe Island Elementary School Libraries

  1. Hi there,

    My husband and I are visiting ometepe for a few days next week. We packed a few notebooks and novelty pencils, erasers, and some little puzzles. Didn’t see this post until today, or we would have brought books too!

    I am a teacher in Canada, and would love to visit a school on Ometepe and donate the few things we packed. I would be thrilled to read to the kids too, although my Spanish is very limited.

    Hope to hear from you before our visit, but if not, I will follow your blog and the cool work you are doing.

  2. Hello! I went to Ometepe, Nicaragua via a neotropical bat ecology course last summer and fell in love with it all! I’m a junior in college and am working on my senior thesis concerning education in Nicaragua. I would really really love if you might could email me since you have such a hands on position on Ometepe! I look forward to the posibility of your knowledge!

  3. Hi
    I volunteer six months a year in San Juan del Sur and like you I see the need for more reading. Last year I started a small library at the SOS Aldeas Infantil in Rivas where I spend one day a week. I have run into all the same frustrations as you.
    The kids love the books but when I am home in Canada I have to close the library which is housed in the kitchen cabinets of one of the un-used casitas. Our library serves children from 2 to 21 and now the collection numbers 529, all in Spanish. I also have trouble sourcing books. In Canada there is really no cheap source of Spanish books. I usually buy books from the Biblioteca Móvil here in San Juan. I also have a board game for the kids but it is extremely difficult, even in a controlled situation, to keep the games in tact. I am leaving soon for Canada but maybe next fall when I return, you would like to visit our little library in Rivas. . I have some extra board games that I could donate to your project.
    carolina franks

    • Carolina, it is so nice to meet a fellow reader. Thanks for everything you do for the kids in Rivas. I have tried a variety of approaches to help the children learn the joys of reading. Some worked, many didn’t. It has been trial and error for six years. Now that my library is based in an elementary school, I can see improvements daily. Funding is always a concern. I pay our librarian’s salary out of my own pocket. Books are still difficult to get and I usually make several trips a year back to the states to get more books in Spanish. I am fortunate that I have a great network of teachers that can always find me used books.
      Thank you so much for responding to my post. When you return from Canada, we really need to meet. We can always put our thinking caps on and see what we can do to make our programs better together.

  4. How many schools are there on Ometepe? How many children? How large are your containers. What subjects do you want? What language? How to ship them to you? You provide very little detail.
    Regargs, Bill Grimes-Wyatt

    • Hi Bill,
      There are 22 elementary schools on Ometepe Island. Since I wrote this post, I have started an elementary school library in our community elementary school and partnered with an NGO that builds libraries in Nicaragua. I hired a librarian and our library has been in operation for one year now. I am gathering statistics to see how effective our little library has been. I didn’t provide much detail in this post because this was my initial post about my thoughts and goals.
      The school year is over now, and they are on their summer vacation. I am developing a donation site for school supplies and backpacks for the children for the beginning of the next school year, which starts in February. I find that almost all of the supplies and materials needed, I can buy here. The only thing I can’t get are a good selection of children’s books in Spanish. The main way I get books here is to advertise my needs for children’s books and when people come to Ometepe Island, they drop them off for me or when I return to the states, I bring the books back in a suitcase. It is very expensive to ship anything here, so the easiest way is by word of mouth for people coming to visit Ometepe Island. Thanks for your interest. After Christmas, I should have my donation site setup and I will be sure to post the details on my blog.

      • I was just in Ometepe in December. Returning in May to volunteer at the Ometepe Bilingual School in Merida. I always “pack with a purpose” when I travel. I’m going to check with my librarian friends in a local Spanish-speaking community ere in NJ, USA to get suggestions for books to bring. Have you tried partnering with this school?

        • Hi Joanne. No, I haven’t tried partnering with Hacienda Merida. I partnered with a school in Minnesota, and I have a network of teachers in the U.S. who always supply me with books. Now, I am partnering with Go For Hope, which funds libraries in Nicaragua. Thanks for the suggestion. I hope to meet you in May when you return to Ometepe. 🙂

        • Where exactly are you on Ometepe? I’ll be there May 2-14. It would be great to meet you and share ideas.

  5. Hello, I am en elementary school counsellor is Victoria BC canada and would like info on volunteering in schools / libraries on Ometepe for jan and feb 2016.( Have volunteered in schools in India and thailand.) I am a true believer in literacy and building community!
    Can you help me out with places to volunteer and be part of the community?
    thanks so much
    Victoria, BC Canada

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