Apr 5, 2021

Serving Resilient Communities in Troubled Times

For twenty years, Riecken Community Libraries in Honduras and Guatemala have been sources of information and opportunity for traditionally underserved populations. With the Riecken model of sustainability at the foundation of each and every Riecken library, we find the unfailing commitment of the communities we serve to be a constant reminder of why we do the work that we do.

Riecken Community Libraries operate in communities that have handled extreme adversity for decades/centuries with resilience. With challenging times faced today – the COVID-19 pandemic, storm surges and pounding rains from Hurricane Eta flooding communities in Central and South Honduras – many libraries have closed to the public and many still remain closed or offer very limited services.

Despite the difficulties, the librarians and volunteer governing boards find creative ways to provide valuable services to their communities, such as connectivity.

COVID-19 Response

As in the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Honduras and Guatemala hard. During lockdown, food was scarce, there was no work, and little or no government support. Sharing food and cooking together were encouraged in communities providing strength and some sustenance for many in dire need. 

Libraries were closed, but staff worked from home maintaining critical information flow going to the communities to the extent possible. And as leaders in the community, library volunteers and staff jumped into action and were instrumental in coordination of distribution and storage of food and relief supplies.  As the pandemic wore on and some areas planned for at least partial re-opening, Riecken created comprehensive safety protocols for re-opening of the libraries once their municipalities would approve such action. 

To date, The Riecken Foundation has distributed more than 6,000 surgical masks, more than 255 gallons of alcohol gel, disinfectant, antibacterial hand gel respectively, as well as 51 COVID-19 prevention hygiene kits for librarians. 40,000 people were reached with information related to COVID-19 and prevention measures.

With many of the libraries still closed or offering limited services. However, here are some of the alternatives being offered in some of the Riecken libraries:

  • Many libraries have implemented curbside pick-up and home delivery options for loaned books and materials.
  • Several libraries have taken to providing online story hours to children with Internet access.
  • Riecken is in contract with Odilo, the online book lending platform to allow Riecken library users through the library network to borrow books through download from the library.
  • Many libraries continue to provide health training programs as well as storage and delivery of emergency goods for communities – food, clothing, and agricultural supplies.
  • Online trainings continue to complement Riecken in-person trainings for librarians and volunteers, with well attended Zoom meetings with librarians on a variety of subjects.

Hurricane Eta Response 

Hurricane Eta unleashed its wrath upon Central America, closely followed by Hurricane Iota, with disastrous results in the region. The Riecken La Libertad Community Library in Morales, Izabal in Guatemala is still flooded from the storm surges that ran through the Rio Motagua, inundating 500 homes in La Libertad as well.

Assessment of the damages coordinated by Riecken showed:

  • 80% of the infrastructure is damaged: floors, walls, paint, doors, glass, bathroom, electrical system
  • 90% of the furniture was destroyed due to high flood water levels. requiring either repair or replacement
  • 70% of the book collection (800+ books) was lost and technology equipment was severely damaged or rendered useless
  • Outdoor Areas, built only a year and a half ago were flooded and destroyed 

The reduction of access to the libraries and their resources because of the pandemic has been deeply felt by all in our library communities, so efforts to preserve or replace the La Libertad library’s assets became a high priority for everyone.

Though not yet fully functional, we are please to say that the library has re-opened with the energy of 60 volunteers and is providing services to the community – news gladly received by all who value the role of the library in the health and well-being of the community

We are grateful for the support we’ve received to re-open this once vibrant library at La Libertad from our GlobalGiving campaign, local fund raisers, the European Union, The Riecken Foundation, and other generous donors.

Please take a moment to watch a video of the “new beginning” of the re-opened La Libertad Library! Such a testament to the resilience of the communities we serve!

Links:

Apr 5, 2021

Joy of Reading in Communities libraries

Access to information, Lifelong learning for all and the fight against illiteracy are very important, and the United Nations’ 2030 goals with regard to education therefore also form the basis for this award. That is one of the goals on the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, working towards more sustainable development in the future. Illiteracy is a global problem that must be addressed. 

Our Reading program’s target group is parents with limited knowledge of early childhood development (ECD)/nutrition best practices, who want to address their communities’ high malnutrition rates and unhealthy eating habits, passed along though generations.

In 2011 one Riecken library piloted an ECD Nutrition+Reading program to help parents develop better infant/child nutrition and ECD practices and promote a joy of reading. That program has now expanded to Riecken’s entire 65-library network. 

Riecken Libraries’ mission is to promote democracy and prosperity in Central American communities by awakening a spirit of discovery and social participation. The rural communities served by Riecken’s 65 Guatemalan and Honduran libraries have high infant and child malnutrition rates, largely due to parents’ limited nutrition knowledge from many factors, including inadequate formal education, extreme poverty, and unhealthy eating traditions. Library staff recognized that they had access to these parents, as they would often drop their children off at the library (a safe, trusted place) prior to going to sell goods daily at the market. Library staff developed a weekly program to teach parents the importance of reading and interacting with their infants and toddlers as a critical part of healthy child development. Parents are engaged by making a short group presentation about how they have been working at home with the children, and what they are learning about feeding and reading to them.    

“I participated in the reading program with a focus on nutrition this past year and I learned a lot about nutritional issues. I have had much to share with other mothers and for my own daughter. I loved the sessions that teach children to recognize letters and colors. Another subject I liked was on how to make soy sausage. What I learn here, I will implement at home because I know it’s beneficial for my family.”  Young mother.

“As a licensed nurse, health and malnutrition topics are of interest of me. I learned reading techniques and how to use reading to work with children and families. I can complement reading with my community health knowledge and experience to improve health services for my patients.” Honduran nurse. 

Adult literacy rates are 87% (Honduras) and 81% (Guatemala), although these rates are significantly lower in Riecken library rural communities.  In 2019, this program reached 8,413 people, the overwhelming majority with low literacy levels.

With InterAmerican Development Bank support, volunteer reading and health promotors were able to maintain nearly 9,000 annual participants in the program. Over 7,000 individuals from other sectors participated in different program aspects including health, education, local government, and community leaders. Where possible and when located near a health center, Riecken’s libraries were able to support weight & height monitoring with health center staff, reaching over 350 mothers and 400 children.

Riecken’s Nutrition+Reading programs work to reduce infant and child malnutrition as well as promote to parents the importance of reading and interacting with their infants and toddlers as a critical part of healthy child development. The curriculum helps libraries to develop weekly programs that teach mothers techniques for reading at home to their children and makes a link to nutrition by providing the mothers access to nutrition-themed books to read to their children. Even the many illiterate mothers can learn alongside their children to recognize vowels, consonants, and pronounce sounds, and library staff show these mothers how to “read” the pictures in the book by talking to the children about what is happening in each illustration.

Reading for pleasure or personal growth is not widely respected in rural Central America, where income is earned primarily from physical labor. This program links the real challenge of regional infant/child malnutrition, with a pragmatic solution integrating reading with improving children’s health. This program not only destigmatizes reading, but also teaches children from an early age about the joy of reading through story hours and book clubs that cater to different age groups as they grow.

Links:

Mar 18, 2021

La Libertad Library: A New Beginning

Outdoor library activities in La Libertad
Outdoor library activities in La Libertad

In October 2020, residents of La Libertad, Morales in Guatemala were horrified as Hurricane Eta caused major flooding and damage to about 500 buildings in their community. Already struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic the community was dismayed to find the Riecken Community Library in La Libertad flooded and unable to support even the most limited of information resources.

A dedicated team of 30 community volunteers, the library board, and librarian worked night and day to salvage what could be used from the ruins and encourage local engagement in the efforts.

The La Libertad library conducted local fundraisers, and Riecken Foundation provided in-kind donation of replacement books worth $700. The GlobalGiving campaign resulted in $1730 in individual contributions, used to repair and replace furniture, and partially repair flooring and walls in order to provide a minimal level of service.

Though not yet fully functional, the library has re-opened earlier than was considered possible, providing limited services to 60 visitors each day using mobile library activities and outdoor spaces while critical repairs are being performed. The needs of children and youth have been the focus of these initial activities in an attempt to compensate for the lack of classroom experiences due to the pandemic.

The resilience and resourcefulness of the community is clearly on display in this “New Beginning” for the La Libertad library.

We are grateful to those who have contributed to this GlobalGiving project. Your generosity has been critical in this first stage of re-opening the library.

Please watch a short video and feel the excitement resulting from this on-going effort.

https://youtu.be/2pJRosDFIII

Links:

 
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