Stories from Roatán

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November 14, 2014

Filling libraries and young minds with local culture, history and geography


“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” -- John Green, Author


For school children living on the Honduran island of Roatán in the Caribbean, culturally relevant age-appropriate books are few and far between.

In many Roatán schools, libraries are littered with books featuring Disney princesses and other television characters. These TV-tales-turned-books have their time and place, but their North American contexts are far removed from the realities of island life, and certainly void of any celebration of local history, geography and culture.

In response, a recent cultural literacy project led by Mount Saint Vincent University’s International Projects Office and Partners in Education Roatán (or PIER – an agency dedicated to improving education in the Bay Islands) is putting local content on school shelves through the creation of a series of four books telling island stories.

Engaging communities

The Mount’s International Projects Office seeks to expand the university’s engagement in international education through work with communities around the world. Projects undertaken help build capacity, support knowledge transfer and contribute to learning and understanding of global issues.

Said project lead Dr. Cornelia Schneider, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the Mount, “Our international collaborations rely heavily on the expertise of our partners like PIER – their knowledge of the local community is so essential to the success of our work.”

Roatan for websiteWith the support of funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, as well as the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, and under the supervision of Dr. Schneider, four Mount interns travelled to Roatán to work with PIER staff and volunteers for six months. Chief among the initiatives undertaken was intern Rawane Nassif’s assignment to connect with local communities and collect culturally embedded "island stories". Together with local artists who contributed as illustrators, these stories were transformed into four children’s books to support the literacy work of PIER and local schools on Roatán. Patti O’Brien Beaumont also wrote one of the stories.

For Rawane, her immersion in a story-based culture was among the best parts of the experience. “When you go out of it and see how the world is a tiny bit more square, or a tiny bit more to the point…it’s at those times when I really miss all of the richness of telling stories.”

On the book series she said, “It is rewarding when someone understands the story, is affected by it and smiles because of it. There is the added value of teaching English through these stories for some, but for me it’s a lot more – it’s seeing yourself in something too – that means a lot.”

The stories – “Toby and Sammy”, “A McCoy, of course!”, “Island Home”, and “The Magic Conch” – paint a colourful picture of island life with an emphasis on local food, folklore, and the importance of family and the sea.

Sandcastle library Roatan for website“These books are more about content than language,” said Dr. Schneider. “Their use in schools in Roatán will help teach cultural pride, something that should be encouraged from a very young age. It’s about emphasizing pride in local culture and values, instead of encouraging comparison with North American ideals.” Residents of the island of Roatán speak English and Spanish, as well as languages native to the Garifuna and Miskitu communities.

Book launch to take place November 18, 2014

On Tuesday, November 18th, 2014, Mount Saint Vincent University and PIER will celebrate these new books through a launch event and reading at the university (in the Curriculum Resource Centre: Room 408, Seton Academic Building). Children are welcome to attend with their parents/guardians – the event will be in a fair format, providing opportunities for children to interact with the books at various booths. All are encouraged to expand their local libraries through the purchase of these books. Books are $10 each for a 5.5 inch by 8.5 inch version, or $20 each for a 11 inch by 15 inch coil bound format; proceeds will support additional initiatives by PIER as they seek to improve the educational experience of the children of Roatán.

















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