Many children living on the island of Roatán will never leave the island. Roughly 40 miles long by 2 miles wide, that makes for a very small world… except for books!! Reading can unlock a child’s imagination and introduce them to faraway places (real or imaginary!) they’ve never heard of and may never see. Unfortunately, there are essentially no bookstores on the island, and only a couple of very small libraries.
While Roatán is a part of Honduras, making Spanish its official language, most native islanders (those whose roots on the island stretch back more than a couple of generations) trace their origins to the English-speaking Caribbean, and their home language is English. However, Spanish is the main language of instruction in the public schools. Many adults on the island have only a sixth-grade education or less and have only basic reading skills in either language. Given the scarcity of books and educational challenges, few parents are in the habit of reading to their children. This results in most children starting school at age six without knowing the alphabet.
Historically, when English-language instruction was forbidden in Honduran public schools, English-speaking islanders developed a tradition of home-schooling, where an educated member of the community would read to groups of children outside regular school hours, usually from old copies of the Royal Reader, which many island families kept as heirlooms, a legacy of their British colonial past (Roatán and the Bay Islands were briefly part of British Honduras). But that tradition has been lost. Therefore, one thing anyone visiting Roatán can do to “give back” to the island is to bring some books, either in English or Spanish, and sit and read to children. And then leave the books behind.
On our regular trips to St. Helene, David and I love to take a break from our other work and read to the kids while on recess from school. They love it!! More than playing soccer, or chasing each other around the building, most of the kids will take turns sitting beside us, or in our lap, and reading. Sometimes we read to them, other times we have them read to us. We read all kinds of stories and ask questions along the way, getting them to think about what we’re reading, to predict what might happen next, and to talk about the places in the books. We laugh and giggle, cuddle and hug. No child can have too much of that! Anything to develop a love of reading will help these children learn and grow.
How do we get books to Roatán? Books are heavy, and therefore expensive to transport to the islands. Often books donated with the best of intentions simply aren’t usable or relevant to the intended recipients. So we work with strategic partners to alleviate this problem and get the right books to the right people.
Bay Island Books is an organization dedicated to the Bay Islands and searches for exactly the kinds of books that are needed and well received by islanders. We also partner with the Grand Roatán Caribbean Resort to encourage every guest coming on vacation to bring an extra suitcase filled with new or gently used books and school supplies. They can even deliver their gifts in person during the school year making a bonding, life experience bringing them back again and again!