US-based charity “Habele” has begun shipping books to the Micronesian island of Pohnpei as part of a statewide public literacy project. The books include reference materials, cultural research literature, and regional histories. There are also texts dealing with local languages, arts and plants. The books are headed for high school and public libraries, where they will be available to both students and the community at large.
Neil Mellen, a Habele Director, explains: “Public access to topically relevant works is limited. There aren’t bookstores, and many people don’t have the money or the computer access to buy books through the Internet. Brick and mortar libraries may be on the decline here in the US, but in Micronesia, they’re still the cornerstone of a well-read, educated public.”
The donation -nearly a thousand hand-chosen texts- ranges from scholarly collections of source documents detailing early western contact with Micronesia, to children’s books about traditional and contemporary arts in the Pacific. There are also detailed reference guides to local fishes as well as fiction and poetry books by native Oceanic authors. Support for the effort was provided by Habele’s US network of volunteers and donors, and in particular, Ray and Barbara Dalio of Greenwich, Connecticut.
“There’s a huge hunger in Micronesia for the printed word,” said Alex Sidles, another Habele Director. “Micronesia is a society of readers. What’s been lacking in the past is wide access to quality educational literature, and we’re doing something about that. Focusing on content that is relevant is key to drawing a broader selection of readers into the libraries.”
Founded in 2006 by former Peace Corps Volunteers, Habele prides itself on its hands-on approach to assistance projects. By donating books and other materials directly to the schools and libraries, the organization avoids the lengthy delays and financial overhead that sometimes plague government-run literacy efforts in Micronesia. As longtime Habele volunteer Matthew Coleman said, “The key to literacy is simply reading. Our group puts good books in people’s hands and let them do the rest.”
The carefully assembled donations are headed to the Pohnpei Public Library as well as libraries at Calvary Christian Academy, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, the SDA High School and Pohnpei Island Central School. Habele’s approach will be work with the libraries and schools, determines what works, and then reinforce success. “If we get detailed and constructive feedback from the local partners,” said Mellen, “then many more books and materials will be sent later in the year.”