What’s a library without books? An empty room — until members of the Rotaract Club of Barbados get involved, that is.
In 2018, the Rotaractors learned that the library at Luther Thorne Memorial Primary School, which was next door to the space in Bridgetown where the club met at the time, had no books at all. The club launched its Once Upon a Time project to replenish the library with books and to raise awareness of the importance of literacy. “We wanted to show kids the practical aspects of literacy in the real world,” says club member Mario Boyce.
The club’s goal was to collect 150 to 200 books appropriate for children ages five to 11. With the support of the school’s administration, teachers, and local businesses, the club far exceeded that goal, collecting more than 1,100 books. Of those, 925 went into the Thorne library, some excess books the library couldn’t take were donated to another primary school, and some books for more mature readers were donated to a shelter for abused women. “Even after we closed the drive, people were still giving us books, which was fantastic,” says Boyce.
The CEOs of a local bank and of a radio station, both of whom are Rotarians, supported the effort. The bank and other businesses served as drop-off locations for books, and the radio station recorded and regularly aired a jingle publicizing the book drive.
The club also held a spelling bee, one round of which was a Jeopardy!-style quiz that included a category about Rotary and Rotaract. “We wanted to educate people about Rotaract and Interact,” Boyce says. The spelling bee was not initially part of the project but was added to engage students and to emphasize the benefits of literacy. “We were flexible enough to modify our original plan,” he adds.
“Even after we closed the drive, people were still giving us books.”
The project, which won a Rotaract Outstanding Project Award, will continue in the coming year, as the club members paint the library and furnish it with shelving.
In Barbados, difficult economic conditions mean that many families have trouble making ends meet. The Rotaractors also plan to provide two students with everything they need for the school year, including uniforms, shoes, books, and food for breakfast and lunch. “This is not only going to help the children; it’s going to help the parents and relieve them of some of their stress,” Boyce says.
“Our theme is to go the extra mile this year,” he says. “We want to do it with more impactful projects.”— Annemarie Mannion
— ANNEMARIE MANNION
• This story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.