Our work in Guyana has funded the construction of three classroom libraries and a public library in Yupukari.
The focus on libraries has been an attempt to support village development without specifying what that should look like. Our aim was to give local choice, curiosity and creativity as free rein as we could.
Villagers credit the Yupukari Public Library and its outreach activities with the consistent rise in the pass rate from Primary to Secondary school, from near zero when we started in 2005 to 75% in 2017.
Seeded by Rupununi Learners, and over time funded primarily by revenue from the guesthouse, the Library's fortunes have risen and fallen with our ecotourism business, which has been drastically impacted by the abrupt cessation of direct air service to ecotourist villages.
At our peak, the Library has been staffed by a full-time librarian and several trainees, with a dozen laptops, a 24/7 Internet connection, and about 6500 hand-picked English language books in Yupukari, as well as films, puzzles, toys, maps and globes, art and classroom supplies, all aimed at developing stronger foundation skills for education.
Beyond Yupukari, our dream is to support other Rupununi communities with similar resources.
Wabbani.com, our for-profit enterprise, has been created to increase the funding available for libraries and other avenues Rupununians may choose to steer their own self-development.
First Language Literacy
Thus far, "literacy" has meant English language literacy, since English is the official language of Guyana, and is the language of instruction. Macushi, the language of the indigenous majority in the Rupununi (about 9000 people), has been a written language for only a generation. A significant obstacle for Yupukari schoolchildren is that when they learn to read, they must learn how to read in a foreign language, English. A curriculum that includes instruction in Macushi as a written language prior to or alongside English is needed in the earliest grades. One of the goals of the public library is to serve as a repository of local knowledge across the spectrum of subject areas, and as a means of gathering, preserving and disseminating the knowledge productions of local inhabitants.
In 2005 we saw that the home/school connection was undeveloped. Teachers were not collaborating. Reading was not generally regarded as a source of fun. Even after we built the public library, villager contact with our resources remained uneven. Reading Rodeo was an all-day event held on December 6, 2006 with the goal of involving the whole village in enjoyable reading activities, presented by the whole Yupukari teaching staff working together as a team. Every teacher and both Yupukari Public Library librarians hosted a different activity in a different village building, so that villagers could move from one to the next, getting their "passport" stamped along the way.