Some people’s Peace Corps services are based around one or two large projects. They center their work and their lives like digging wells or raising money to build latrines. One volunteer here in Morocco has extended for a third year of service to build a youth-run cafe at her dar chabab. A previous volunteer in T– brought in wheelchairs to distribute to those with mobility issues.
But if you don’t have a big overarching project, that’s also completely normal. Lots of people’s services are a lot of smaller projects strung together. It really depends on what people in your community express a need for.
My service has been in the latter category. I teach English. I organize camps. I help facilitate a girls’ Bollywood-style dance class. I do creative writing and life skills. If I were to come close to having a “big” project, it will probably be one that I only started in earnest in January.
Thanks to the help of a handful of really dedicated young people at my Dar Chabab, we now have a library! Fiction and non-fiction in Arabic, French, and English enough to fill two large metal bookshelves that are available to anyone who is registered at the Dar Chabab and who has taken our library training (more on that in a second).
I had heard about PCVs setting up libraries in their communities even before I began the application process, and my pre-service dreams somewhat included handing out books to the people in my community, however naive that might have been. Because your service is about doing what’s best for your community and when I got to T–, even though I knew that family finances dictate that many kids here grow up without owning books and that reading usually has to be done in a second or third language here because Darija and Tashelheit are both spoken – as apposed to written – languages and that having a library in their neighborhood would be an awesome resource, I realized it does no good to set up a library in a youth center no one attends.
So first order of business became getting a regular population of youth, which I felt comfortable saying I had by the time I spent my second October in site. By then, I was trying out new classes and meeting new kids, and I had largely forgotten about the library idea. But I got put on a list to receive two big boxes of books from the American Embassy’s Regional Language Office and when the books got there I figured I needed to do something with them. I went to talk to the local Ministry of Youth and Sports administrator – my mudira’s boss – and told him I wanted shelves. During that conversation, he also indicated several boxes of books from a previous library attempt. So we had books.
Thankfully, one of my counterparts, Abderrahim, was willing to make the 12 hour trip north to attend a Peace Corps-sponsored library management training where we learned about everything from the Dewey Decimal System to outreach mechanisms. Some people had already developed libraries at their dar chababs. Others, like us, had books, but needed to know how to organize them. Still others were starting from scratch completely.
During the two-week winter break in January and February, I decided to forgo our usual camp extravaganza and rounded up volunteers to come in and work two hours a day to organize and label the books. We started by splitting them into languages, and from there into fiction and non-fiction. Then we put them into categories, stuck labels on them and put them on the shelves. We wrote out signs telling people how to find the books and we made shelf labels of all kinds. All the kids worked hard, but one young woman in particular – Aziza – was there every day and ended up working with Abderrahim and myself to develop a training for those who want to use the library.
For me the training is the real work that will make a difference. The library is nothing if no one knows how to use it, and especially if no one knows how to take care of it. It’s important to me that the work of keeping things organized doesn’t fall just one one person, because there’s no budget and no time for anyone to be full-time librarian. Each patron – can I use that? – needs to know how to put the books back on the shelves.
We did our first training last week with 15 youth. It was a good start and now that they have their library cards, I’m hoping to repeat the training at least once with a different group. Abderrahim and Aziza will also hopefully do the training again in the fall or on an as-needed basis as more people get interested in using the books.
It turns out it’s not really my project anyway. I’m leaving (in a month!!!! ack!) so it needed to be planned and carried out with other people being in charge. Maybe it’s better that the library only got off the ground in the last part of my service, because there was no time for me to take over major responsibility for it. Either way, I’m happy it’s beginning to function and that people are using it. And by “happy” I mean “SUPER EXCITED.” Makes me wish I could come back in five years and see how things are going. Time to start saving for that plane ticket?