Thursday, 13 June 2013

for the love of reading

So many of you donated things for us to bring along to La Casa Grande. Thank you so much for these donations! They were very much appreciated. We brought soccer balls, skipping ropes, clothing, shoes, medical supplies, and books.
packing some of the supplies for La Casa Grande
I want to tell you more about the books, and about Paulin's dream for La Casa Grande and L'ecole Les Leaders. Paulin Bossou is the director of La Casa Grande Children's Home. He's currently on sabbatical in Canada, but we had the privilege of being with him here in Benin.

La Casa Grande is the children's home we've written about already. There are 33 children who live there. It's a very inspiring organization, because their projects help to employ many people in the town of Allada, and the projects also benefit the community. 

In 2010, they started a school on the property. The private school fees that they were paying for the children from the home were too high, and the public schools had too many strikes every year that really got in the way of learning. They dreamed of a school where children from LCG could go, as well as children from the surrounding area. Burgos Mennonite church in Spain, as well as the city of Burgos, have been very generous in their support of LCG, and the city gave funds to have the school built. 

Each year, the school has grown and there are about 140 students there this year. Next year, they project at least 200.

As the school grows, they have more dreams. 

They dream of making a paved terrace for the children to play basketball and other sports. Right now, they have their gym classes on the dirt in front of the school.

They also have a dream of creating a library with a computer lab. There is no library in the town of Allada, so this would serve the town, the school, and the children's home. 

Personally, I'm very excited about this library project. Books are a rare commodity here. We experienced that firsthand. 

We brought 110 French children's books here to support this library dream. Here is a picture of some of them:

During our 2 weeks there, I kept about 10 books in our room so that our girls could continue to practice reading in French. Some afternoons, we would use these books to entertain the little ones in our care. They loved them, and paged through the books over and over again.

After school, the older kids noticed them one day. One by one, more children came over to our porch to pore over the books. I apologized to the kids who were 12 and 13 because the books were for little kids. But that didn't seem to bother them. They read them and looked at the pictures and kept asking for more. They were hungry to read.

In their school, the students write on chalk slates, and they read from the blackboard or from their workbook. But aside from that, there are no books.

Paulin has written up a project proposal, and I'm excited to see how schools, churches, or other organizations in Canada could help make this library project possible for them. Their total budget for the project is $9000 Canadian. This includes building the structure, building desks and shelves, and buying 10 used computers for the computer lab. 

There were several books that we brought that I used in the classrooms - L'année de Zoe by Barbara Reid, which illustrates the 4 seasons in Canada (thanks, Pamela and Esme!) and showed the children a whole different world from Benin (everyone always asked if the Zoe in the book was the same Zoe from our family). Even the oldest class didn't mind that I was reading them a board book. I also used a book that showed some of Canada's geography (thanks Heather Weber!). 

As a former teacher, I know how books can open up new worlds for children, and I'd love to help the children in Allada to experience this love of reading.


  1. I would love to contribute to the project. In addition to a cash donation, I have oooodles of French books I could donate!

    1. Mara - let's talk more about this! I'd love to figure out a way of getting those books there! Thanks for your interest - I think it's such an exciting project.

  2. "Hungry to read" How very exciting to see this desire for reading! Wouldn't it be neat to connect with a school here to "buddy" up with? Wellesley School has a "We" team that in the past has raised money for different projects around the world. Last year the school raised money to build a well. I wonder if they are looking for another project? Is or has Pauline sent this proposal to schools, churches etc?

    The teacher in me loves to see this desire to read. Very exciting, Rebecca :)

    The dreamer in me thinks it would be amazing if kids in Benin had connections or access or some way of writing, photographing, and publishing their own stories to put into print too. Hmmm ...

    Thanks for sharing. I am learning so very much from you, Zoe and Eden.

    Take good care,

    1. Shauna, This is exactly what I'm hoping - that we can get several schools to raise money through their Me to We committees. If you're comfortable approaching someone at Wellesley about it, go for it! I'm preparing a video of the school that can be shown at schools, churches, wherever - anywhere that people are interested in raising money for the project. Paulin is open to as many schools, churches, organizations as possible helping out. He wrote up the proposal while I was at La Casa Grande, and he's hoping that funds can be raised throughout this year for this project.

      Love the idea of having kids publish their own work too. :) Keep on dreaming!

  3. Projects like this are so much more exciting then new carpet for our church!

    No, but seriously... being able to use our dollars where the needs/potential are greatest is really exciting. I hope that Paulin is successful at getting lots of support. I hope our church can help in that project.

    1. :) I hope so too. I think it's a very exciting project, and I'm looking forward to spreading the word about it! Glad you're interested too, Daniel.

  4. Heather Shantz18 June 2013 at 00:32

    I am looking forward to bringing this to my class in the fall. We were reading the Parvana's Journey series and it really hit home to them how lucky they are to have education. I think they would be motivated to raise money for this project. Especially neat that I could show them personal photos of when I was there and tell them stories about the children.

    I have absolutely loved reading all your posts. It brings back so many emotions and memories. Leo (now seems to go by Jean Leo) was quite the rascal when he was 4!!! Jonathan and Marie were the babies that I took care of and it broke my heart to leave after a couple of months. Nice to see everyone looking so healthy and happy. What a beautiful new home they have!

    With love,
    Heather Shantz

    1. Good to hear from you, Heather! During our time there, I often wondered how your experience was at La Casa Grande. I've love to talk to you about it next time you're home! Leo still goes by Leo - and he's still a character! Very sweet, and wanted to marry Eden. He took the time to speak slowly to the girls and explain different things to them. So interesting to think of Jonathan and Marie as babies! I'd love to see your photos from that time too. Yes, it's a very beautiful home.

      Funny that you talked about Parvana's Journey. Zoe, Eden and I read another book by Deborah Ellis on this trip - Heaven Shop. Have you read that one? The girls loved reading it on our trip because it's set in Malawi and involves an orphan girls as the main character. The way that life was described there reminded Zoe and Eden of many things they were seeing around them in Benin. Anyway, it's a really, really good book, and would go well with the library project - just an idea! Also talks about HIV/AIDS, so lots to learn for kids!