In 2005, Dr. Nadège T Clitandre, at the time a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, had a conversation with her father, Haitian novelist and Journalist Pierre A. Clitandre, at his home in Carrefour-Feuilles, Port-au-Prince. Mr. Clitandre, who had been exiled in 1980 to the United States and returned to Haiti in the mid-1990s, wanted to contribute to the country’s development, especially in regards to its youth (a sizeable demographic in Haiti- 40% of the population is under 15). As they talked, Mr. Clitandre pointed out that the community did not have a library. In fact, public libraries as we know them in the United States are rare in Haiti. Sadly, the literacy rate is 60 percent, much lower than the average literacy rate for Latin America and Caribbean nations. Less than thirty-five percent of children finish primary school, and less than two percent finish secondary school. Libraries are vital to a child’s educational and social development. The two came up with an idea to start a community library, Bibliothèque du Soleil, where children, teens and adults could all come to share their ideas, interests and concerns; to have a safe, comforting place to go to read and engage with others; and to check out books and bring them home to share with their families.
Dr. Clitandre was excited about the opportunity to help her native homeland. Ever since she returned from teaching English in Port-au-Prince, she had been passionate about supporting youth education in Haiti. As she and her father talked more, the vision of the library grew clearer as an important endeavor to nurture a culture of reading, creative artistic expression and global exchange in the community. She returned to California after that fruitful conversation with a determination to help realize this wonderful idea. The library was officially inaugurated on July 31, 2005, much to the excitement of the Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood. It received its first local sponsorship from la Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL). In the summer of 2006, Nadège began to organize book drives and fundraising activities to expand Bibliothèque du Soleil’s collection of books. She started with writing letters soliciting support from friends, family and colleagues. Her first donation came from Edwidge Danticat, the well-known Haitian American writer. Soon, donations began to arrive from members of the Haitian diaspora living in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, and California (most of whom are writers, educators, scholars, known activists and cultural critics in their own right). Dr. Clitandre also contacted a number of institutions for support. The Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara responded with great enthusiasm and became Haiti Soleil’s first major institutional partner, offering to defray the cost of shipping books to Haiti and incorporating Bibliothèque du Soleil as a Haiti project at the Center. As word of the work that the library was doing began to spread, Clitandre received book donations from individuals and institutions all over North America.
Nadège was so excited about the project and the response it received that by the end of the year, she founded Haiti Soleil, a nonprofit organization to support youth education in Haiti through the development of libraries, museums and other institutions of learning. Bibliothèque du Soleil now has a collection of over 6000 books in French, Kreyol, Spanish, and English, a successful summer youth program, a Saturday morning program for kids, and a small computer lab. The library is recognized as a bustling center of the community with over 400 members.
We will continue our work with artists, writers, educators, and organizations to rebuild not only our library but to create new opportunities for all Haitians to flourish in the community. We envision a Haiti that will focus on the role of young people in determining what shape their country will take. Where today there is destruction, we want to plant the seeds for new tomorrow. Haiti Soleil, through Bibliothèque du Soleil, is committed to being a part of this bright hopeful future.