BCALA February / March 2012
Having gone through Hurricane Katrina and witnessed firsthand how a library can be used as a disaster relief center for the community following a natural dis-aster, I rec-ognize the importance of a library to a devas-tated com-munity with no financial resources. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the City of New Orleans, the New Orleans Pub-lic Library became an immediate part of its recovery. The Main Library was leased by FEMA to establish a disaster relief center, providing assistance to residents for FEMA applications, SBA applications, tarps for houses, bottled water and more. The Main Library provided Internet use, faxing and a collection of books, DVDs, music and other resources for homeless residents scattered about a torn city and living in trailers, ho-tels, and cruise ships or if they were lucky, in one of the rare neighborhoods that es-caped the flood. But in Haiti, these sup-portive government agencies do not exist and resources are limited.
New Orleanians returned to a city full of flood swept homes and barren neighbor-hoods and found themselves displaced, overly exposed to the loss of human life, broke, angry and in some cases dehuman-ized, these wounds did scar us. Haiti is still living with their wounds.
On this final night of our visit, I feel in-formed, grateful and humbled by what I have seen over the past few days. As we are driven back to our ho-tel, we make a stop to drop off one of the staff members who lives in Delmas. Driving away from the business district of Delmas, the lights on the streets get fewer and fewer as we enter the residential neighborhood until finally there are no lights at all except for headlights of the truck we are in. A woman and a teenager walk in this dark-ness and our driver turns off the lights perhaps not to blind them with the beam. We are now in total dark-ness, but there is a light that goes off in my head. For several months and in some cases years, there were no lights in parts of New Orleans following Hur-ricane Katrina, but for peo-ple in Haiti, this is an every-day reality. In reaching out to Haiti to help them through their recov-ery, I have helped myself to understand just have far I’ve come in my own recovery process and how limited my struggle has been.
Pictures from Valencia Hawkins Article An Eye Opening Visit to a Haitian Library BCALA Feb_March 2012
Valencia Hawkins is the Associate Di-rector of Central Public Services for the New Orleans Public Library. She is presi-dent of Bibliotheque Parrainage, a non-profit organization based in New Orleans to assist libraries in Haiti. The organiza-tion works closely with the New Orleans Haitian Relief Task Force, whose board president is a member of Bibliotheque Parrainage. Donations for libraries in Haiti can be sent to Bibliotheque Parrain-age, P.O. Box 57418, New Orleans, La.