Street corner library inspires hope in Rose Town

AN enquiry for directions when Rachel McDonald got lost trying to find the Rose Town Foundation in July has resulted in the establishment of a street corner library in the gritty St Andrew community, giving residents hope that books will help change their social and economic fortunes.

Located at the intersection of Moore and Duff streets, ‘Di Cawna Library’ — designed with zinc, wooden pallets and old refrigerators transformed into bookshelves by residents — attracts children as young two years old, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens, some in their 80s.

McDonald, co-founder of the library which opened in August, said the idea was born out of a street ‘reasoning’ held with residents.

“One day I was driving into Rose Town to make a visit to the foundation. I got lost and stopped right here at this corner and I asked some of the young men and elders how to get to where I was going and they pointed me into the right direction. In the next couple of days I stopped again and we ended up having a conversation,” McDonald told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday.

“They had a lot of ideas and said they wanted to promote reading, and literally we came up with the corner library. I also do work with sustainable development goals so the residents, Kandre Leveridge (co-founder), and I decided to have refrigerators for adult books, school books and children’s books,” she said.

Today the library has approximately 1,000 titles ranging from novels, biographies and self-help texts to picture and story books.

In addition to reading, the library organises for residents to engage in other projects that bring them to the space on a regular basis. Among them was the recently observed National Tree Planting Day.

McDonald also noted that the Early Childhood Commission will be interacting with parents who have young children this week, and a programme for first-time mothers is scheduled for November which will be celebrated as National Parent Month.

“We like it because we can connect with the community members on the ground and learn what the realities are. Some people think it’s a response to learning loss. It’s that too, but the idea about the corner library is that it’s not any one thing and that’s why I love it,” said McDonald.

“It’s ripe with potential. We are getting a lot of support; Wisynco Group gave us fridges and pallets and committed to giving us more. We have about 100 more fridges to receive,” she added.

Last Thursday residents were eager to share their joy over the corner library.

Romeo Carter told the Observer that police no longer target the young men in the community and have even participated in helping at the library.

“You find seh kids stop stay pon street late so all 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm kids gone in — and parents are more responsible because of it. Police stop search every youth pon the corner yah now because every time police come, dem si every youth weh look like bad man a help some pickney. One night police all come out and help the youth dem wid dem book — one time police nah think fi do that,” he said.

Another resident, 19-year-old Rahime Henry, who expressed fascination with the geography and history books, said reading is now his new leisure activity.

“Mi have the Napoleon book, Florence Nightingale book, Rasta Heart book. It refreshes my memory about a lot of things too because a good while now mi nuh read book — and fi see the book dem here, mi cyaa walk pass them. Before the library a did football and play game, but a book a do it now,” he said.

Seventy-six-year-old David Campbell said he enjoys reading at the library and hopes a lot of young people will gain interest from the facility.

“It makes me feel comfortable sitting here. I like that a lot of young people come off the street because of it. We don’t want anymore gunman. We would like some lawyers and doctors to come from this community,” he said.

Another senior citizen, 78-year-old Bertie Shaw, said he feels fortunate and hopes that the library will help to uplift the community.

“A community like this have a lot of bad names so when people can come in the community and produce something like this for the children it is a great venture, and I appreciate it,” he said.

Akiva Laing is just as happy as the other residents. She told the Observer that her two-year-old daughter Aria Williams’ learning ability has improved with the help of the library.

“Aria can spell her name, she knows the colours, she knows the different shapes, she can identify letters, identify animals, she knows some of the national heroes too,” the 22-year-old said with a big smile.

Laing, who is an activity organiser at the library, described the initiative as a “stepping stone” for her future teaching profession.

“Most of the little ones come and I help them with their homework. I’m great with children so I’m going to go to HEART Trust to further my studies so I can become a teacher,” she said.

Thirteen-year-old Adara Irving said, “It helps me to learn more things and most of the times I can’t pronounce most words so I read and learn more things. It also gives me more chances to discover new things.”

Ten-year-old Jaden Russell added, “It is very helpful because when you have homework you can come and give Aunty Rachel your book and she will help you.”

The success of the venture has encouraged McDonald to do more. She told the Observer that she and Leveridge are hoping to build more corner libraries and improve literacy in other inner-city communities and rural areas.

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