One Carson City woman is working to improve living conditions for children in Haiti, one book at a time.
Colleen “Coco” Crum has spent the last year writing, publishing and distributing books to children in Haiti.
“It is (a small way to help), but if you can get a start that way and light a spark for even 10 kids then who knows what they can do with those reading abilities,” Crum said.
Crum first came up with the idea when she made her first trip to Grand Goave, Haiti in 2015 for a mission trip with Lifeline Christian Mission. There, she saw the poor living conditions and low literacy rates among children.
“I was overwhelmed by the primitive infrastructure,” Crum said. “The Lifeline Christian Mission had schools in the area and the first day I noticed it was all blackboard learning and I couldn’t imagine those children not having a book (to learn with). I talked with other people and learned that most families don’t own books.”
So she started thinking about what she could do to help.
“I came home and was trying to figure it out because I was overwhelmed to be in it, and to think of how one person could do something to help because one person can’t help change the conditions for everyone,” Crum said. “But I thought to myself, what are my talents? And it brought me back to my love of writing.”
Crum has spent her life writing; working for newspapers, business management consulting, co-authoring books and more. So she decided to use her talents to start helping little by little.
Last year, she began writing and publishing three books to give to the children of Haiti.
“My idea wasn’t to start a library, I wanted a book in the hand of every child because literacy is such a problem,” Crum said. “It isn’t even that those who can read, read well so if we get a book in their hands in elementary school then they can read to their parents and siblings and it is one way to spread literacy.”
Each book is made for a specific grade level for children from first to third grade so they can improve their reading skills. The books also contain critical thinking problems and questions so the children really learn while they’re reading.
“I put in vocabulary, spelling and Bible verses in each book,” Crum said. “And a proverb in each because Haitians are really keen on proverbs.”
Keeping the books authentic to Haiti was important, so all of the books have been translated into Creole and Crum even got a Haitian artist to illustrate the books.
“I wanted the books to look like Haiti so I was determined to find a Haitian illustrator,” Crum said.
After months of searching, Crum found Haitian-born Marie-Denise Douyon who agreed to illustrate the books.
“She has been a blessing,” Crum said.
Crum traveled back to Haiti in May, where she distributed 998 books — one for every first, second and third grader in each of the five schools Lifeline Christian Mission oversees.
“It was so humbling but awesome,” Crum said. “I didn’t know how the children would respond because with their primitive conditions, books are often out of the economic needs of a family so a lot of them can’t afford books.”
Crum said when the school directors called out each student’s name to collect the book, the children were speechless.
“They were so overwhelmed, they would try to say thank you and you could only see their mouths moving,” Crum said. “It was so fun to watch their reactions. They would take their book back and open it and have the biggest smile on their face.”
Now, Crum wants to expand her reach. She plans on writing a book for fourth, fifth and sixth graders and hopes to get her books to every child in Haiti.