Friday, October 29, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name....

Yes, it has been a long time since posting here....but the work has never stopped! It has just had a change in management!
Pictured here is the library in use!

My student's club -- the InfoPros for Peace, at the International Community School of Abidjan -- have taken the project under their wing.

Last year, they focused on developing the library -- collecting books, videos, games -- and on developing connections with the kids at Bingerville, by hosting a "Cookies and Juice Summit" between our Lower School Student Council and their Student Parliament.

It was a great time, discovering shared interests like soccer and hamburgers, and having some good clean competition, like the hoola hoop contest!

After the initial network got installed for these first 10 computers, (shown above) and we'd received the additional 30, we closed out the school year in 2009.

In the 2009-10 year, the new team of InfoPros turned their attention to the books, starting some great programs like a reading club, sending out a sponsorship letter - a passionate plea to parents and the entire community for help, and introducing some great fundraisers.

By the end of the year, many more people were aware of the project and were taking it seriously. They asked how they could help, and wanted to help with the technology, in particular.

At the beginning of this year, the 2010-11 school year, we were approached by a parent whose company wanted to help in a big way. They ended up donating all the equipment needed to install the network for an additional room of computers -- doubling the size of the computer lab in one fell swoop! Our networking team got busy, working with a couple of our InfoPros, they installed the network over a course of a few days. (Pics to come)

Now, all that remains is the UPS Currency Stabilizer....the same big need we have had since the beginning -- a means of preventing the destruction of these computers due to a simple, preventable, but oh-so-powerfully-destructive -- electrical surge in the power supply!!
It will cost about 1,000,000 CFA - that's about $2,000.00 - to get it. So this is this years' mission.
So, I have officially passed the torch to my students. Though the project s no longer led by the Children of the Diaspora, United! the mission continues -- that is, that the "children of the disapora,"-- people of all nationalities, all races, creeds and colors -- act in unity, to contributing something of worth, to the people of the land from which we all, ultimately, have emerged - Africa - brithplace of human-kind.

To continue following events at Bingerville (and Bassam) from now on, please tune in to my students' sites:

Thanks for reading and following, and I hope I'll see you there!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bingerville Update

Wow! Time has flown! At the moment, I am back in the states, reflecting on this past year, and gearing up for the next, and I realize, it has been several months since my last report. So here is a summary, with pictures just added....

Networking the Library at Bingerville
After the Women's History Month event at Grand Bassam Orphanage for Girls, things went back to normal. I've continued working with Bingerville every week, and a lot has been happpening.

First up, back in April, TPIOT Interactive got busy. First they created a server for the network using one of the donated computers, and then we worked with some of the students to lay wiress so we could networka c omputer into the library.

So now the librarian is able to work on her catalog from inside the library, which is much more convenient and enables her to do this work during library hours.

Cataloging with Book Covers

The librarian, Jocelyn, is really inspired by all of this activity and attention, and her library shows it. Every time I go there, the room is packed with young people, and she's added new tables, spruced up the shelves nad reorganized them.

The new titles are set aside and guarded, and they are trying to decide the best approach to lending for their needs. Currently, they haven't got a check out procedure in place, and are considering how they can manage this. One idea is to have students read the books in the library, rather than taking them to their dorm beds, since students do not have much privacy or a safe place to store their things. There is concen about the books disappearing, and so they are also considering posting a guardian at the entrance.

Jocelyn has really taken to the task of cataloging.
Throughout April and May, we practiced entering data, her last lesson revolved around adding images to her catalog. It's pretty simple - she searches for the title, copies the cover image, and pastes it into the catalog record. Hopefully, she'll make a lot of progress this summer, even though I am back in Jersey.

More Books for the Food for Thought Drive

Meanwhile, back in March, the French Department at ICSA also hosted a fundraiser for La Semaine Francophone, and they raised about 100,000 CFA - that's about $200 - to purchase books for the library collection.

So, in May we also purchased more books - mostly picture books, some reference materials, and a few middle school/YA favorites.

Although the students weren't there when we made the delivery, the came by a little later, and you should have seen the smiles!

They really loved seeing all of the new titles. It was really satisfying to watch.

The Ambassador Pays a Visit!
It has been an amazing year with so many wonderfull moments, but I have to say, one of the highlight of the last few months was when Wanda Nesbitt, American Ambassadorto Cote d'Ivoire, decided to pay us a visit! Here's how it happened...

On May 30, the seniors at ICSA graduated, and among them was Rachel, the senior and president of our InfoPros for Peace Club. As the Ambassadors spoke of the accomplishments of all the senior students, she applauded Rachel for her spirit of giving and her contribution to the Bingerville project. (If you remember she was really the one responsible for getting the school 30 additional computers from the Korean Embassy. )

That was wonderful to hear, but even better, afterwards, Ambassador Nesbitt came to speak with me, and asked me about the project. She was so intriqued by what she was hearing that she asked if she could just drop by and see what it was all about. Well, you can guess that I was excited, and I said "Sure! I go there every week!"

Well, knowing that I was about to leave the country for the states, and uncertain as to when and if I'd be back, I figured I ought to make an attempt to solidify that connection. So, a couple of days later, I emailed her to remind her I was going that Thursday. I wanted to make sure she kept us in mind, and let her know I hadn't forgotten the discussion. I never expected that she might be able to do it on such short notice, but I figured, what the heck. . Low and behold, the next day I received a response! She said Yes! She was going to come that Thursday! And, indeed, she did make it! She showed up at about 4 that afternoon, and we took her on a tour of the grounds, the computer center, and the library. It was amazing! We can only hope that the connection will be the first of many, the beginning of new opportunites and growth for Bingerville.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Girls at Bassam Celebrate...and Get Some Great Gifts!

Since the beginning of this journey, we've wanted to do something for the girls, too. If you've kept up with the blog, you'll remember that the students in NJ had determined to send them gifts for the holidays, like they did the boys last year, and they'd actually sent them off. However, and unfortunately, the gifts had been delayed in customs until late February.

Well, after such a long wait, Mme. Danho, the Directrice of
Orphelinat des Filles de Grand Bassam, myself, and Dr. Kamara of Filles d'Afrique determined to provide a special festival for the girls, in celebration of women and girls for Women's History Month -- and to donate these long awaited gifts. We'd hoped to do a webcam with the students in NJ, but, in a telling and typical example of the obstacles facing these schools, there were problems with electrical outtages and surges that prevented it all from happening.
But that didn't stop us from celebrating!

The students in New Jersey had selected gifts, one for each girl at Bassam, made a gift card, and signed their name to them. We were able to distribute these gifts to each girl, and it was really touching to watch them process the idea that there was another young girl or boy on the other side of the world who had thought enough about them to get them a gift.

But the great thing is, it did't stop there.

"Filles d'Afrique," an NGO in Cote d'Ivoire under the leadership of its president, Dr. Kamara, has the goal of educatig some 200 girls each year in Cote d'Ivoire. They took the reins on this event, providing a singer, inviting media -- and providng each girl with a bag of school supplies.

In addition, Dr. Aline OulaÏ Piot, my friend and sister in law, and owner and operator of
Pharmacy Deux Plateux and her new supermarket, Kangaroo, donated about $600.00 worth of pharmaceuticals.

Aline, like each of those who contributed to this event is an example to girls seeking to achieve their dreams -- and an example of what "children of the diaspora, united" can do.

I met Aline when she was a student at the Rutgers University School of Pharmacy, in New Jersey. We learned a lot about each others cultures, and about the life of women in each place. Aline was always driven and inquisitive, and she took her time in the United States as an opportunity to absorb everything she could about the best we have to offer, living ad working in different parts of the United States, before returning to Cote d'Ivoire to help her own country, and establish her own businesses.

Drawing from her experiences in the United States, she's had great success, and her pharmacy is known everywhere as "the one with all the toys in the front for children to play on," This is an example of a simple but effective re-invention of the American playground and amusement park idea that she picked up in her travels.

But the biggest surprise came from Mme. Kone - the Directrice of the Orphelinat des Garçons de Bingerville

Ever since last year, the orphanage has been fortunate to receive tremendous support. After our gifts and the 10 computers, they received support for creating a chicken coop, to raise food for themselves, teach the children a valuable skill, and bring money to the institution by selling chickens to the local community.

Then last week, I had the great honor and opportunity to meet Mme. Grace Ouattera, the Founder of Children of Africa, an NGO in Cote d'Ivoire that provided the school with a wonderful donation of new beds, cabinets, and other goods. Read about it here.

And just a few days ago, in response to the ICSA InfoPros for Peace community service campaign for the sake of Bingerville - and thanks in earnest to the efforts of our club president in particular -- there was a large donation of computers to Bingerville Orphanage! (The details will be described in future posts as Bingerville has yet to make their own formal announcement of this wonderful donation.)

But here's the est part...

Knowing that our goal had been to provide Bassam with computers, too, Mme. Kone chose to "share her good fortune," perhaps in keeping with Obama's recent admonition and reference to the age old adage that "to those who much is given, much is expected."

This was, in short, exactly the kind of spirit I would hope to be a part of and contribute to. I believe we made a great impression on these young girls.

Finally, we have to acknowledge the support of all the men that were present, from
RTI television staff,who followed our story and aired it on RTI TV2 this evening, to TPIOT Interactive Media, the company that has been donating assistance with networking of the computers at Bingerville, ans will be helping at Grand Bassam.

In particular, there was M. Yves
Piot (yes, my hubby!) President of the Federal Association of the We of North America (FAWAN) and Coordinator of Ivorians Abroad in North America. He and his organizations have supported these endeavors in numerous ways, and on this day, they videotaped, photographed, and Yves made a very good translator!

And M.
Sahly Calile Francois, president of l' AEFOCI - Association des Anciens Eleves du Foyer des Metis et de l'Orphelinat de Côte d'Ivoire.

As an alumni of
Orphelinat des Garçons de Bingerville, he works closely with them for a number of programs.

Today, moved by the event at
Bassam, he pledged to invite the girls to a festival at Bingerville, and talked about the need for more integration of the boys and girls in the future.

View all of the pictures on my MAC Mobile Me Gallery.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Of Library Catalogs and eLibrary Blogs... Where Hi-Tech Meets Tradition! books have been added, and computers provided. What's next? A card catalog of course!

If you are my age or older, you probably remember the old card catalogs -- those big wood cabinets with rows and rows of index card files, right? Well since then, all of those cards have been digitized, and entered into library automation systems.

These allow you to search for books not only by subject, author, or title, but also by any keyword you can think of. Once you find the book (and now, in most libraries, videos, dvds, audiobooks, etc. ) that you want, you print out or write down the call number (usually a Dewey Decimal number) on a little slip of paper, and then search for the actual book on the shelf.

Today, when you find the book and take it to a circulation desk, they check your item out to you, and give you a due date -- all using an automated system. They also enable you to keep track of who has borrowed items, when they are due, etc. So, this was another big goal for Bingerville - to get the library automated! But how??

Thanks to Mandarin Library Automation Solutions, a leading software provider for this kind of software, we are able to bring Bingerville's library into the 21st century. Mandarin provides a free trial of Mandarin M3, one of their basic library automation programs, which they've allowed us to use at the Bingerville Orphanage.

Art Graham, the Vice President of Technical Services has even offered to help out with some tech support, including connecting us with a French speaking consultant! Check out the article they published in their recent newsletter, here: Feeling a Little Hungry for more info, and be sure to let them know that you appreciate their contribution!

So over the last few weeks, my ICSA colleague, Mike and I have been working with the librarian, students, and other staff at Bingerville to help them install the M3 sytsem, and begin adding their books and patron records to it. (We're starting with one of the computers in the Tech Lab, but as you'll see in an upcoming post, Bingerville has received additional computers, thanks to the efforts of the the ICSA InfoPros for Peace club, and the library will be getting some of them!)

I have to take a moment here to recognize Mike. He is an authority on Mandarin M3, having used it for many years, including at ICSA. He has also provided a similar service to other schools in Cote d'Ivoire. As a French speaker, knowledgeable of this system, he has been an invaluable resource.

This will be a long and painstaking process, but I am searching for a French language catalog that I can use to help with what we call "copy cataloging" to make it go faster. Since libraries follow certain standards when they catalog materials, much of the information about any particular item may already exist in another online catalog.
Frequently, it is possible to download their records and import them into your own system.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Feeling a Little Hungry? Here's Some Food for Thought!

Hungry minds received a little nourishment recently, when the Parent Teacher Organization at the International Community School of Abidjan joined forces with the InfoPros for Peace club and other students, to provide more than 100,000 CFA ( about $200.00) worth of fiction and reference books to the Orphelinat de Garcons de Bingerville!

The InfoPros for Peace Club and I launched the ongoing "Food for Thought Book Drive" last November, promoting the program to the community here in Abidjan. The Info Pros goal is to provide additional computers to the school’s recently inaugurated computer center, and to update their library with new French language books.

Mr. Closius Adjemiane led the tour of the orphanage, and introduced the party to the students in each classroom. When he explained that we were there to present a donation of books to the library, we were greeted with cheers of approval and gratitude, and carefully pronounced English language “Thank You!'”s from the young students. We made the formal donation in the library. As you can see, it was well received!

In addition to the PTO, several students and others donated books from their own collection. One student donated an entire box of books herself, and some students and parents donated books that they'd purchased at a recent book signing by the well known Ivoriran children's book author, Fatou Keita ( more here and here).

Building an eLibrary at OGB

A few weeks ago, we started working with a few students on building a blog for the school - an electric library of their own. What is an electric library or eLibrary, you ask? Well, it's a starting point for school work, research, finding answers, etc. Links for various services, such as an online catalog, research databases, and selected websites are added to your typical eLibrary to make it easier for the target group to find what they need. Electric libraries are also center for sharing news, doing book talks, and all kinds of new uses that are now possible due to all of the new social networking services. The point is to make it easier to tune into, discuss, and share the most relevant and reliable sources of info, as opposed to sitting with a book and candle, or just doing your own Google search, and having to evaluate each link for the quality of its content, etc.

What we're hoping to do here in Cote d'Ivoire is to have students at both ICSA and OGB working together. So in both schools, students are learning how to use a couple of popular blog softwares -- Blogger and Wordpress. Wordpress is a great blogging tool that is used by lots of libraries in the United States, so this is probably te he one we'll be sticin with here. Take a look at the work students (and staff!) have done so far at ICSA's LITCenter_eLibrary@I.C.S.A!
(that's and here's the beginnings of the OGB e.Biblio
(that's ). Students at OGB are currently building their own sites on Blogger, to get used to the idea, since Blogger provides an easier interface for adding content. Later, they'll be using Wordpress and adding to the electric library for the school.

A big part of this is going to involve locating content to include in the blog. We need French language resources and websites that are of use to students here. So that's my bigt challenge, and part of what we hope the students at ICSA will help provide,. In the meantime, if you or anyone you know knows of some good quality, fun and interesting sites for research and school work, IN FRENCH! please pass it on!

Coming Home....

We had a visit from a friend a few weeks ago. He's Ivorian, too, and a professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was a major contributor to the shipping of the computers last year, and wanted to visit the school while he was here on vacation.

He was very happy to see the progress at the school and, of course, seeing the computer center up and in use was a special treat!

He received a tour of the grounds... looked at the newly built chicken coup -- another donation from a woman in France that enables the students to learn about raising chickens,
while also growing food and a potential source of income for the school. . .

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Secret Santa Made it to Abidjan...But He's Stuck in Customs...

Remember the French class students in New Jersey that orchestrated a Secret Santa delivery of gifts to the girls at the Grand Bassam Orphanage? Well, here's an update.

The gifts made it!! They arrived on December 24th!!!

But...unfortunately, we've had some communication mix ups, and a snow storm in New York the night of departure and finally, we just missed the ball. Long story short, the holidays were quite a challenge, but they made it.... Unfortunately, though, for now, Secret Santa's box of gifts are stuck in customs at the airport!

We're working on both sides of the Atlantic to get the paperwork in place, and hopefully, the girls will get their gifts soon. There is one for each and every girl, with a few extras in case anyone was missed.

Personally, I want to take this moment to just say to the students - "my kids at the EMIC" that I am very, very, proud, touched, and encouraged, by their sincerity, their determination, and their committment. They made this happen. And I am eternally grateful and in awe of their French Teacher, my friend and colleague, Karen, who helped me last year, and guided them, and committed way more than her share this year, to getting it done.

One thing I have really learned well in the last year....there are many, many, many, who will not...But there are those small few.... who WILL and who HAVE the WILL.... They are amazing. Grace. And they make all the difference.

And truth is I know the ones who will not -- I have been one of them, for most of my life, for the most part, actually. I AM one of them, still, in many ways.....after all...we're all only human....

But in this last year, I have had the opportunity to be one of the of those small few who have had THE WILL to try. To do it anyway. To do it.... because.... it feels.... right.

And you know what? It feels good. I feel good.

And I know that each of these students -- my kids -- Vincent, whose company helped with the shipping again this year, and Karen who helped me last year, and took the reins and ran with it this year, the Admin at the school who said "ok, do it," and all the scattered, 100 plus or minus individuals who each accepted a name, and offered a gift, or added their 2 cents, my sister, who slipped in just in the nick of time..... they all know what I mean.

I'll let you know how it's going...hopefully, we'll make some headway tomorrow....

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Grand Opening of the Bingerville Computer Center!

A few weeks ago, Bingerville hosted a Grand Opening of their new computer center, and I was invited to speak. It was the coolest thing!

Since last I'd been there, another organization had been inspired to provide desks for the computers, and the center was really looking nice. They decorated the room, and put ribbons on the computers, made a plague, and we had a ribbon cutting ceremony. We even made the afternoon news!

There were a bunch of the obligatory speeches, from all of the obligatory officials etc., and then, some of the students danced and recited poetry. It was wonderful.

Oddly, and I guess, fittingly, I felt compelled to speak of my father. So I told the boys how he'd grown up in an orphanage, too, much like this one. I told them how much he had loved reading, even as a boy, how he said it opened the world to him. I told them how he dreamed of seeing the places and doing the things he read about, and how even though he was told not to expect much from life, he had other plans. See, his reading inspired him, gave him dreams, and hope. He wanted to go to college. Be a teacher. A research chemist. Finally, a medical doctor. He wanted to have a beautiful wife, a family and a nice house. And, I told them, he achieved all of his dreams. And they could, too.

I wanted them to understand the importance of reading. Computers, the internet -- it's all great stuff. But its not the technology that is important - it's the content. It's all the stuff that is available there -- through reading. Books, magazines, internet - whatever form it comes in, it is important to feed not only the body, but the sould and the mind as well.

With that we launched the second phase of the project -- to help build a library along with the computer center - the "Food for Thought" Book Drive!

See more pictures at my webgallery at

Secret Santa Hopes to Come to Grand Bassam!

What do you know! Remember the students in the French class? The ones who got gifts to send to Bingerville last holiday season? Well, they want to do it again!

The French teacher, Karen told me a couple of weeks ago that the students were all psyched about getting the girls some gifts this year, so they've started a campaign. They've got over 100 girls' names, and they are collecting gifts for them until December 13th or so.

Unfortunately, like last year, the problem is shipping. We thought we had a solution -- Toy's for Tots in CI wanted to help out, but turns out they can't. So now, Karen is on her own.

Its hard since I am not there to help. But, like last year, I am confident a solution will come. Maybe some of you out there will be part of it.

If anyone is interested in helping out, PLEASE contact me ASAP at and I'll put you in touch with Karen.

Thanks in advance....

Thursday, October 02, 2008

InfoPros for Peace!

Wow! It's been a long time since I've done an update - and yet so much has happened!

First of all, we made our visit to Bingerville to check on the internet connection a couple of weeks ago. It ended up with a pretty large group, a mix of students and teachers at my current school library connection - the International Community School of Abidjan (ICSA) and the guys who helped out with networking.

Indeed the computers were all there - but unfortunately the net wasn't working that day. That's not all. One of the computers is down due to a power problem -- those UPS stabilizers we talked about. We really need them. Without them, at any time, the computers are at risk. And the secoond stressor is a lack of air conditioning. We've got to take care of these two problems if we're going to make a go of this. Still, everyone came away from the visit excited, hopeful, and charged up. Ideas were flowing!

What's really exciting is that the students are beginning to embrace the project as their own - they've a new club called (at least for now!) the InfoPros for Peace - their mission, contribute to peace by helping libraries and computer information centers to bloom and grow. The American Library Association said it best in a recent campaign slogan for Banned Books Week - "Free People Read Freely". So today, it's Bingerville, tomorrow the 9 regions of Cote d'Ivoire! (Ok, so maybe we're a little overambitious. But, hey, you gotta start somewhere.
Why not with a grand vision?)

They also had a chance to hear from a UN Representative, who talked about activities for peace, the UN's 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and about the human rights clubs that have been formed by students around the country. It's really been a very exciting next step! We'll see what happens next....

PS: Sorry for lack of pix -- something is up with my computer and I lost them! I'll add one later...

Friday, September 05, 2008

We're Connected!

Latest news! I received a call from the director at Bingerville to let me know that the internet connection has been installed!

We're going to take a look next week, and plan for our next step -- among other things, a book drive for the library, an online library, and other online resources for students. October is International School Libraries Month, and we've got to do something special!

I have started doing some work with the American school in Abidjan, now, and in talking with some of the teachers, parents, and students there, it sounds like there is some interest in this project, too. It would be great to work together with them, and maybe the students back in the states to create some resources....Hmmm.... Maybe a community service project in the making?

I'll get back to you after we've made the visit to Bingerville. In the meantime, check out this story about peace and humanitarian efforts in schools all across Cote d'Ivoire.

I am also very inspired by the efforts of the United Nations in Cote d'Ivoire's program with the young - read this report: and if you can read French, try these:

>>L’ONUCI vous parle des DROITS DE L’HOMME

I'd love to contribute to a program like this, and I believe libraries -- school and community information centers, perhaps more accurately -- have an important part to play. Stay tuned!