Librarian continues her bid for everyone to read

Jacinta CantatoreHarvey-Waroona Reporter
Harvey principal librarian Ruth Campbell-Hicks gets ready to fly to Vanuatu to help set up libraries to boost the country's low literacy rates.
Camera IconHarvey principal librarian Ruth Campbell-Hicks gets ready to fly to Vanuatu to help set up libraries to boost the country's low literacy rates. Credit: Jacinta Cantatore

We can all think back to our childhood and remember a book or character that changed us.

Learning to read opens doors to imaginary worlds and new information each time we turn the page.

Yet in some parts of the world, having even one book is rare.

This is something Harvey’s principal librarian Ruth Campbell-Hicks is hoping to help change in a country with one of the world’s lowest literacy levels.

The shire’s most avid literature lover is in Vanuatu at the moment to help boost literacy levels in the country by helping set up little libraries to help boost the country’s lagging literacy.

During the next two weeks Mrs Campbell-Hicks will take part in The Library Project Vanuatu, travelling to six villages in the country’s Santo Island where she will help install a small library in each.

“Our vision is to see a well resourced library installed in every school in the country,” she said.

“And helping teach the town’s residents how to run their new library with the Dewey decimal system.

“I’m so excited.

“The project organisers aim to install a library in every village in Vanuatu.”

Organisers partner with schools, churches and clubs, who have to provide a waterproof and lockable space, then coordinate with volunteers like Mrs Campbell-Hicks who travel to Vanuatu to install shelves and stock them with books.

“The group has already installed 16 libraries across Vanuatu and the literacy rate in those villages has taken off,” Mrs Campbell-Hicks said.

According to government data, Vanuatu has an adult literacy rate of about 85 per cent, compared to Australia’s 99 per cent literacy figure.

School is not compulsory in Vanuatu and may not even be available in some of the more remote areas of the country.

Mrs Campbell-Hicks said low literacy levels and low employment rates negatively impacted on the region’s potential for economic development.

“Because I’ve been to a lot of developing countries I have seen how much need there is.

“For most families, secondary schooling is a luxury they can’t afford.”

Ruth Campbell-Hicks on a volunteering trip to Cambodia in 2016, with Cambodian resident Serey Leap, 6. Photo: supplied.
Camera IconRuth Campbell-Hicks on a volunteering trip to Cambodia in 2016, with Cambodian resident Serey Leap, 6. Photo: supplied.

She has previously travelled to China, Nepal, Kenya, Ecuador, Haiti, Cambodia and Madagascar to volunteer mainly in teaching and literacy.

In another library development program she took part in, village residents loved the books so much they never returned them.

“It wasn’t because they wanted to steal them, but because even having one book in their home was so precious,” Mrs Campbell-Hicks said.

School children give Ruth Campbell-Hicks their undivided attention at an English class in Haiti in 2014.
Camera IconSchool children give Ruth Campbell-Hicks their undivided attention at an English class in Haiti in 2014. Credit: supplied

As always, Mrs Campbell-Hicks will give a community presentation about her trip and the new things she learnt.

“I love coming back and talking to schools, and to the general community, about how life is over there,” she said.

“It’s eye-opening for them to think of books and reading as something so special, such a privilege for us to have.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails