In September 2003, I took a two week trip to Madagascar using my Delta Air Lines miles. Traveling solo, I had my excellent guide Jocelyn and my excellent driver Solofo, and together we traveled the whole country by air and car. When traveling by road, we would come upon various villages. At these villages, I would send the driver ahead, and Jocelyn and I would walk through the village, meet the local people, take photos, and often have a parade of children following us by the end of our “tour.”
While en route to Isalo National Park, we stopped in Ilakaka, a village in the south of Madagascar. I met René Fulgence, a teenager who spoke very good English (in a country in which French and Malagasy are primarily spoken) and we walked the village together. René was delighted at the opportunity to practice his English and briefly told me of his plans to teach English. I had not much time in this town so I gave him my email address if he wanted to speak further.
Subsequently, René contacted me and asked me to provide an English dictionary and any other English language materials to help him teach English to his compatriots. I contacted our local LexisNexis library relations people here in Chicago to see if they could provide any materials. During this query, I learned of LexisNexis Cares (part of Reed Elsevier Cares) and about their programs in developing countries (incidentally, Reed Elsevier owned some publishers of textbooks such as Harcourt Brace and Holt, Rinehart and Winston at that time, which was heartening). As I could see René had much ambition and his tutelage held much promise, I encouraged him to think big and to write a proposal requesting more than one item, to help develop some larger goals for establishing a future school.
René wrote an excellent proposal, which I forwarded to Selene Edmunds, the head of LexisNexis Cares in Dayton. Selene was greatly impressed with René’s proposal. She forwarded it around to ReedCares, but no action was taken. Selene, however, did not give up. She passed the proposal on to her contacts at the United Nations Development Office. Through this office and via the British government, René received dictionaries, English grammar books, and some novels. Additionally, LexisNexis Cares sent an additional 20-30 dictionaries. Using these resources and his own skills, René was able to provide English language instruction to students in Ilakaka. As librarians we have the ability to effect change, even if it may seem small in comparison.