If someone told me a year ago I would be in a pacific island working with a Solar Powered Educational Learning Library, I would never have believed it. My name is Adriana Castillo and I am a transfer student to Arizona State from the University of Puerto Rico. Since hurricane Maria hit my island last September, it was a priority to me to find a project that would give back to people in a sustainable way. My arrival to ASU had an amazing start because I got to learn about the SolarSPELL digital library project with the idea of creating a bilingual library for Puerto Rico (in English and Spanish). I volunteered to be a coordinator for the Spring semester and this Summer I was an intern for the project.
As an intern, I got to work on the project in two great phases. First, finding content for the future Puerto Rico Library and visiting Puerto Rico to see where the library was most needed. As a result, we have a collaboration with an NGO called “Agenda Ciudadana” and the University of Puerto Rico – Humacao Campus. The idea is to have a SolarSPELL center in the university and get the libraries to the primary schools in the east side of the island that was most affected by the hurricane by January 2019.
The second phase was a truly life changing experience: being part of the field trip for the Pilot Phase for the SolarSPELL Fiji library. We trained around 27 teachers and 4 Peace Corps Volunteers in three different schools during this trip to Fiji. In these trainings, I got to witness the opportunities a library can bring to students and teachers, such as new learning experiences and community engagement. During this trip, I could see the commitment the teachers had to using these new resources to help students and the community. I got to show the teachers some highlights of the library such as climate change videos, the 17 global goals, English as a second language and many useful tools the library has to offer.
The biggest highlight of this trip was for me was at the third school where we held a training, with a teacher named Ms. Reddy. After our SolarSPELL training was completed, Ms. Reddy took me to two of her classrooms where she is a teacher, and asked me to teach her students something that only I knew—I got to teach two classrooms full of students some words in Spanish! I was amazed by the memory these students had because when I left the school they were already using the words I taught them to say goodbye. They were eager to learn new languages, so now Spanish language is a resource we will consider adding for the next versions of the library. This pilot phase in Fiji will go throughout this Fall with the goal to return with an improved library (based on feedback from the pilot schools) and then train more Peace Corps Volunteers and counterparts in January 2019.
This summer I had the opportunity to see SolarSPELL in action. The field is full of challenges and when we return back is good to remember that this Solar Powered Library is giving educational resources to places we could never imagine. As I said before, maybe a year ago I wouldn’t have believed this, but now it is a reality and I can’t wait to experience more and report all the great milestones achieved by the SolarSPELL team. Don’t miss our next steps because these two libraries will have many more updates!