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Evanston Woman Determined to Keep Haiti's Needs in People's Minds

Librarian Deborah Lazar is raising money to rebuild a library in the coastal town of Petit Goave. That's gotten harder to do as the memory of the devastating earthquake two years ago starts to fade.

The only time Deborah Lazar paused during an hour-long conversation about is when asked what she felt when she heard about the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country she’d grown to love.

“To see it was devastating,” she said. “To know that people live and keep going in that is what I carry with me here.”

That is what keeps Lazar, of Evanston, motivated in her fundraising work two years after the quake that killed more than 200,00 people and left three times that many homeless. And it’s why she is on a renewed quest to remind the rest of us that the restoration work there is far from done.

“It is so important to keep Haiti in the hearts and minds of people,” she said. As a librarian at , Lazar, who lives in Evanston, has focused her efforts or raising money to rebuild the library in the coastal town of Petit Goave.

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Falling in love with Haiti

Lazar’s relationship with Haiti started during a 2009 trip there. A New Trier security guard is from Petit Goave and helped organize a trip of people from New Trier.

“I totally fell in love with Haiti and it’s beauty, and there’s a lot of beauty in the people and community,” she said.

The school started raising money for Petit Goave’s school by making it a service-learning project.

When the quake hit, Lazar learned that Petit Goave’s library had been decimated. She knew the American Library Association (ALA) was raising money for Haiti’s libraries and offered to help. Her main goal became: “How do we get the library back in Petit Goave?”

Fundraising and awareness campaign

The answer, of course, is money.

The library needs $350,000 to rebuild, which is a long way off. But a recent fundraising effort by Lazar and the ALA raised $14,000, which is enough to rent a temporary building for a year and buy materials, like shelving. Lazar also organized a recent fundraiser at Evanston’s , which raised $650.

The library had been working out of a tent, so being able to move into a building, even a temporary one, is a huge improvement, Lazar said.

And she’s spread her passion for Haiti and the Petit Goave library to others.

One such person is Katie Nelson, resource center director at in Winnetka. Nelson was a student teacher at New Trier two years ago when Lazar asked her to make a library display about Haiti.

“It stuck with me,” she said, as did Lazar’s enthusiasm. So, when Nelson got to Carlton Washburne during the last school year, she started her own fundraising efforts.

Last week, the school completed its second day-long read-a-thon, where students are encouraged to come to the library during lunch or English classes. They raise money from donations pledged for each book they read. In its two years, the school has raised nearly $4,000 for the Petit Goave library, with 300 students participating, Nelson said.

Other classes have incorporated the Haiti fundraising into their lessons. Forexample, the digital storytelling class made public service announcements about the earthquake that run in the lunchroom.

Keeping up the momentum

Even with her recent successes, Lazar knows there’s a long way to go before a new library is built. And, as time passes, it can be harder to get people motivated to care about Haiti.

“I’m not like Sean Penn or Oprah,” she said.           

Sometimes, she feels her own efforts lagging.

“It’s hard to keep momentum going, even when you’re passionate about something,” she said.

Her excitement will no doubt be buoyed by a trip she hopes to make to Petit Goave this summer. She’ll bring with her whatever books and supplies she can.

“You never go to Haiti with an empty suitcase,” she said. “But it will take a lot more than what I can pack in my suitcase.”

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Elizabeth March 19, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Ms. Lazar's commitment to Haiti, even as it has faded from the news, is admirable and invaluable to our community! Moreover, her conviction to build a library is truly special, as the space will stand in Petit Goave as a symbol of thriving and future to a people who have been for forced to concern themselves only with the tired business of survival. A beautiful and important project!

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