WETHERSFIELD – When Lauren Hoisl, a Wethersfield native and Peace Corps volunteer, arrived in the town of Chissano in Mozambique to teach reading in the fall of 2013, the children there had very few books to read.
By the time she left in the fall of 2015, the children had a brand-new one-room library named Biblioteca Wativa (Library of Knowledge) that was painted with a colorful map of the world, contained furnishings made from recycled crates and pallets and offered more than 800 books to read – thanks to the initiative of Ms. Hoisl and a little help from the students and parents at Corpus Christi School in Wethersfield.
“I wanted to say thank you to you guys because you helped out so much,” Ms. Hoisl told the third- through eighth-grade students who gathered on Feb. 25 at Corpus Christi School for an early Read Across America event.
“We were able to add hundreds of books to our collection, thanks to the Corpus Christi community,” Ms. Hoisl said. “When I left we had a book count of over 800.”
As a project for Read Across America in February of 2015, the students at Corpus Christi responded to Ms. Hoisl’s online request for assistance and raised $1,500 to help her purchase books for the new library that was being built for the children in Mozambique.
The 24-year-old Ms. Hoisl is a graduate of Corpus Christi School herself and went on to Wethersfield High School and Seton Hall University, where she studied economics before volunteering for the Peace Corps.
“We’re really proud of her,” said Colleen Antico, Corpus Christi director of development. “She’s a product of a Catholic education and went on to live her faith.”
“We plant a little seed and it goes a lot further,” said Karla Neville, assistant vice principal of Corpus Christi.
“I think growing up in the Catholic school system and developing a sense of service at a young age helped to shape a lot of the values that I now hold close,” Ms. Hoisl said.
When she volunteered for the Peace Corps, the young economics grad assumed she would be teaching math, but in Mozambique there was a greater need for literacy. First, she had to learn Portuguese. Then, she was asked to teach English to eighth graders at Chissano Secondary School and to teach teachers techniques for making reading interactive and fun at Chissano Primary School.
Ms. Hoisl partnered with a first-grade teacher and together they approached the school board about building a library on the grounds of the primary school. They put together a budget and applied for a grant from the Peace Corps Partnership Program.
The Student Council at Corpus Christi in Wethersfield pitched in by collecting donations to pay for a portion of the books that would complete the new library.
All of the books are in Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique, an African country that gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.
Ms. Hoisl said she worked with a Portuguese book distributor in New York City. “She helped to pick out books in various grade levels from first through eighth.”
She said she also obtained Portuguese children’s books with help from the coordinator of a community library in the capital city of Maputo.
Ms. Hoisl gave a brief PowerPoint presentation to the Corpus Christi students, telling them all about the completed library, school life and life in general in Mozambique.
After her presentation, she was peppered with nonstop questions from the curious students.
Young inquiring minds asked about the weather, mosquito-borne illness, animal attacks, food and dessert.
Older students asked questions such as, “Is there a way we can help them to live a longer life?” “Did you go to church?” and “What was your favorite thing to do there?”
In response to the question “What was your greatest experience?” she answered, “The week before I left, we had an opening ceremony for the library, and that was a special moment for me.”
“Do you think you learned anything by being there?” Ms. Hoisl was asked. She had two answers.
“I was shocked at how similar people are. People want what is best for their families and will work hard to provide for their loved ones, no matter how little they have for themselves. Children are curious and want to learn,” she said.
Ms. Hoisl said she also learned about herself during her two-year commitment. “When I went over there, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she admitted. “I’d studied economics, thought maybe I would go into business, had an interest in nutrition and health.”
Now she says she hopes to combine her newfound project management skills with her interests in economics, health and children by working one day for the United Nations’ UNICEF or for the World Health Organization. She is applying to graduate schools for a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in global health policy management.
And along the way, Ms. Hoisl continues to inspire students. Catherine Cannamela, an eighth grader and secretary of the Corpus Christi Student Council, said, “I really like seeing how someone can start where I’m at and how I can progress to all these great places.”