SEATTLE — With his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, school teacher Luis Soriano takes books to rural children in Colombian villages every Wednesday at dusk and every Saturday at dawn. Since 1990, Luis Soriano and the Biblioburro have changed the lives of Colombian children and parents by using literature to expose them to an array of foreign perspectives that otherwise would have been lost.
The name of the program is deliberate. “Biblio” is a Greek root that means “book,” and “burro” is Spanish for “donkey.” Illiteracy is a rampant problem in many rural Colombian villages. Soriano visited about 15 villages and noticed that children and adults lacked books to read. Seeing a need, he decided to deliver 70 books he had found in street markets and bazaars to people in rural villages.
The program has grown immensely since its start, due in large part to media exposure and generous donations. Soriano’s website states there are now close to 5,400 books available to children and adults at the Biblioburro’s non-mobile library in La Gloria. In addition, Biblioburro has also created Biblioburro Digital to give free access to the internet, with tutoring available to children and adults. In 2010, CNN reported that the program had impacted the lives of more than 4,000 children. Soriano told CNN that countless parents and other adult learners have also benefited from the program.
While there have been many gains, there have certainly been challenges. At the non-mobile location, there are not enough shelves for books, so many lie on the floor. Also, there are broken tables, leaks and the library needs cleaning. Sometimes community readings are postponed because children work rather than attend school. Additionally, several nearby villages lack running water — so families are more concerned with accessing basic needs for survival. Reading takes a backseat.
In the future, Soriano and his team of volunteers would like to expand their English book collection. Many of the books children read in the program are written in Spanish. The team would like to put more English books in their hands to promote bilingualism and increase understanding of the outside world.
Luis Soriano and the Biblioburro fight poverty in their community with knowledge. To learn more about this groundbreaking program check out the organization’s Facebook page or official website.
– Jeanine Thomas