Biblioteca de San Juan La Laguna
To everyone who has been waiting patiently for the first post from the LWB crew in Guatemala, sorry for the wait! I hope that this first post will satisfy your curiosity as to what we have been up to so far. We have been lucky beyond words to have such a wonderful host as Steve Mullaney. Steve is the Director of Development for the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Xela/Quetzaltenango where we are helping to develop the beginnings of a library. Originally from the United States, Steve has been working at the school for over 3 years and he has organized similar trips for volunteer groups in the past. In exchange for doing volunteer work, Steve has offered himself as our fearless tour guide showing us some of Guatemala’s most beautiful destinations such as La Laguna and the Volcano Pacaya. We have spent a lot of time discussing the current educational system in Guatemala. Reading and writing has not been made a priority by the Ministry of Education and when your family is surviving on two dollars a day (as is the case for 80% of families in Guatemala) then reading is not considered important.
This current situation makes the success of the Biblioteca Comunitaria Rija’tzuul Na’ooj de San Juan La Laguna all the more impressive. Our group visited this community library in the village of San Juan La Laguna on Friday and we were completely blown away at such a dynamic and successful library project in rural Guatemala. We received a tour from the library director who explained that although the library first began in 1990 it underwent many difficult years in which it moved several times because no building wanted to hold the library’s collection. Then in 2005, the community worked together to build a proper library building in the center of town. The community contributed both manually (the children and teenagers moved sand for construction) and financially through fundraising and donations. The library director credits the continued success of the library with the fact that the community views it as theirs since they were so instrumental in its construction. The library is also supported by the Riecken Foundation an organization with more than 60 library projects in Guatemala and Honduras and a library board made up of members of the community.
We were especially lucky to visit this library on La Dia del Libro (Book Day). The library was streaming with children who were participating in various activities including a parade around the town shouting “Reading is Knowledge”. The promotion of knowledge is especially important to the philosophy at the library in San Juan. In fact, Biblioteca Comunitaria Rija’tzuul Na’ooj literally means Community Library “Seeds of Knowledge” in the local Mayan language. In addition to promoting reading and knowledge, the library also acts as a central hub for the community. During important soceer games, the library projects the game on the inside wall of the library and people cram into the building to watch as a community.
Our group is very excited to start working tomorrow at Miguel Angel Asturias Academy and we hope that you will keep posted for the continuation of our Guatemalan adventures!