Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Case Study No. 0089: Luis Soriano Bohorquez

Library on a Donkey
Humanwire correspondent Valentina Canavesio reports on Luis Soriano Bohorquez who created the Biblioburro, or Library Donkey, in an effort to bring books and the gift of reading to the children in his community of La Gloria, Colombia.

To learn more about Luis' Biblioburro and to donate to his cause, please visit http://www.ayokaproductions.org/
Tags: Library Donkey BiblioBurro Colombia LaGloria
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[report opens with Molly Windman speaking directly to the camera]
MOLLY WINDMAN: In remote parts of the world, having access to a library is not commonplace, which is why Luis Soriano Bohorquez created the Biblioburro, or Library Donkey, in an effort to bring books and the gift of reading to the children in his community. Humanwire correspondent Valentina Canavesio reports from La Gloria, Colombia.
[cut to La Gloria, Colombia, as Luis address a group of gathering children while setting up his mobile library]
LUIS: [translated] Good afternoon kids, how are you?
CHILDREN: [translated] Good!
LUIS: [in voice-over] My name is Luis Soriano Bohorquez. I'm a teacher at the mixed school in La Gloria, which is part of the Nueva Granada department.
[cut to Luis waving the cameraman into his home]
LUIS: [translated] I invite you to come into my house!
[cut to inside a room in Luis' home, filled to the brim with boxes of books]
LUIS: [translated] This is my house, where the library functions, where I have 3480 books stored. Stored in boxes, in compartments. I have boxes also stored in my friends' houses, otherwise there wouldn't be room for me and the books.
[cut to Luis sitting in the center of the room]
LUIS: [translated] Today I have to bring a book to Santa Isabel village. I was looking for it, but it has been impossible for me to find. I know I have it, but because of the way the books are stored, it is difficult for me. I would have to bring everything down, because it might be in the bottom boxes, but I have to bring it to them. It is the duty of the library to fulfill the kids' requests. So this afternoon, I will take the time to find it and satisfy the kids.
[cut to Luis loading his books onto the donkey]
LUIS: [translated] Alfa carries practically the whole library. We carry 120 books on this library, for the joy and benefit of the farm kids. We have journeys of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 kilometers ... up to 11. That's 8 hours (roundtrip) on the donkey.
[cut to Luis riding his donkey down the road]
LUIS: [in voice-over] I began this project about 10 years ago with the intent of helping my students complete their homework at home because they didn't have books in their home! They couldn't do research, homework, nothing!
[cut back to Luis talking to the children]
LUIS: [translated] Those who need to do their homework, I'm here to help, and those who are here to see the books and to read, here they are. You can take the books.
[cut to various children being interviewed by the cameraman]
BOY: [translated] I'm very happy that the teacher brings us these books and makes us read.
GIRL: [translated] It's very good, because of the books, and he reads us stories and helps us with the homework.
BOY: [translated] It's important because when your parents ask you to read them a letter that they don't understand, you can read it to them.
[cut to Luis riding his donkey down the street, then setting up his library in another town with another group of children]
LUIS: [translated] You're going to tell me what you are reading, I'll come and ask you.
[cut back to Luis' home, as he speaks directly to the camera]
LUIS: [translated] With the Biblioburro, we are fighting what we call the farmer's ignorance. In a book we can find cities, cultures, rights, duties. A child that we educate today with the Biblioburro, is a child to whom we are teaching rights, duties and commitments. And a child who knows his rights, his duties and commitments, is a child informed to say no to war. We are building Colombians of the future, in 15 years, intellectual Colombians.
[cut to Luis standing in front of an empty building and speaking directly to the camera]
LUIS: [translated] I am in front of the space where my library will be, and which I have been building for five years along with Diana, my wife. We have built it with our own hands, and it's the first library that will ever be built here, for the joy and pleasure of literature by the kids, which there are approximately 200 living here. This is the space we will have here, it is the reading space, and I know that with the help of the many who want to partner with us on this project, we are going to complete it.
[more footage of Luis riding his donkey is shown, then cut to Luis speaking directly to the camera]
LUIS: [translated] It's my life's commitment to be useful to the community that I belong to, to have a space where everyone knows we live a good life here, and that there is no violence, and that La Gloria is exactly that ... a glory.


From nytimes.com:

October 20, 2008
Acclaimed Colombian Institution Has 4,800 Books and 10 Legs

LA GLORIA, Colombia - In a ritual repeated nearly every weekend for the past decade here in Colombia's war-weary Caribbean hinterland, Luis Soriano gathered his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, in front of his home on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Sweating already under the unforgiving sun, he strapped pouches with the word "Biblioburro" painted in blue letters to the donkeys' backs and loaded them with an eclectic cargo of books destined for people living in the small villages beyond.

His choices included "Anaconda," the animal fable by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga that evokes Kipling's "Jungle Book"; some Time-Life picture books (on Scandinavia, Japan and the Antilles); and the Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.

"I started out with 70 books, and now I have a collection of more than 4,800," said Mr. Soriano, 36, a primary school teacher who lives in a small house here with his wife and three children, with books piled to the ceilings.

"This began as a necessity; then it became an obligation; and after that a custom," he explained, squinting at the hills undulating into the horizon. "Now," he said, "it is an institution."

A whimsical riff on the bookmobile, Mr. Soriano's Biblioburro is a small institution: one man and two donkeys. He created it out of the simple belief that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region, and perhaps Colombia.

In doing so, Mr. Soriano has emerged as the best-known resident of La Gloria, a town that feels even farther removed from the rhythms of the wider world than is Aracataca, the inspiration for the setting of the epic "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another of the region's native sons.

Unlike Mr. Garcia Marquez, who lives in Mexico City, Mr. Soriano has never traveled outside Colombia - but he remains dedicated to bringing its people a touch of the outside world. His project has won acclaim from the nation's literacy specialists and is the subject of a new documentary by a Colombian filmmaker, Carlos Rendón Zipaguata.

The idea came to him, he said, after he witnessed as a young teacher the transformative power of reading among his pupils, who were born into conflict even more intense than when he was a child.

The violence by bandit groups was so bad when he was young that his parents sent him to live with his grandmother in the nearby city of Valledupar, near the Venezuelan border. He returned at age 16 with a high school degree and got a job teaching reading to schoolchildren.

By the time he was in his 20s, Colombia's long internal war had drawn paramilitary bands to the lawless marshlands and hills surrounding La Gloria, leading to clashes with guerrillas and intimidation of the local population by both groups.

Into that violence, which has since ebbed, Mr. Soriano ventured with his donkeys, taking with him a few reading textbooks, encyclopedia volumes and novels from his small personal library. At stops along the way, children still await the teacher in groups, to hear him read from the books he brings before they can borrow them.

A breakthrough came several years ago when he heard excerpts over the radio of a novel, "The Ballad of Maria Abdala," by Juan Gossain, a Colombian journalist and writer. Mr. Soriano wrote a letter to the author, asking him to lend a copy of the book to the Biblioburro.

After Mr. Gossain broadcast details of Mr. Soriano's project on his radio program, book donations poured in from throughout Colombia. A local financial institution, Cajamag, provided some financing for the construction of a small library next to his home, but the project remains only half-finished for lack of funds.

There is little money left over for such luxuries on his teacher's salary of $350 a month. Already the family's budget is so tight that he and his wife, Diana, opened a small restaurant, La Cosa Politica, two years ago to help make ends meet.

Even among the restaurant's clientele, mainly ranch hands and truck drivers with little formal education, the bespectacled Mr. Soriano sees potential bibliophiles. On the wall above tables laid out with grilled meat and fried plantains, he posts pages from Hoy Diario, the region's daily newspaper, and prods diners into discussions about current events.

"We can take political talk only so far, of course," he said, referring to the looming threat of retaliation from the paramilitary groups, which have effectively defeated the guerrillas in this part of northern Colombia. "I learned that if I interest just one person in reading a mundane news item - say, about the rising price of rice - then that's a step forward."

Such victories keep Mr. Soriano going, despite the challenges that come with running the Biblioburro.

He fractured his left leg in a fall from one of his burros in July, leaving him with a limp. And some of his readers like the books they borrow so much that they fail to return them.

Two books that vanished not long ago: an illustrated sex education manual, and a copy of "Like Water for Chocolate," the Mexican writer Laura Esquivel's novel about food and love in a traditional Mexican family.

And there are dangers inherent to venturing into the backlands around La Gloria. Two years ago, Mr. Soriano said, bandits surprised him at a river crossing, found that he carried almost no money, and tied him to a tree. They stole one item from his book pouch: "Brida," the story of an Irish girl and her search for knowledge, by the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho.

"For some reason, Paulo Coelho is at the top of everyone's list of favorites," said Mr. Soriano, hiding a grin under the shade of his sombrero vueltiao, the elaborately woven cowboy hat popular in Colombia's interior.

On a trip this month into the rutted hills, where about 300 people regularly borrow books from him, he reminisced about a visit to the National Library in the capital, Bogota, where he was stunned by the building's immense collection and its Art Deco design.

"I felt so ordinary in Bogota," Mr. Soriano said. "My place is here."

At times, on the remote landscape dotted with guayacan trees, it was hard to tell whether beast or man was in control. Once, Mr. Soriano lost his patience, trying to coax his stubborn donkeys to cross a stream.

Still, it was clear why Mr. Soriano does what he does.

In the village of El Brasil, Ingrid Ospina, 18, leafed through a copy of "Margarita," the classic book of poetry by Rubén Dario of Nicaragua, and began to read aloud.

She went beyond where the heavens are

and to the moon said, au revoir.

How naughty to have flown so far

without the permission of Papa.

"That is so beautiful, Maestro," Ms. Ospina said to the teacher. "When are you coming back?"

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