So this was my last attempt at volunteering in Sucre. Third time lucky.
Realising he was still in town, I’d contacted Gareth of Tourist2Townie when I had arrived into Sucre to see about a catch-up and to gain some inside info on the city. He’d already been in Sucre for a couple of months getting acquainted with the locals and volunteering at Biblioworks, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving literacy and opening educational doors through building libraries, supplying books and training librarians in the poorest communities of Bolivia.
Literacy in Bolivia at first glance doesn’t appear to be terrible. Despite the country ranking number 101 out of 183, literacy levels come in at a reported 91%, just above Peru and Brazil (90%), higher than Ecuador (84%), but falling behind Paraguay (95%), Chile (96%) and Argentina (98%).
Despite this, illiteracy in Bolivia is, however, still deemed to be a big problem that is contributing to holding the country back from developing and improving their economic situation, something that Biblioworks echo in their mission statement:
We believe that where knowledge, literacy, and learning exist, people have the resources they need to solve social issues, maintain and strengthen their cultural identities, as well as to grow their community economically.
Gareth was involved in putting things together for Biblioworks’ first ever book fair. ‘We could use all the help we could get’, he told me. I asked him to let me know the time and place. I’d be there.
Saturday 14th April, 09:00. Posters decorated the town and Plazuela San Francisco was bannered up and ready for the occasion, La Feria de La Lectura. After a breakfast of sugar dusted buñelos and a warm trojori drink at the central market, I headed over to meet with the guys from Biblioworks. By coincidence I was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt. Turns out that yellow was uniform of the day. Tuned in, oh yeah!
School children threw themselves into all elements of the event. Small groups of boys group read together, classes played literacy games and competed with each other, kids wrote and listened and got inspired. It was beautiful to see.
If I’m honest, my role on the day was pretty basic. Much of the time I photographed and videoed the activities. I gave out balloons. I handed out pens and paper to kids continuing a group story. I helped children choose books to read and then passed them on to someone who had a better grasp of Spanish. So although I again felt that I wasn’t really doing anything special or making a difference, being part of a group of volunteers felt good and as a whole we helped to make the event successful.
Hopefully some kids who might not have previously entered the world of reading and writing may now have sufficient thirst to pick up a book of their own accord or to write a story or a letter or whatever. Everyone certainly seemed to respond well. Focused concentration and big smiles punctuated the day (and I’m sure it wasn’t just the free balloons that did it).
- Portraits of A Bolivian Book Fair & The Feelings Involved (tourist2townie.com)