In February, six GlobalGiving donors traveled to Guatemala for a week of exploration, cultural submersion, and welcomed visits to four GlobalGiving projects. One of these projects is run by The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation, which focuses on teaching girls how to read by involving parents and hosting educational activities at 11 community-managed libraries.
After a short boat ride across Lake Atitlan, we arrived at the dock of the tiny, immaculate town of San Juan la Laguna. Tuc-tucs transported our group up the steep hill to the town center to visit the final project on our itinerary – Creating Girl Readers in Guatemala, run by the US-based Riecken Foundation. The Riecken Foundation’s mission is to provide poor communities in Central America not just with libraries, but with access to information. However, the challenging US economic climate and diminished investments over the past several years have forced the Foundation to cut back significantly on its funding of these libraries; donors through GlobalGiving are now helping to diversify the project’s sources of financial support.
The difference between what we expected – a quiet, darkened space filled with books and shhh-shing librarians – and what we experienced – a lively, bustling center of community activity – could not have been more striking! We met Israel, the center’s director, and Olga, the librarian. Books did line the walls, but in addition, computers, games, and important information about community events and activities were present. Kids of all ages were engaged in different activities – studying, playing chess, and using the computers. We participated in a fun story hour designed just for young girls, which started with singing and movement activities, then the reading of a story about “La Mariposa” (The Butterfly) in both Spanish and Quiché, and finally, an arts and crafts activity, making our own butterflies. The space was clean, bright, and well-equipped, with colorful murals and characters from the Mayan alphabet painted on the walls. We all agreed that “lib rary” was a vast understatement of the space and important role in the community played by this center.
To check out their project page go to: www.globalgiving.org/3339
And just if you’re curious about the rest of the trip and where we headed after The Riecken Foundation:
“Almost every day in Guatemala brought us to projects which are doing important work for the people of Guatemala. This is a country devastated by decades of war, which suffers all of the consequences of crushing poverty, especially in the rural areas. Although I often felt disheartened to learn of the high rates of child malnutrition and low rates of education, projects like WINGS, which promotes family planning through education and improving women's health; the vocational school being built from recycled tires and plastic bottles by Long Way Home; and the community-run lending libraries facilitated by the Riecken Foundation, were terrifically uplifting. We repeatedly met enthusiastic people committed to doing good for the poor of Guatemala in culturally sensitive ways, which was the perfect antidote to the feeling of sadness or hopelessness that comes from hearing bleak statistics and seeing people living with so little.”
To check out the other visited projects go to:
WINGS – www.globalgiving.org/2394
Long Way Home – www.globalgiving.org/2402
Pueblo a Pueblo – www.globalgiving.org/3666