Early Childhood Literacy & Nutrition in Guatemala

by The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation, Inc.

For rural communities in Central America, opportunities to change the life one is born into are hard to find. But in Riecken Community Libraries, people of all ages find hope and opportunities, in places where both can sometimes be hard to find. Our libraries in Honduras and Guatemala help their communities play important roles on the bigger world stage.

For example, rural communities of the region have serious environmental problems to tackle: deforestation, forest fire, overly-aggressive agriculture, to name a few. Many Riecken Libraries give some focus to environmental issues and sustainability in their local programs.

At the library of Xolsacmalja, a vivero, or seedbed, and greenhouse has been built to produce plants needed in the area, that can help in reforestation. 

This kind of focus also provides positive influence on choices young people in the region make. One young woman of Xolsacmalja decided to study Forest Engineering after two years as a  library volunteer, during which she helped to build the seedbed and learning about the critical role of such projects to the planet. Becoming a professional in the field is now her dream. 

The Community libraries are betting that early childhood children can grow in a healthy environment, being home, school and community, the key areas where critical knowledge and values for life are acquired.
The libraries offer good infant feeding practices through reading, in coordination with health centers, responsible for the size /measurement of children and mothers as well as the diagnosis and findings in the growth of children. The interaction between mothers and parents with the child and community participation is essential.


Children at library
Children at library

For rural communities in Central America, opportunities to change the life one is born into are hard to find. But for those who learn to read and enjoy a love of books. something powerful can happen, that takes them places never dreamed of.

This "Spirit of Discovery" encourages individuals to try new things, start new projects, discuss new topics, participate in a social life beyond their four walls. The reading programs of Riecken Community libraries create and strengthen the habit and joy of reading that can help unlock all of this human potential. 

Riecken Libraries promote reading in children and adults by making it fun and accessible. Librarians, volunteers, and parents are trained on how to read aloud and story time techniques. This training and the practice of reading aloud helps children develop a positive relationship with reading from an early age.

Each Riecken Community Library:

* Provides opportunities for its visitors to connect with others in their community and the world, with books, stories, and programs relevant to each community

* Supports early childhood development and literacy, honoring cultural traditions and language

* Provides resources for families and the community to discover the world "beyond four walls" of the library

Libraries empower girls using technology
Libraries empower girls using technology


Mothers of Chiche (Guatemala) in an activity
Mothers of Chiche (Guatemala) in an activity

The Riecken Foundation believes that reading to children from an early age (0-5 years), stimulates the mind, develops language, and builds a base to ensure the success of reading in the future. The parents are childrens’ first teachers; so they need to be provided with tools and activities they can do with their families to promote reading at an early age and develop a reading habit that will continue throughout life.  Riecken’s programs are aimed develop language skills, vocabulary, pre-reading, as well as creating positive experiences with books. Parents also learn techniques and that they practice with their children.  Essentially, the community libraries promote six pre-reading skills that mother, father and baby can develop from birth:

  • Motivation to Books: sparking the interest in children to enjoy books, with the purpose of promoting an approach to them.
  • Vocabulary: in the first week of life, the baby can vocalize at the same time that mother does.
  • Becoming familiar with the writing: engage the children with reading, use exercises that show drawings, shapes, people, and animals, not only with figures but with written words.
  • Knowledge of sounds: help children acquire the ability to hear and play with sounds.
  • Narrative skills: librarians can relate stories and tales to children and help develop the skills in reading readiness.
  • Letter knowledge: the children begin to learn their first letters.

Volunteers and librarian of Riecken community library “Ventanas abiertas al futuro”, in Chiché Guatemala, are implementing this program with a nutritional focus, which offers a lot of activities to help mothers to develop their abilities in child nutrition.

In this month, 50 women are trained about the importance of good habits in nutrition and their roles in the children nutrition. Also, the library organized a conference “I’m a women and I’m important for my community” for celebrating the International Women Day.

A mother of Chiche stimulates to her child
A mother of Chiche stimulates to her child


Meeting of women at library
Meeting of women at library

In some of the poorest, most remote regions of Central America, a network of community libraries is offering opportunities for a better life for girls and women. A network of more than 60 Riecken Community Libraries provide access to information - books, dynamic programs, technology and training – since 2000 in areas that are largely underserved and poverty-stricken. Each year, these libraries serve over 400,000 villagers, over half of whom are girls and women.

 Why communities grow up with the libraries?.

  •  Riecken Community Libraries increase life’s quality of people and their democracy through social participation, free access to information (Democracy and Citizens)
  • Riecken Community Libraries improve community development through information services based on local needs. They are a toolkit to reduce the divide between Info-Rich and Info-Poor citizens (Information for Development).
  • Riecken Community Libraries are culture institutions with a responsibility about culture, literature and literacy (Culture and linguistic Diversity)
  • Riecken Community Libraries has a sustainable infrastructure for Long-Life Learning and easy access to digital contents. They help to students of all degrees in formal education (Lifelong Learning)

All Riecken Libraries are an inspiration, personal development and knowledge center for people; they are a really social facilitator which serves to the community.

With the generous donations of people like you, and our partners, we strengthen and empower girls and women though youth development projects, provide reading and writing activities that support the work of local schools, promote the importance of health for mothers and their young children, and offer programs like the Women’s Leadership Program that nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and support women-owned small businesses.

Training of Young women at library
Training of Young women at library


Ananias at Library
Ananias at Library

“I learned about colors at library”.

Riecken Community Libraries of Guatemala are a space for all.

It’s not easy to know the number of people with disabilities in Guatemala; Official data are not very accurate or current and social silence increases invisibility of this reality. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 10% of the population of the world lives with some form of physical, sensory, intellectual or mental disabilities; 2002 Population Census of Guatemala estimate is 6.2% in Guatemala. Rights of people with disabilities could be violated with several ways; lack of access to information, to free movement, to basic services such as health, education and rehabilitation, denial of opportunities of job training, employment and economic participation, social and political, even situations of abuse-physical, psychological, sexual, threats to its integrity and his life. According to UNESCO, 90% of children with disabilities don’t go to the school.

Riecken Community Libraries want to support reverse this situation. Riecken community libraries contribute to finding a solution to the social exclusion in rural communities of Guatemala.

People with disability are excluded in the community of La Libertad (Morales, Guatemala); a cause of their disability, they didn’t learn to read. One of them is a person with a mental disability and his greatest wish is to learn the colors, but also he wants to learn to read and write. Riecken Community Library of La Libertad offers a safe and comfortable space in which both are taking their first steps in learning to read, using the library computers.

Vinicio likes animals book
Vinicio likes animals book



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Organization Information

The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation, Inc.

Location: Princeton, NJ - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.riecken.org
Project Leader:
William Cartwright
Miami Springs, Florida United States

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