Early Childhood Literacy & Nutrition in Guatemala

by The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation, Inc.
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


Child User at Library (La Libertad, Guatemala)
Child User at Library (La Libertad, Guatemala)

Over than 15 million people in Guatemala, more than half (51,3%) are women, who represent 50,6% of rural population. According to Central Bank of Guatemala, 53.71% population lives in poverty conditions, and of these, approximately 13.33 % in extreme poverty. Poverty is a synonym of social exclusion (precarious access to health and education services, and overall development possibilities), and in rural areas, a gender divide: In Guatemala, poverty has a woman’s face.

Riecken Community Library Network in Guatemala, through their development and Management Business Services, promote the economic and social equity, especially of rural women. How does it do that?

o   Libraries promote women’s leadership to learn to organize themselves

o   Libraries train to women in use of internet and access information

o   Libraries promote social participation and community entrepreneurship of woman project.


All Riecken Community Libraries offer solutions to the community problems.

Based in data of National Statistical Institute[1], Young people of rural area access to a job before than urban area. In the Economically Active Population (PEA in Spanish), Rural male participation is double than Female (Male: 83.9, Female: 40.6). Almost half of rural homes depend of “Remesas” (migrants send money to their home); 80% of migrants are male son Females become heads of household but decisions depends of male because they provides to the Household Economy. This situation aggravates the relationship of dependency in the decision making process. Same statistical data of PEA, women is an unpaid family worker, so, they have not incomes or free time which they need to improve their studies.

Step by Step, Riecken Libraries in Guatemala are reducing women’s exclusion. We think  when women in rural communities strengthen their leadership skills and abilities, and are provided participation and entrepreneurship opportunities at the community level, there will be an increase in positive community development and improvement of quality of life in the communities.  When women learn to self-organize and work in a coordinated manner, they increase their community standing.   Business projects that they generate will likely be more sustainable and have greater impact, both at the level of income-generation (business centers) and health (early stimulation and nutrition, etc.).

So, Riecken Libraries are promoting the participation and leadership of rural women via community development projects (e.g., business development, political and social initiatives) in rural communities. Our activities addresses the woman in a threefold dimension:  as 1) individual, 2) as collective or organized social group, and 3) from their environment, strengthening the sense of belonging to a community. At the individual level, activities are visualized so that women can discover their inner abilities and strengths to help them confront their personal challenges through training in values, analysis, and self-reflection. As an organized social group, training will be oriented to strengthen their organizational and coordination skills, as well as teamwork, delving into values such as tolerance and respect. From the community dimension, the community library will be the institutional platform that accompanies the training process and supports women´s projects.  Its purpose is to promote values, aspirations, and skills for women leaders to develop and implement social changes.


The Riecken Foundation, operating as the Riecken Community Libraries, is a nonprofit organization that manages a network of community libraries that promote social participation and proactive citizenship.  Founded in 2000, Riecken’s community library model is entrenched in a philosophy that promotes access to essential knowledge, the development of critical thinking skills, and a commitment to lifelong learning and self-education. Each library is managed by volunteer community leaders.  The mission of the Riecken Community Libraries is to promote democracy and prosperity in Central America by awakening a spirit of discovery and social participation. 


[1] Tasa de participación: la Población Económicamente Activa (PEA) como proporción de la población en edad de trabajar (PET). (INE, ENEI 1-2013).

Women participants in a Training
Women participants in a Training


Reading Pleasure with Children
Reading Pleasure with Children

Riecken Community Libraries are proving that libraries are essential for a democratic society. The libraries are institutions where citizens are encouraged to make informed decisions and achieve their full potential. They deliver knowledge, promote critical thinking and stimulate self-education and lifelong learning. In poor communities, libraries also fulfill the role of providing a sustainable framework, with the library’s operations run by volunteers in the community. Through community leadership, important principles of development and self-government are formed.

Riecken Community Libraries distinguish themselves from similar development initiatives by the deep roots it plants in the communities where the libraries operate. Our libraries are vibrant centers supported by innovative programming, especially for children and youth. At the heart of this innovation are our librarians.

Riecken Libraries have talented librarians offering dynamic programming to engage young children, teens and adults. And you may see a common theme coming up in our newsletters – our libraries are not just about books and access to technology. They serve as community centers, a meeting ground for exciting programming, community leaders, families and more.

The community libraries also focus on the promotion of health through early childhood reading and nutrition education. This program involves pregnant women, parents and their children under six years old. In a fun and entertaining way, reading skills are combined with lessons on nutrition, such as cooking with fruits and vegetables, nutrition in general, and how to talk about nutrition with their young children.

Our library services are available to anyone who needs them. The community libraries promote a culture of transparency based on the transmission of values and strengthening of organizational skills. Youth also benefit from the libraries by gaining citizenship and leadership skills through local volunteerism.

Building Identity with Children
Building Identity with Children


Readers Families in Community Library "Windows ope
Readers Families in Community Library "Windows ope

According to the First Steps blog1, from Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents (father and mother) read aloud to their children from birth.  According to this blog, “reading fairytales not only helps children to improve their vocabulary, but to recognize figures through the illustrations, to develop their comprehension skills, and to stimulate their interest in stories books.  All this will affect their future lives, improving their analytical skills and theirs school performance”.

However, the educational and cultural reality of Latin America is characterized by a large number of people who declare that they cannot read or write; the most affected are in the northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras). Through various educational programs, Honduras and Guatemala have seen their illiteracy rates drop, but there are still many challenges to overcome. Riecken’s programs have been successfully addressing these challenges by involving civil society in the school and cultural education process, and promoting the spirit of discovery thought the joy of reading.

The Individuals, who possess the spirit of discovery, have the ability to try new things, start new projects and participate in the social life of their communities. Through reading, people can find solutions to problems and answers to their questions. Reading also encourages new ideas and creativity.  Therefore,  reading leads to discovery and the discovery leads to the prosperity.  The reading program of Riecken Community libraries creates and strengthens the habit and joy of reading in the rural communities where the libraries exist.  This program is designed to promote reading in children and adults by making reading 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.  For teenagers and adults, Book Clubs have been formed to promote reading as a social activity and a source of enjoyment and camaraderie.

Riecken’s libraries are also seen as “Bebetecas” (Libraries for babies)

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.

The Riecken Community Libraries successfully promote literacy and the reading and writing practices in rural communities. It is the ideal complement to the effort made by the formal education sector.  This integrated approach helps promote the practices of reading and writing in the life of the community. Building a literate ambience is an essential step before creating literate people. It’s also a way to help address the lack of reading skills and the environments that don’t promote literacy, which can sometimes be found in formal school settings. 2

[1] http://blogs.iadb.org/desarrollo-infantil/2014/09/05/alfabetizacion/

 [2] Openjuru, George. Adult literacy and its link to development In: DVV Internationalhttp://www.iiz-dvv.de/index.php?article_id=336&clang=3 (consultation: September 9, 2014)

New reader at the Riecken Community Library
New reader at the Riecken Community Library
The librarian training is essential to promote pro
The librarian training is essential to promote pro


A work session of childhood development reading
A work session of childhood development reading

Although and early childhood development reading program began in the libraries in 2007, in 2013 a child nutrition component was launched and offered as a preschool educational option to parents. The program was piloted in 15 community libraries:

Guatemala (Xolsacmaljá, Cabricán, Huitán, San Juan Chamelco, and La Libertad), and in Honduras (San Lucas, San Luis, El Porvenir, San Jerónimo, Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Copán Ruinas, Dulce Nombre, El Níspero, San Juan Planes, and Yorito).

This early childhood development program that links reading and nutrition is enabling communities to ward off health problems and malnutrition, strengthen the mother-child emotional bond, and guide, train and educate parents or children´s caretakers to ensure children's continuous and ongoing development.


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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
$2,938 raised of $17,500 goal
121 donations
$14,562 to go
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