Los tres amigos
Today, like every Wednesday we are going to El Cruce, the poorest neighborhood in Don Juan to bring Benito and his gang to the Library. Benito is a beautiful boy whose starking dark gaze seems to be eyelined with kohl, he is tiny, even though he just turned 9, he looks like 5, and his little brother Jairo (5) is even tinier. Benito and Jairo are going through difficult times: they lost their Dad a couple of weeks ago in a motorcycle accident (an event not uncommon among young men in this community); two years ago, their mother got sick and passed away. So things have been very rough on these kids.
But Wednesdays are different because the Library Van comes exclusive for Benito and his pals, he puffs up with self-importance because he gets to choose three or four kids who will join them to the Library. Benito always brings his cousin Oscar whose family has taken in the orphaned boys. Oscar is 10 and very smart, he has never been to school. His parents, as many others, don’t place much value in education, as a young boy, he is destined to be a farmhand or a fisherman, so they think he has no need for books. So Oscar comes to the Library to “play with books”. He was at awe when we first took him to the storage room where we keep more than 5,000 books, we gave him a small box and invited him to choose the books he wanted to browse while he was in the Library. We keep his box -as a researcher’s shelve of sorts- for him. We do this for children that have not been exposed to books, and they look forward to looking at their collection the next time they visit us.
We can tell Benito and his tiny brother are struggling, we can’t deny that their situation has no remedy: losing your parents at such a young age is an enormous abyss they will have to overcome. We can only hope that our friendship and respect will add to the joyful boyish happiness cousin Oscar exudes and his family support to help them overcome the sadness shadowing their childhood.
But I want to tell you about Oscar, he comes as one of Benito´s cheerful guests. I’m sure he is the one who is going to pull his cousins out from their sorrow. So Oscar was reading the images in his books and telling me the stories he sees in them; I was slowly introducing him to the sounds letters make and how he can draw those sounds, he was very interested. At some point, he jumps up and says he needs the bathroom . I show him the way and, reminded him to please leave the bathroom as clean as he had found it. This is a hygiene tip that some of our young patrons need. After a few minutes, Oscar comes by with a sheepish smile, “I can’t find the bucket” he says… “What do you mean the bucket?” “ how am I supposed to leave it clean if there is no water?” So I get up and walk back to the bathroom with him to show him the flushing mechanics of a toilet …
That was it: that was an Aha! moment. He jumps back in astonishment.
This was the first time a 10-year-old has ever seen a flushing toilet. Not only books but the basic hygienic commodities are outlandish to him. So yes, here in the Library we are changing lives, we are letting them know that they are entitled to basic things every child should have. But most of all, we are here for them; we can’t save them from all their problems, we can’t replace the adults that are missing or failing them. Because of your trust and your continuous support, we can still be here every day, whenever they need a friend, a respectful adult, someone that is always willing to learn with them and show them all the opportunities they have the right pursue, we are here.
Thank you again, you should know that your monthly donation is our main source of funding. You keep the water running, the lights on, the internet, and all our educational programs active. Please tell all your acquaintances about our common quest, tell them that you are doing something that makes you feel proud. This project may seem small in comparison to huge bureaucratic international NGOs; but it is precisely because of our size and nimble structure, we can react to changing circumstances. Back in 2016, with your help, we rouse from the devastation of a 7.8 earthquake, we received donated land, built a beautiful seismic-resistant bamboo library equipped with computers, printers, photographic cameras, and welcomed helpful bilingual volunteers.
Now, with the mandatory distance learning imposed by this pandemic, we strive to breach the technological gap that will leave, further behind, children that live in rural areas. Our computer campaign is receiving refurbished laptops that are entrusted to families that have 2 or 3 children in distance schooling. In this manner they can access the resources their school is sending and they can respond. The Library is open, with the necessary precautions, to assist them in a full schedule with local volunteers and all the resources. We are here to help them out in anything that they need whether it be discovering a flushing toilet or learning without pressure or shame.
Were here for them