BY: ADAM THRUSH
A new social initiative has launched in Nicaragua that focuses on the organization of communal spaces for the purpose of hosting makeshift libraries in rural Nicaraguan villages. ‘Barriotecas’ (literally translated to ‘neighbourhood libraries’) simply aims to provide communities with a collection of books on a wide range of topics, in both Spanish and English, creating their own library in the process.
Founded and run by a small group of young Nicaraguan women, Barriotecas works with communities that are not only outside the scope of public investment, but also that demonstrate a strong willingness to invest in the education of their youth by adopting a library of their own. On the start of Barriotecas, founding member Flor Cajina stated that “We realized Nicaragua doesn’t have open spaces for sharing books and that it would be nice to create those spaces. We choose four communities and began organizing a local book donation campaign.”
Books are donated to Barriotecas who then arrange the inventory for each of their partner communities. The initiative utilizes the participatory method of development by meeting with potential partners (communities in need), organizing a space that the whole community has free and easy access to, and finally, by handing over the ‘Barrioteca’ to the community themselves. The community is then fully responsible for the management and maintenance of their inventory.
When asked about the importance of community ownership of the Barrioteca, Cajina said, “In our opinion, if the community members embrace the ownership of the books, they will be motivated to use them freely, carefully and responsibly. We trust their commitment to keep the libraries sustainable in the mid-long term and that they will use these new resources for their growth and development.”
With one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America and the possession of diverse landscapes, Nicaragua is quickly becoming a popular destination for travelers looking for both a safe and affordable Central American getaway. However, despite a growing economy (especially in the tourism sector), the country still lays claim to the second lowest GDP in Latin America with roughly 30 per cent of their population living under the poverty line (as of 2015). Conversely, access to education continues to increase due to development initiatives by both national and international institutions.
The connection between poverty and education was evident after visiting two partner communities outside La Concepcion and El Crucero, less than an hour away from Nicaragua’s capital of Managua. Despite living in donated temporary homes and a lack of/no access to drinking water, the youth were eager to continue their education. Unfortunately for these communities, the path to graduation can be quite rocky. Many rural communities are kilometers away from the nearest main road, meaning that many children must walk long distances just to reach the closest bus route. The cost of transportation and school supplies can be too much to handle for many families. A lack of teachers in the community, along with a social pressure to cut education short in order to work or help out the family are other factors that commonly close the door on a higher education for children. “Public education has many barriers: poverty, infrastructure, quality and resources” says Cajina. Barriotecas tries to meet the basic necessity of actually having learning material in the community itself, regardless of whether it’s to supplement an official education or continue an informal one.
“Education prevents poverty in three significant ways: increased health awareness, economic growth, and the empowerment of women. More specifically, it reduces teen pregnancies, improves earning potential, decreases gender based violence and creates new sources of income for families when women are able to work as well. All these contribute to a better quality of life,” Cajina says.
Regardless of race, class, or geographic location, people (especially children) have dreams. Barriotecas works to help fulfill these dreams despite the various hurdles. Consistent with the overall sentiment in the country, they hold the belief that added investments in social services and education now (especially for the country’s poorest) will exponentially increase their return (having an educated society) in the future.
Please check out Barriotecas online for social media and donation drop off information.