Y’all…after 3.5 months in site, I have finally finalized my first project and it is one that I am super passionate about. While it is not technically a Peace Corps program goal specific project, my community and I felt it was a critical first step and first small victory.
All Peace Corps project development is about sustainability. Therefore, for the first 3 months, our mission as volunteers is to observe and ask questions as much as possible. If we come into a site and say, “Okay, now we are going to start a bank and I’m going to teach you how you need to develop economically,” no one would listen. Would you? I know I wouldn’t! I would say, “Who do you think you are for coming into MY town and telling ME what to do?”
So instead, my job has been to listen. I have talked with as many people as possible about what they would like to see in their community. I have heard about the good, bad, and ugly of Chacas and with the community leaders, we have decided how we can work together to create projects that will outlive my 2 years in site. My goal, is that the community feels pride in the work so that they don’t ever say, “The Peace Corps volunteer did this.” I want them to feel empowered and responsible for the changes, while I just throw out ideas, insight, and some extra working hands.
After talking with the government institutions, schools, and individual students, I quickly learned that many people in Chacas do not have access to books and because of this, there is no culture of reading. But, when I asked students, 9 times out of 10 they told me that they love to read. I observed that there were 2 libraries in Chacas, but the librarians said that no one ever utilizes the books. When I asked students why, they explained the libraries have the exact same hours of school. The libraries then told me that there is no money to support longer hours of operation.
A light switch was turned on in my brain. My absolute favorite part of living in Church Hill in Richmond, Virginia is the Little Free Libraries scattered around the neighborhood. I thought, why not bring this to Chacas so people have 24 hour a day access to books? I wrote a proposal and the next day presented the idea to the high school and the mayor of Chacas, and they instantly jumped on board. The mayor and the Municipality offered to finance the project and the school offered to host a book drive and donate books to contribute to the libraries.
After 2 months of coordination, building the libraries, and picking out sites, we now have 4 Little Free Libraries, or Pequeñas Bibliotecas Libres, in Chacas. We planted them with a ceremony at the high school where there were many palabras about the power of reading. I spoke about how all community economic development begins with education, which often begins with a good book. The Director of the high school closed the ceremony by saying, “Si no lees, no sabes escribir, no sabes escribir, no sabes pensar.” (If you don’t read, you don’t know how to write, if you don’t know how to write, you don’t know how to think.) Below are pictures of the project in action.