Vicarious Volunteering: BiblioWorks, Sucre, Bolivia

BiblioWorks libraries promote literacy and education near Sucre, BoliviaNext up for all of you vicarious volunteers, BiblioWorks has opened eight libraries in the rural countryside near Sucre, Bolivia. In addition to promoting literacy and education, the libraries have become much-needed community centers. We first visited Sucre to trek for a cause with Condor Trekkers. Now, we return to shine a well-deserved spotlight on BiblioWorks.

Special thanks to BiblioWorks volunteer Polly for her informative article. Here’s Polly:

Seven years ago, Megan Sherar, a Peace Corps volunteer from the US was working in the tiny village of Morado K’asa about two and half hours from Sucre, Bolivia. The teenagers of Morado K’asa asked Megan over and over about the possibility of building a library in their community, and so her brother Brendan came to visit the village to find out more. As CEO of Biblio.com, the largest independent book marketplace on the Internet, he was already knowledgeable about the world of reading and books, and their importance in establishing and encouraging literacy. Fortunately for everyone, Brendan fell in love with Bolivia and with his support the people of Morado K’asa were able to build their library, and at the same time BiblioWorks was effectively started.

Bolivian Women Gather at a BiblioWorks LibrarySince then, BiblioWorks has continued its work developing library services for local communities, and can now proudly boast the existence of seven more rural libraries in and around Sucre.

However, for BiblioWorks, this work is about more than just opening libraries where previously there were none – it’s about establishing a place that will lead to real development and progress for the whole community. All of BiblioWorks’ libraries are in villages where there is extreme poverty and literacy rates are low. Formal education systems have not been a priority and there is a great lack of resources for them, both human and material. Added to this, many children don’t actually have the chance to attend school because they are needed to help out with work at home.

Bolivian Children on Computer at BiblioWorks near Sucre, BoliviaIt is this lack of access to education and literacy that BiblioWorks aims to address. The organization was founded on the simple principle that these are both critical components for the creation and vitality of sustainable communities and cultures. It believes that where knowledge, literacy and learning exist, people have the resources they need to solve social issues, maintain and strengthen their cultural identities, as well as to grow their community economically.

BiblioWorks tries hard to make sure that all of their libraries are set up with the involvement and support of the local community. It believes that unless the community takes the library to its heart and really wants to own the project, sustaining the library independently from BiblioWorks won’t be feasible. But it can be hard to convince mayors and local officials of the need for a library if most of a village’s income comes from industries such as tourism or agricultural production, meaning that funding for education is very far down the list.

BiblioWorks outside of Sucre, Bolivia

BiblioWorks opens libraries in the beautiful countryside of Sucre, Bolivia.

There have been many frustrating times but these are easily outweighed by the successes, as any of the permanent staff or volunteers will testify. Volunteers who come to work in one of the libraries or in the office in Sucre see and hear first-hand just how much the libraries mean to the people of these communities. Previous volunteer Christine said: “I worked for a few months in the Morado K’asa library, which is the first library opened by BiblioWorks. From the moment I arrived to this beautiful, tiny, Quechua community I could tell the library was an important part of the peoples’ lives. As I worked there for a period, I realized that without this library, children, teens, teachers and community members in general would not have the opportunity to foster real community development. I could see this development happening in the library on a daily basis.”

As for the permanent BiblioWorks staff, they know that in some cases it’s difficult to imagine the village before the library was there. Matt Lynn, Project Coordinator of BiblioWorks, admits that there have certainly been many challenges, but when you see a library full of children reading and playing games, it makes it all worthwhile. “Bureaucracy, paperwork and difficult work situations in general can be overwhelming sometimes, but whenever I step into any of our libraries on any given day and see it full of smiling, happy and healthy children it makes everything we do here more than worth all of those passing frustrations.” says Matt.

Girl reads at BiblioWorks library near Sucre, BoliviaBiblioWorks would love to hear from you if you’re in Sucre and have time to spare to volunteer with them. If you have a bit more time to commit, there are always new or existing projects in the libraries in need of an extra pair of hands; alternatively help in the office with promotional and editorial work is always welcome too. Also if you wish to help out from abroad, any cash donation, large or small, is greatly appreciated and will be used to directly impact communities in need. You can donate securely through our PayPal link on our website.

(Note: when you sponsor Giving Vicariously for $3.50/month, a portion will be donated to BiblioWorks each month)

For more information about BiblioWorks:

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