Bringing Books to Bolivia

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By Virginia Freedman, North Carolina Chapter

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When the North Carolina Chapter of Partners of the Americas received a donation of 400 children’s books in Spanish, they were left with one question: “What could we do with all of these books?”

The donation from the Appalachian State University’s library department launched an influential project led by the NC Chapter. In July 2018, after receiving a Pixote Literacy Fund grant, the NC Chapter traveled to Bolivia with four full suitcases of books to teach literacy workshops at Centro De Apoyo Integral Carcelario y Communitario (CAICC) and Biblioteca Thurchapitas, the only children’s library in Bolivia.

While the NC Chapter has transported 10-15 books at a time to Biblioteca Thurchapitas, CAICC, and a children's hospital in the past, it has never donated hundreds of books at once. 

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Biblioteca Thurchapitas, the only public library serving children specifically in Cochabamba in a city with hundreds of thousands of people, is crucial to improving the literacy of Bolivians. Most reading is done on Kindles due to the dearth of physical books. The library has now collected more than 5,000 books. Many teachers who work at the library check out the books and will pass out satchels of them out to households in remote villages near Cochabamba or will deliver them to children who pass them at bus stops. 

This library is the lifelong work of the Bolivian writer Gaby Vallejo and former teachers in Bolivia. It forms part of the network created by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), a non-profit organization that holds international congresses to promote children’s literacy and reading development. In Cochabamba, Biblioteca Thurchapitas provides an afterschool program in which the kids go out in public plazas and ask adults if they can read their favorite books to them. 

With the support of the Cochabamba Chapter, Bolivia Chapter, and Partners’ Pixote Literacy Fund Grant, NC Partners was able to transport all of the donated books, including Spanish language classics such as El Sancocho del Sabado, to Bolivia. Reading Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak left the children in wonder. 

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The books were first used in writing workshops and then distributed to rural households and local schools, including the CAICC. The CAICC, which translates to the Center for Comprehensive Community Prison Care, is a non-profit institution that provides schooling for children who live in female prisons. In Bolivia, there is no social service infrastructure to house these children and the government only pays for their meals. CAICC provides a daytime respite for the children who have to live in jails. 

Like many things in Bolivia, CAICC is fully volunteer-run and school supplies are by donations only. The children are appreciative of the attention — they receive food, learn life skills like housekeeping, and have access to comprehensive medical care. CAICC continues to run their program through donations and if you are interested in donating or learning more, please visit their website

The trip culminated with an official presentation of the books and a reading from the children, organized by Cochabamba Chapter President, Daniela Balderrama Rocha. The children from Biblioteca Thurchapitas brought their favorite books to the event, which was held at the local language school in Cochabamba — Centro Boliviano Americano.

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The children were excited to be invited to the presentation and share their favorite books with audience members. One student even volunteered to tell the story of Christopher Columbus in Spanish and Quechua. 

To share their appreciation, a teacher and a student wrote and read a thank you note for the books. The note said, in Spanish, “Dear Tia, I was so excited you came today and liked the books. Thank you very much. Here is a flower for you. Please don't forget us. Love, Carlos.”

Finally, as the recipient of the Pixote Literacy Fund Grant, I was presented an award and given the opportunity to chronicle the inspirational story behind getting the books to Bolivia.

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Update: The remaining funds for the Pixote Grant will be used by Partners Campus Cochabamba to work with children who have been or are seriously ill or injured and have been abandoned by their parents. The children have been discharged from the hospital and now live in the "Casa de los Ninos." The property supplies free apartments for poor people in exchange for taking care of one or two of the abandoned children. The Casa has a small library on the second floor of the clinic for the children to read. The Partners Campus volunteers visit at least once a week and organize games, tutor kids, and work in the on-site clinic.

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