Our library developed quite by accident, and we were already collecting books, lending books, educating teachers and reaching out to children before the idea of starting a library had even occurred to us. Basically, a group of residents with backgrounds in education noticed the poor quality of schools and teaching, and the complete lack of books, both for children and adults. As educators we were well aware that the single most important factor in academic success is developing a love of reading early in life. So we started asking tourists and friends to donate books, kept them in our houses and loaned them to neighborhood children. One of our founders, Donna Tabor, was already running educational projects for the NGO Building New Hope, so with access to this donor base, the books started rolling in.
At some point early on, we heard about a woman in San Juan del Sur, about 2 hours drive from us, who had actually started a real lending library and was having loads of success lending books to children and locals. At around the same time, the Ministry of Education here in Granada somehow heard about us and invited us to participate in training sessions for first grade teachers. Through these sessions, the teachers informed us that they had no access to books, nor any money to buy them, but were very eager to start reading to their young students. So, with the few books we had, we began lending these books on a bi-weekly basis to the public school first grade teachers. That program has continued for over 7 years, to this day, and has expanded to include more grade levels and many more schools. Eventually we visited Jane Mirandette’s library in San Juan del Sur and were inspired to really open a full-fledged lending library. Miraculously, someone loaned us the space, we successfully applied for a grant for furniture and other start-up costs, and voila! so began Puedo Leer.
That’s the short version, of course, and we’ve been through many changes and expansions. The easy part has been seeing wonderful results with our members, and the positive response in the community. Surprisingly, though very few books are published in Nicaragua, getting book donations has been relatively easy: people keep bringing the books! And organizations such as the library in San Juan del Sur, and “Libros para Ninos” have provided wonderful support and access to very cheap books over the years.
So our advice to anyone with dreams of starting a library in a poor community is to connect up with any existing NGOs or organizations that might be able to help and support you, put the word out and beg for those books, and just start doing whatever you can. And if you change the life of one child, you’re doing just fine.