This is an inspiring tale of two donkeys, a library, and a very dedicated teacher. Each Wednesday and Saturday a man hops onto a donkey and its companion to travel for four to eight hours to visit up to fifteen remote villages in the abandoned countryside of Magdalena, Colombia. Meet Luis Soriano, a primary school teacher, and his biblioburros, Alfa and Beto. Each of the donkeys carries a saddle loaded with books (up to a combined total of 120) and a sitting blanket to visit the children of these villages.
During his teaching career, Soriano noted that students who lived in remote villages had difficulty reading and learning, largely because parents were illiterate and there was no access to books. Soriano’s epiphany occurred in 1990, when he saw two unemployed donkeys and realized he could place saddles on them to carry books, bringing textbooks and literature to the children. Soriano explains how critical the biblioburro is for these communities: “In [remote rural] regions, a child must walk or ride a donkey for up to 40 minutes to reach the closest schools. The children have very few opportunities to go to secondary school. There are [few] teachers that would like to teach in the countryside.” Soriano’s adorable mobile library is the perfect solution.
As he approaches the village after a long, arduous ride, Soriano and his biblioburro are greeted by 40 to 50 children, eager to learn how to read, opening the doors to wondrous new worlds. In addition to teaching the children how to read, Soriano prepares lessons about history, geography, and classic stories. Since the program began, the biblioburro has served more than 5,000 children. A mother, whose children benefit from the biblioburro expressed her appreciation: “You can just see that the kids are excited when they see the biblioburro coming this way. It makes them happy that he continues to come. For us, his program complements what the children learn in school. The books they do not have access to they get from the biblioburro.”
Soriano’s dedication to educating children through his biblioburro has inspired people and libraries around the globe to donate critically-needed funds and more than 4,200 books to the program. Soriano and his wife have built a library next to their home with those donations. The library is now the largest free library in Magdalena.
Traveling through remote valleys takes it toll on Soriano, now 43 years old. He has traveled thousands of miles, more than 5,000 hours, and has sustained several major injuries (attacked by bandits in 2006, a fractured leg in 2008, and a leg amputation due to an accident with one of the donkeys in 2012).
For any teacher of bibliophile, Soriano is truly an inspiration. With two old, but hard-working donkeys, he proves that you do not need expensive technology and the internet to teach — you just need passion, persistence, and dedication — and a little help from supporters. Soriano adds, “For us teachers, it’s an educational triumph, and for the parents [it’s] a great satisfaction when a child learns how to read. That’s how a community changes and the child becomes a good citizen and a useful person. Literature is how we connect them with the world.”
For further reading: www.fundacionbiblioburro.com