La Gloria, Colombia
Luis Soriano, a modest 38 year old teacher in La Gloria, Colombia, believes in the power of a book. He began his teaching career with a job reading to students, and soon realized that there was a critical education gap in the community. Many rural children lived long distances from schools, and this distance made attendance to school, and access to books, a daily challenge. Soriano, believing that access to books could begin to bridge the education gap, developed his “Biblioburro.” He began a traveling library, carrying books to isolated communities on the backs of two donkeys.
La Magdalena, an isolated region in the marshlands and hills of Colombia, was home to many bandits, guerrillas, and continual violence and strife. Amidst this turmoil, Soriano provides an opportunity to believe in more. He obtained two donkeys that were not in use in his village, and with seventy books strapped to their backs, ventures into the remote areas of the region, bringing books to the children. Twice a week Soriano travels with his donkeys, Alfa and Beto, to fifteen villages, on a rotating schedule. They tote with them hundreds of books, and not only does Soriano read to the children in the villages, but he also tutors them on homework and lends them books from his Biblioburro.
Soriano’s commitment costs him sometimes four hours of time each way as he rides his donkeys into villages, but he is consistently greeted by excitement, questions, and motivation from the children. Parents and adult learners often join in his lessons, ultimately spreading a love of books and reading throughout the community. He devotes hours and days of his time to this project, and has also suffered a fractured leg from falling off his donkey. Once he was threatened by bandits and tied to a tree while trying to lead the Biblioburro.
Despite the inherent dangers of his program, Soriano sees it as a necessary institution, fighting to bring La Magdalena opportunities. In addition to his traveling library, Soriano and his wife also built the largest free library in the region next to their home, where they house over 4,200 books available for check out.
Soriano says, “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.”