Submitted by Jon Walker, Executive Director, Pueblo City-County Library District
PCCLD currently is taking final steps constructing three new libraries in underserved areas of our county. As we count down the days until these new libraries open to the public, I recently had a unique opportunity to see this effort in a different light.
In July, I worked onsite in a remote village in Guatemala with a group helping build a new community library. I learned many things there, including what we take for granted here in our community can be a luxury somewhere else.
Guatemala is located in a historically rich region, where the indigenous Maya civilization dates back more than two-thousand years with a written language, beautiful works of art, sophisticated practices in mathematics and astronomy, advanced architectural and construction techniques and more. Today, however, Guatemala is a poor country where individual families possess only about five percent of the earning power compared with the typical household in the USA. The people of Guatemala were long subjugated by the Spanish and more recently the area was torn by civil war for nearly forty years from 1960 until the late 1990s. The country’s economy today principally is tied to agriculture and textiles, but it lacks some basic modern infrastructure such as reliable electricity, available machinery and potable water. When peace finally came to Guatemala, many citizens for the first time were guaranteed certain basic rights that we accept as a given in the USA, such as access to public education that only recently has become available to most citizens there through sixth grade.
Today, with peace in their nation, there are significant efforts underway to modernize Guatemala. This includes work to establish schools and libraries. My recent time there—along with members of the Pueblo Rotary Club and others—was part of a much bigger effort to provide the citizens of the area with improved access to education, information and literacy.
We worked mainly on preliminary construction of a library in Panimachivac, a community located in the distant highlands of the country, but we also visited the site of a recently completed community library that was a year in the making in the village of La Loma. Almost all work there is done by hand with very little machinery and only basic tools. Our USA team worked on the library during the day, and we were joined by villagers in the late afternoon as they returned from their daily toil in neighboring agricultural fields. Our effort was coordinated by PAVA, an in-country non-profit organization dedicated to helping the people of Guatemala.
I could not help but compare my daily life in Pueblo with the locals I worked alongside in Panimachivac and met in La Loma. Many of the things that we accept as given here are luxuries there, such as indoor plumbing, motorized transportation, professional healthcare, and so on.
Even our relatively modest contribution to enable greater access to information and literacy is important. One story can help illustrate this. Only the younger generation there commonly enjoys access to education. This means older people are often illiterate. So, it is meaningful now when a young girl in the village of La Loma can take out a book from the new library there on a topic like astronomy. She had learned to read in school and took the book home to read to her father, who is illiterate. He told her that although he had seen the stars, moon and sun, he never knew until that moment beyond what he saw in the sky.
My visit to Guatemala provided me with a fresh view of the rich life and opportunities afforded us here in the USA, which are what dreams are made of in places like Panimachivac and La Loma. It reinforced for me the universal value of free and open access to information, the joy of reading, and the importance of libraries, not only here in Pueblo but also around the world.