Written by Antonia McGrath, educate. Director and Co-Founder
During a recent trip to Honduras, the first of the educate. libraries I visited was in the La Alegria community. La Alegria is a 45 minute mototaxi ride from the town of Trinidad: down into the valley, up the main road, and then off a dirt track and up into the mountains. The village is tiny, with perhaps 400 inhabitants, and the economy is based solely on agriculture. Where there is no forest there is corn, beans, and some coffee – the staples of the local diet.
The day I visited happened to be during the first week of in-person classes the students had had in two years, thanks to the pandemic. The village school is a one-room building painted in bright green, with a row of windows across the front. The library is located in a smaller building next to the classroom, which was previously a storage space.
When I arrived, the first, second and third graders were gathered in the library. With the pandemic forcing teachers to keep group sizes small, the younger grades (1-3) were receiving classes from 8-10am and the older grades (4-6) from 10-12am. All are taught by one teacher, Profe Bessy Villeda, who is new to the community this year, having replaced the much-loved Profe Olga.
The children were gathered inside, shoes left in a jumble at the library door, and Profe Villeda was reading aloud a story about a tooth fairy.
After introducing myself, one of the mothers appeared and ushered me off for coffee and sweet breads that she had prepared. Over coffee, she told me more about the village. Things had been tough for them during the pandemic, she said, and most kids hadn’t really been doing online classes, as the village has no phone signal. The few older students who were in high school had dropped out to work, and were unlikely to reenroll this year. It was too far away to walk, and too expensive to commute every day. She herself had finished 9th grade, but only thanks to a Catholic organization that used to provide scholarships.
When I asked her about the library, she beamed with pride. “It has united us! When Walter said we had to raise 1000 lempiras (€35) as a community contribution, we thought we would never make it. Walter told us other communities did things like making and selling tamales, and we tried it and in the end we made almost 2000 lempiras!” Inspired, the mothers were now coming up with other projects that they could fundraise for themselves. I asked the two women to share their experiences in a survey, which were designed by our by our impact team to collect data on the experiences of students, parents and teachers on the library project and its creating process.
Once I had eaten an acceptable amount of sweet breads, we walked back to the school. The younger students had now been replaced by the 4-6th graders. Before heading to the library, Profe Villeda gathered them in the classroom and had them fill out surveys as well. They joked that they were being given an exam, and took the whole process very seriously.
Afterwards, they had a chance to sit and read in the library. Apart from the inauguration, it was the first time they were using it independently, and the excitement was palpable.
Profe Villeda noted that several of her students, even in the upper grades, still struggled with basic phonics and reading comprehension – thanks, in large part, to 2 years without proper classes. Yet with the new library and its resources, she told me she was determined to get them up to speed.
Up in this remote village, the library feels like an oasis. Amongst the corn and bean fields this mural-filled square of colour, filled with stories, is a testament to the community’s dedication to its future generations.