Biblioburro, Knowledge on the Back of a Donkey

Do you remember that restless child from my last post that enjoyed so much learning, had an immense curiosity about everything, and went to school in a rural area, somewhere in the world? His name was David but, as we said then, this was not too important. In fact, it was so unimportant that when he grew up we find him in a village in Colombia and his current name is Luis.

As a young man, even more than when he was a child, Luis liked to let his imagination fly. One day he let it fly for quite a while, a bit farther away than usual. He dreamt that many of the books that so much had taught him and so much had made him enjoy in the past, could be taken to every corner of his country. Even to places where teachers do not arrive, parents lack the resources to pay for any kind of education and children do not usually have the opportunity to learn to read and write.

Luis decided to do everything he could to make his dream come true. He decided to become a teacher and this way, by using his books to transmit knowledge, he would offer these children a minimum of opportunities, helping them overcome illiteracy in rural areas of the country.

Luis felt that every child should have the opportunity to be the best possible citizen and to achieve this he made all possible efforts to train informed and educated people who knew their rights and obligations, who could contribute somehow to the community they belonged to and could become tomorrow’s responsible adults.

After a while he realized that students could barely do their homework since they had no books, pencils, or notebooks at home. He decided to change this too: he thought that if children had no library, he would have to make one up. He took two of his best friends; two beautiful donkeys brought up by him and named them this way: the female was called Alpha, the male Beto. Then he started collecting all the books he could find at home, the books which contained the fascinating stories that had made him dream so much in the past. He gathered 58 books, loaded them into two bags and put them on Alfa´s back. He himself jumped on Beto and thus began his journey.

Biblioburro - Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Acción Visual/Diana Arias

This was the beginning of the Biblioburro project: a walking library on eight legs which traveled all over the Colombian jungle, sometimes for more than four hours, facing the heat, humidity and the guerrillas, reaching the most remote villages with the only mission of bringing the magic of words to children.

Luis and his Biblioburro managed during his visits to make children forget for a while the often complicated situation in which they lived, opening a door to future education.

More than this, Luis has managed to bring children of the villages the ability to dream, to think that things can be different, revealing unknown worlds to them, helping them overcome their daily reality of violence. “Spectacular!” Shouts a child to a journalist interested in the history, “You cannot imagine, he is a teacher who reads stories to us, plays with us, and tells us stories”. Another child added, “he makes us draw our bad memories, but using all the colors, because also bad memories have beautiful colors.”

Something quite unexpected happened: the parents of many of these children became Luis students, their own kids taught them to read and write, expanding the scope of the project. The books became a social transformation tool in the region.

This way continued Luis for over 15 years with his project, between the jungle and the guerrillas, despite the difficulties that occurred along the way, despite losing a leg in a fall, despite the thefts and the continuing problems with the guerrillas, along with his tireless Alpha-Beto, carrying other weapons to those who only had the ones that shoot, the “intellectual weapons,” as he calls them.

This great work of the dreamy boy who became a teacher prevented many of these children from going to war, has been able to create more educated and responsible citizens, has restored hope to many individuals and, ultimately, has changed the lives of many Colombians.

Luis real name is Luis Humberto Soriano, he has been developing his work in La Gloria, in northern Colombia. He has been an inspiration to many people by the greatness of his work, has won several international awards and received donations to go ahead with his project. Today Luis carries computers with him, is still living in the Colombian Caribbean, and has over 5,000 books which will be donated to a library he is building, once he gets the necessary funds to finish it.

He has also started a new project called Biblioburrored with the aim of reaching all schools in Colombia. Education has been the main commitment of his life, and to improve it he wakes up and starts working every day.

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