Let’s travel in time to 2006 and land in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. I was a a twenty-something Peace Corps volunteer working in rural schools, bouncing in and out of classrooms modeling non-conventional teaching practices for rural school teachers. In a wonderful twist of fate, in a town and country far away from our own native California, my life path crossed with Karen Hedrick, a soon to be retired school teacher from San Diego.
As Karen and I worked side by side for a week with elementary school children and teachers, we began to converse about our hopes and dreams for the future. While our ages separated us by generations, our commonalities were plentiful. We both shared a passion for education, culture, children and books.
Karen returned to California and I stayed in Guatemala, but our friendship and our love for books continued to grow. As she was approaching retirement from teaching as I was transitioning from the Peace Corps. We joined forces to create the first public children’s library in Santiago Atitlan. La Puerta Abierta (Open Door) Library was born!
As time passed, the library took on a life of it’s own. We began with one small reading room in the center of town, with a part time local librarian and slowly transformed into a learning center. We experimented with programs such as reading clubs, story hour, a traveling library, adult education, and early stimulation programs, most often with success, always with challenges, sometimes with mistakes we learned from.
10 years later, I am inspired, amazed and enlightened by the tiny seed of a dream that Karen and I planted in Santiago Atitlan, a project that has blossomed into a self sustaining center. La Puerta Abierta will continue to need love, support and innovation as time passes. However, I also believe that our center is capable of functioning with minimal guidance from the outside. Juanita, who began at our center as a fourteen year old scholarship student/volunteer is now the director of our school. Candelaria mentors Natik scholars in our center on Sunday mornings and teaches first grade students to read at La Puerta Abierta throughout the week. Isaias coordinates our traveling library program and visits 8 rural schools on a weekly basis. In addition to teaching kindergarten, Chonita leads our mothers’ artisan co-op on Saturday mornings. Ana runs our Mommy and Me class, and the list goes on.
Here’s to 10 years of creativity, critical thinking and literacy in Santiago Atitlan, and hoping for at least 10 more!