Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Biblioworks in Tarabuco

On Sunday, we headed out of Sucre on a 7:30 am bus with some of the folks from Biblioworks to promote literacy and the Tarabuco library.  By 9:00, we had our tables set up in the street and a steady stream of interested customers.

I estimate that we spoke with over 100 children and adults regarding the library, its resources, and the importance of reading. Most of the people we spoke with were residents of Tarabuco who were headed to the plaza to sell their hand-made textiles at the Sunday market, although we also spoke with a number of people from surrounding areas.

Our most popular attraction was by far the stack of books we were giving out for free, courtesy of Biblioworks. Although these books are by no means expensive--they´re actually simple pamphlets made of thin 0.07 mm paper--they are still luxury items for most of the residents of Tarabuco and the surrounding countryside.

We handed out books designed for people of all ages and skill levels on a variety of topics--math, science, writing, hygiene, childbirth and childcare, solar cooking, the history of the potato, healthy relationships, and of course some pleasure reading.

Among the recipients of the books was one woman selling her wares who had thirteen children at home, a man who had walked five hours that morning to get to the market to sell his mantas, and many many children, some of whom were clearly child laborers, working on Sunday to sell goods and shine shoes.

Giving out books to people who clearly need food, water, soap, and medicine can seem counterintuitive at first. It seems that basic needs must be met before we can start worrying about knowing multiplication tables or being able to read about the animals that live in the rainforest. I like to believe, however, that all of these things are inter-related--that improved access to educational resources will result in an improved ability to seek out and obtain the other resources that we all need to live. In a world run largely by documents--laws, job applications, instruction manuals, etc.--illiteracy can be very disempowering. Indeed, it´s difficult to know one´s rights if they are only available in the written word. I believe, however, that Biblioworks and a number of other high-quality organizations are improving this situation.

Below you´ll find a few more pictures from our visit to Tarabuco.

Dona Marina, the local librarian, sits with two girls from Tarabuco outside the library.
We used a parachute game to practice math with the local children.
Ryan smiles for the camera after talking with two boys about the library´s resources.
A view of the textiles available for sale in the central plaza.
Ponchos for sale.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Weekend in Potosí

We spent last weekend in Potosí (altitude appx.13,500 feet), undoubtedly one of Bolivia´s most beautiful and complex cities. Potosí originally served as a piggy bank for the Spanish Empire, as conquistadors enslaved much of the population here to mine the silver-rich Cerro Ricco, pictured to the left (altitude appx. 15,800 feet).  According to our tour guide at Bolivia´s National Mint, over 40,000 metric tons of silver were mined from Cerro Rico during the first two centuries of Spanish rule in Potosí, and the mountain itself is shorter than it once was due to nearly-continuous mining.

The city itself is beautiful (if you can look past the car exhaust and trash, which you do after you´ve been in Bolivia for a while). Much of the architecture from the colonial period remains intact, and several of the churches are available for touring. You can even stroll along winding cobblestone roads originally designed to thwart the icy wind that blows through here at such a high altitude.

We were delighted to stumble upon a parade just after we checked into our hotel, El Turista (which was expensive but had central heating, a rarity even in chilly Potosí). One of the local high schools was celebrating its 70th anniversary with a vibrant procession of traditional costumes and masks. (I´ll upload a video if I can get a fast enough internet connection.)

Although we didn´t recognize many of the masks, our previous trip to the Museum of Folklore and Ethnography in Sucre had prepared us enough to know that each mask represents a different figure, some of whom are purely mythical while others are caricatures of real people (i.e. you´ll find gods, demons, jokers, elders, Spaniards, women who want to get pregnant, women who don´t want to get pregnant, etc. represented among the masks.)

We also toured the Museum of the National Mint, which was an operating mint through the middle of the twentieth century. Bacchus´ face smiles at you knowingly as you enter and exit the mint.  It is said to be a conquering smile directed at the Spanish after they were kicked out of Latin America.

My favorite part of the trip was by far our tour of El Museo del Convento de San Francisco--a convent built in 1547.  The highlight of the tour was the trip to the roof of the convent, where we walked atop the same orange bricks where you would have found busy nuns only a few years ago. Although this little adventure challenged yet again my fear of heights (which apparently doesn´t exist among Bolivians), it was worth it for the spectacular views of the city and of Cerro Rico.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Road to Potosí

This past weekend, Ryan and I spent a few days in Potosí, the former heart of the Spanish empire. Here are a few pics from the stunning drive from Sucre into the altiplano.

Biblioworks: ¡Vamos a Tarabuco!

Tarabuco is a small town just about 65 km from Sucre.  It takes about 1-2 hours by bus to travel to Tarabuco from Sucre, depending on traffic, the bus, and of course, the bus driver. On Sundays, this otherwise sleepy town transforms into a vibrant textile market--a popular weekend destination not only for tourists but for anyone else in need of clothing, blankets, wall hangings, or perhaps a salteña.

Despite the success of the Sunday textile market, much of the population of Tarabuco lives in extreme poverty and educational resources remain limited. Biblioworks, however, has a good working relationship with members of the Tarabuco community as well as local authorities, and the staff here will continue to support their efforts toward improved educational resources.

We´ll be at the market this Sunday working to promote reading and the Tarabuco library.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sucre - La Recoleta and Cafe Mirador

If you´re planning a trip to Sucre, it´s worth the hike (or $1 taxi ride) to get up to La Recoleta, which is nearer to the top of La Colina de Amor.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

La Paz to Sucre Via Cochabamba -- A Gorgeous Flight

I am not one to take pictures out of my plane window, but for the flight from La Paz to Sucre via Cochabamba, I made an exception. This had to be the most beautiful flight I´ve ever been on.

A Weekend of Birthdays in Sucre

This past weekend, Ryan and I attended two Bolivian birthday parties, both of which gave us the chance to get a taste of Bolivian culture. We discovered that turning seventy does not prevent one from dancing all night or from taking a flaming shot at midnight. In fact, one grandmother, who was likely in her eighties, danced much more than either of us and stayed up far longer. (The party, we were told, was still going at four am, and so was she!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Down time in Sucre

Ryan folds clothes on the roof of our apartment

Since coming to Bolivia, Ryan and I have picked up a few skills here and there--among them is the ability to wash clothes by hand.  Our first batch turned out a bit soapy, but we`ve since gotten the hang of it.  The key to a successful load of hand-washed clothes? Patience!

At least we get to enjoy the view. :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Biblioworks, Language, and Literacy

Roxana reads with a group of girls from Tomina.

Among Biblioworks` primary objectives is the improvement of literacy in rural Chuquisaca, a region where education is largely under-funded and where many (often most) live in extreme poverty. In Tarabuco, a town known primarily for its Sunday textile market, about 60% of the population lives in what is officially called extreme poverty. Among men the literacy rate is 59.56%, and among women it is only 35.75%.

The causes of these low literacy rates are complex, but they are undoubtedly tied to limited funding, the reliance on child labor caused by extreme poverty, and insufficient culturally appropriate resources. Indeed, although over 90% of the population of Tarabuco speaks Quechua as a first language, texts and classrooms rely primarily on Spanish.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Week One with Biblioworks

Biblioworks staff and librarians work on a motivation exercise

After a brief flight from La Paz to Sucre via Cochabamba, Ryan and I began our work with Biblioworks, a nonprofit organization devoted to the maintenance and creation of libraries in rural Bolivia.

Last Sunday, we met up with our new coworkers for a trip to Villa Serrano and Tomina, two of the seven locations where Biblioworks supports libraries.  Ryan and I were both struck by the enthusiasm and optimism that the Biblioworks staff members bring to their work, and we enjoyed meeting six of their seven librarians.

We spent the first two nights of our trip in a hospital in Serrano that offered the rest we needed for a busy workshop.  Our days were packed with useful information, exercises, and activities. Among the highlights was a trip to see both the mayor and the education director to try and strengthen ties between the Serrano library and the local government.

Our visit to the Director of Education in Serrano