Nook, Nookcolor, Kindle, iPad, MP3, iPod, ...“I think I want to upgrade from my iPod,” Claire expressed. “I want an iPod touch!”
It wasn’t an easy decision for Claire. My teenage daughter debated which of the electronic upgrades would best suit her dream birthday gift.
Claire and I spent a great deal of time looking, touching, and testing e-readers, tablets, and music players. The gadgets were fascinating, I have to admit.
That weekend, I had observed Claire intently playing with her iPod and Smart phone, as I surfed the internet, caught up reviewing blog posts, replied to emails, and read the news on my laptop. I read the national and international news, including online news from my hometown—Cali, Colombia.
As I read El Pais, the most popular newspaper in Cali, one particular article caught my attention.
Biblioghetto, Literature in the middle of poverty in barrio Petecuy. *
It was the story of a young writer who decided to devote his time and heart to teach reading and writing to children and youngsters in an impoverished neighborhood—or barrio—in Cali. It was the brainchild of Gustavo Andrés Gutiérrez, a 25-year old native of the same neighborhood.
Gustavo passionately read books since an early age. He was so fascinated with reading, that he easily devoured four books a week. Later, he ventured into writing himself and became a novelist.
The article related how Gustavo, after a river flooded the neighborhood, asked himself: “What’s my social responsibility as a writer? ‘To introduce children to literature,’ I answered to myself. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Petecuy, along with other neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, have gained a reputation of barrios with high rates of illiteracy among children and youngsters, along with their more dark reputation of rampant crime, drug problems and gang-related violence.
“The only way to keep away from violence in the neighborhood is to feel passion for something. Books have been my passion, since I was a kid,” Gustavo said. And his dream of drawing children and books closer together was possible when his concept of Biblioguetto emerged.
Biblioghetto is a mobile library project. Every weekend, Gustavo and a group of friends dedicated to his vision, sit at the park, street corners and by the river dam, to delight children and teenagers with readings from books and drawing pictures.
The project also includes workshops in reading and writing, story-telling, theater, drafting community newsletters, and organizing art festivals.
Some of the young participants declared that Biblioghetto helped take them away from illegal drugs and gang activities. And more amazingly, it has been reported that rival gangs have met at the barrio festivals without any confrontation or violence, and interacted in a friendly manner.
As I finished reading the article, my heart pounded. I fell into reflection. I thought about the visit to the electronics store and the multiple choices Claire had before her. Then my thoughts switched to the children and youngsters in Petecuy, and many other parts of the third world that don’t have access to the most basic form of mass communication: the written word.
Anxious to express my admiration for his impressive project, I contacted Gustavo. He kindly replied to me, giving me consent to post the story about Biblioghetto, and to make his information available to anyone who may want to contact him. His campaign is for a donation of notepads, books, pens and pencils.
In an era where electronic communication is the norm, a voice asking for the basics of pen and paper to open the world for illiterate children and teenagers becomes a call awakening me.
Gustavo concluded: “We want to promote our project and find national and international support. Thanks for your encouragement.”
The reporter of the story ended the article with the most mesmerizing thought:
“Gustavo doesn’t know, but he has an unsuspected power. He changes people’s looks in Petecuy. He, the writer, who uses literature on the streets and parks, has de-activated people’s rage.”
Photo:José Luis Guzmán / El Pais