A volunteer’s experience in Japon, our newest library

Katherine, a volunteer from the UK who has been working in our Japon library (our newest!), graciously shared the following thoughts on her experience with us: 

I spent a month in BiblioWorks’ newest library in Barrio Japon, a suburb of Sucre. My arrival had been perfectly organised by the volunteer coordinator who had helped me to find somewhere to stay and met me on my arrival in Sucre equipped with advice for getting around the city and recommendations for restaurants, markets and much more.

On my first day in the library I was joined by the volunteer co-ordinator and another volunteer who was visiting Sucre and would join me for the first few days.

The library is open weekdays between 2:30pm and 5:30pm which is after the Bolivian school day. The kids seemed immediately excited upon our arrival, which I would quickly learn was their normal reaction to the opening of the library for the afternoon, it was not uncommon for me to arrive to find a number of them eagerly waiting for me to open the library. The arrival of new professores is also an exciting event for the children who are curious to hear about where the volunteers come from and why they are in Bolivia. They’re also keen to size you up to establish what your style will be (and what they can get away with). Fortunately, because the library is relatively new it is currently well stocked. However, this will not last forever given the children’s enthusiasm for making, drawing, colouring and, of course, reading!

There is no real structure to the library and what we do. I encouraged the kids to do a quiet activity – either their homework, reading or drawing for the first couple of hours and afterwards they are free to play indoors or out at the library with the toys available. The children are not obliged to attend so it is the volunteer’s role to ensure that they are engaged, enjoy the facilities that the library has to offer and want to keep using it!

The kids are a range of ages, some days children as young as 3 or 4 years come along with the oldest children being around 12 years old. With the younger children the main priority is to keep them entertained, for example, with jigsaws, reading books to them and playing games. The older children are more autonomous and will happily entertain themselves, seeking help when needed.

Activities which they particularly enjoyed were making things out of paper – such as origami animals, or cutting out shapes, especially when we could display them in the library. It was great to be able to spend time one on one with the children reading with them or helping them to do their homework and was a great opportunity for me to improve my Spanish. Some of the children were keen to learn some English so we also had some impromptu English classes so they could learn common phrases and the names of the things we used in the library.

Usually the kids would choose 5 people to be ‘Encargadas’ each day who I would ask to complete the register and to help tidy up the library. They are always happy to do this, often if they saw me tidying or cleaning the library they would be keen to get involved. It is important for the children to understand that they need to look after the library if they want to keep using it.

Generally the kids can entertain themselves and find things to do and will get on with homework or reading so volunteers shouldn’t worry about planning lessons in advance and don’t need to have any teaching experience – just an imagination and a sense of humour (and some Spanish, although you’ll definitely learn the important stuff quickly)!

Sucre is a lovely city in which to spend a month with lots of cultural highlights, outdoor activities and of course fiestas! With the library only being open in the afternoon it presented a great opportunity to explore the city’s many museums, parks, mercados and restaurants. I also took advantage of the opportunity to improve my Spanish with extremely reasonably priced Spanish classes. On days off I was fortunate to be able to visit Potosi, Presto and El Palmar.

I am grateful for the opportunity BiblioWorks gave me to immerse myself in Bolivian culture and participate in a rewarding experience.  You have access to a network of volunteers as well as Maritza, Magali and Jovanna who work in the office if you ever need any advice or assistance. I would recommend volunteering with BiblioWorks for any amount of time to anyone visiting Sucre or looking to stay on a long term basis, it is certainly an experience from which you get back as much as you put in, if not more.