Volunteering in Sucre, Barrio Japón

This piece was written by Aurélie, a French volunteer, who describes her experience in the library of the ‘Barrio Japón’, and gives some tips for future volunteers. 

I was a volunteer for nearly 2 months at the library of Barrio Japón. It is a poor area in the suburb of Sucre, easily accessible by bus in approximately 20 minutes from the city center.

The library is quite small: two small classrooms (one for the youngest kids, one for the eldest), a main room with 5 shelving units containing all the books, and a small IT room including 3 PCs. There is also a bathroom and a luminous patio outside which can be used for games on a sunny day (though many dogs pass by, but they’re harmless).

As for the kids, their number, gender and age will vary everyday. Hence the difficulty of planning activities suitable for all, either small or large group. Some really do come everyday, some others show up twice a week, or every 2 weeks, or even just for the last 20 minutes (the library opens Monday to Friday from 2.30pm until 5.30pm).

Most of them come from step-families, and have attention, hygiene or discipline issues due to their education or complicated life at home. It’s important to keep patience and to remain understanding and tactful. A typical afternoon consists in opening at 2.30pm and checking that all kids register in a notebook for Biblioworks’ records. After that, it’s homework time until 4pm, so we help them, check that their do it seriously (especially as some parents think they only play at the library, and also because there is a tutoring center nearby where they could send them to instead). Those who don’t have any homework, or have already finished it can read.

At 4pm, we take a short break and go outside so they can eat a bit and have some fresh air, and the last hour and a half can be used for activities, tutoring the PCs’ use (they love Paint, copying texts in Word and watching educational CD-roms), playing games. This of course depends of the number of kids present, their age, if they’ve all finished their homework… It can be very demanding to watch them all when there are 15 children spread over the 4 rooms, some being always distracted from their homework, some not understanding how to solve divisions, some asking how to use Paint, some asking for a pencil or if they can go to the toilet…

I guess the best, which I haven’t managed to do, would be to come up with a fixed activity schedule to attract kids to come (or come back). But keep in mind you may not have time or sufficient number of kids to stick to the plan. Also, you need to know that there are many games, toys and puzzles in the library, that of course the kids prefer to books, so it’s a challenge to promote reading, especially with the noise the kids can create, and the fact that they cannot borrow books to read at home.

The first steps are a bit hazardous: as the kids know that each month comes a new volunteer, not knowing them and not knowing the rules applied before, with a level in Spanish more or less good, so they sometimes try to take advantage of it, by asking things they know are not allowed (like taking material or books home, using the computers before 4:30 pm…).

My main tip is to be firm right from the start so that you are respected. Ask for “hello”, “please”, “thank you” and don’t let them help themselves in the stationary shelf or play loudly before 4pm. I would say these are the most basics but most important rules. If you apply them, you will really enjoy the best side of these kids and help them in the best conditions possible.

Though this experience was been challenging, I have really enjoyed the contact with these authentic and spontaneous kids. Some have really touched my heart and I do hope the best for them. I can only wish I have had a small impact in their life just like they did in mine.

– Aurélie

Volunteer helps inaugurate the ‘Hygiene Corner’ in the library of Presto

This piece was written by Melissa Knell, an American volunteer who spent her time at the library of Presto.

“This week in the library has been full of playing hangman, doing the YMCA & Macarena, teaching the kids English, making origami and reading short stories! It’s been nice because there hasn’t been more than 10 kids in the library at one time, so I’ve been able to have more one on one time with a lot of them or small group sessions. A few of the students are super excited about learning English and like to take colorful notes on all the new words I’m teaching them. This week we went over colors, good morning/afternoon/night, and lots of animals. Usually there’s a handful of students doing their own thing during the English lessons, and then a handful who are very focused and ready to learn. There are a few younger brothers and sisters that are only 2 or 3 years old that are happy doing puzzles and playing with some of the building blocks. I’m happy if the students are happy!”

My experience volunteering as a librarian in Presto, Bolivia was full of highs and lows, successes and challenges, and good and bad days. Presto is a small town made up of around 2,000 people, and located a 2-3 hour bus ride northeast of Sucre, Bolivia. Each day in Presto was a new adventure. On the day I was set to open the library I got a call from my supervisor saying the library was going to be moved to a new location. I quickly learned that I had to be prepared for any situation, and have patience for when things did not go as planned.

My first day in the library was a whirlwind. It was myself and 30 to 40 students that were coming and going constantly throughout the 4 hours. The students were thrilled that the library was open again and spent the afternoon drawing, playing chess, reading, and doing puzzles until it was time to go home. Throughout my 2 months at the library different students would come and go. The students had 4 weeks of vacation from school while I was there, and during these weeks there were fewer kids at the library, which allowed me to do more one on one reading with students. I also got to know the students that were coming consistently during the vacation weeks. This allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with each of them.

After a few weeks went by, the people in the town were also getting to know me, as I was getting to know them too. Each day there were less stares, and more friendly greetings of ‘buen día, buenas tardes, buenas noches.’ I was the only person who spoke English in the town, therefore I was forced to speak Spanish whenever I was out and about. This made me want to go out and talk to people, in order to use my Spanish and to feel more comfortable in the town.

I quickly picked up the Bolivian way of speaking Spanish, and even learned some words in their indigenous language of Quechua. By the end of my two months, the local restaurant owner, greeted me with “Hola amiga!”, whenever I ate there for lunch. Presto had become my home.

The children with Lissi

Throughout my time in Presto, I also was fortunate to spend my mornings at the elementary school in a kindergarten and 1st grade classroom during the weeks school was in session. I taught English lessons, and assisted the teachers in whatever way they needed. This helped me adjust my expectations and plans for the library because I was able to see how the students behaved in their classes, and what kind of activities the teachers were doing. My first day in the classroom, the teacher left me with the students because she had a short meeting to attend. I took this opportunity to teach the kindergarteners “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” They loved it! I really got to know the two teachers I was helping out, and they happily welcomed me into their classrooms.

While I was there, we started “El Rincon del Aseo” (The Hygiene Corner) in the library. My supervisor, Magaly, and I worked with the local doctors, nurses and orthodontist to create a space where a handful of students are given lessons about good hygiene habits. Magaly was the main contributor to this project! She did an amazing job planning, and organizing all the meetings that took place before the inaguration and preparing all the materials.

The ending project consists of one fourth grade class will receive weekly lessons from rotating employees at the hospital about how to keep their body healthy and clean. These lessons will last through November, when the school year ends. The students will also receive materials to enforce these habits at home and share with their brothers and sisters.

The children and teachers thanking Lissi for all her hard work

I was fortunate to still be in Presto for the inauguration of the ‘Rincon del Aseo.’ This was also my last day in the library. I was given the opportunity to speak at the inauguration to the people from town hall that attended, as well as the students in the chosen 4th grade class, their teacher, the doctors who would be participating in the project, and Magaly from Biblioworks. Without Magaly this project would not have been possible. I was very nervous to be speaking in front of all these people, and of course it was all in Spanish. I was afraid I might mess up, and they wouldn’t be able to understand what I was saying. I had prepared some notes, but once I got up there I just started going.

It wasn’t until the end of the speech did I realize how much this experience meant to me. Tears started building up in my eyes, and before I knew it I was crying in front of everyone. Luckily I managed to get through everything I wanted to say. I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to live in the remote community of Presto and for the people there to accept me as one of them. I can say this was one of the hardest experiences I have been through, but I would not change anything about it. I hope to return to Presto one day, and see how the library is being utilized by other volunteers, students and teachers.

A recent volunteer from France shares her experience

Clémentine Riot volunteered with us for about a week, assisting us at one of the municipal libraries. She summarizes her experience below (translated from French).

I had only about ten days to devote to a Biblioworks library. Because of the national holiday this was reduced to 6 days.

On the 1st day, I met the nice Martha who works in the library of El Tejar (Campo close to Sucre). I helped university students and librarians to make cardboard games for the feria.

I continued this activity in Tejar with the kids after the homework. I also tried to teach them English but it was not easy as they all had different ages so a different level in English. In spite of that they were always enthusiastic and enjoyed the songs in English. I loved when they showed me their village. They were so proud to be the guides. The traditional dance course was a time of joy too, with Toto, a great teacher, very dynamic and funny.

To finish, our trip to the Castillo de la Glorieta with a guide was the cherry on the cake. The children were very happy and interested in this place so different from their daily lives. Situated just a few minutes away from their home, none of them had ever gone before! Although it was short, this experience taught me a lot and was very interesting. The children were generally curious and asked me a lot about France and my city, Paris. I was also able to question them to understand their culture and their needs. But also to observe the similarities or differences between our countries so distant.

Martha, my “binomial” at El Tejar was very attentive and received me in her family for a birthday. I hope to return one day to El Tejar.

Thank you again to Biblioworks for hosting me in a library and especially for agreeing to listen to my preferences so that the experience happens at best!




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.

Spreading the Joy of Reading in Morado K’asa


This is Jennifer, again. Like I mentioned before, my work in Bolivia involves initiating and leading a club de lectura (reading club) for the kids of Morado K’asa. About 12 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 participated in the club the first day, but the number has now risen above 20. It seems word spreads fast among the kids of the small town!READ MORE

Volunteering in Yamparaez, Bolivia

(This blog post was originally posted by Deirdre Doran on her blog Cat vs Owl. It is reposted with her permission.)

Kristen and I have been in Bolivia for a couple of weeks now. Part of the reason that we came to Bolivia is to volunteer with an organization called Biblioworks. Biblioworks is a nonprofit organization founded by a Peace Corp volunteer who started a library in the rural town of Morado K’asa.  The demand for more such libraries was high so Biblioworks has helped open 12 small, rural libraries to benefit the people of the Bolivian countryside. While we are in Bolivia we will go to three or four of these libraries near Sucre and try to promote literacy through music. The first library we visited was in the town of Yamparaez. We spent five days in this pueblo reading to the children, writing and playing songs together, and being cultural ambassadors for the USA. It was quite first week!

Deirdre 1Bienvenidos a Yamparaez! It is very common to write messages in stones on the dry, rocky hillsides around here. Yamparaez has about 1000 residents and lies around 20km outside of Sucre. Each day was an adventure getting there and back. We even managed one lift in the back of a pickup, which was great until it started to rain…READ MORE

A story from Presto

IMG_1854The bus had trundled slowly from Sucre, providing us with panoramic views of the Andes which emerge stoically from the ground and extend further than the distant horizon. We were approaching Presto, and our visitors from the States who were accompanying us to the town to see the work that we do were continuing to ask about the town, its population, but more importantly, what exactly our volunteer was doing there in the library.READ MORE

Which book would you share with a Bolivian child?

Which book would you share with a Bolivian child, if you had the chance?

We’ve been thinking about this question as we prepare for our Fourth Annual Festival of Reading here in Sucre this April. We’re busy organizing all of the books and resources that we’re going to use when we bring reading alive to the thousands of children and families on Saturday the 25th of April.

We’d love it if you could get involved with our campaign and share with our Facebook page and Twitter a picture of you reading the book you would love to share with a Bolivian child. We’ve put together a few of our favorites at the bottom of this email but would love to see YOURS.READ MORE

Allen Singleton
Featured Library: Padilla
To be inaugurated in June 2016
BiblioWorks’ 13th library
4 hours from Sucre

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