The Book Mule

By Bryan Toporek — March 01, 2010 1 min read
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It’s not every day that you see a man and 100 books riding for hours on a donkey. For children in rural Colombia, South America, it happens twice a week.

Luis Soriano, a primary school teacher in Colombia, has been spending his free time on his “biblioburro”—a mobile library of 120 books on a donkey—to help fight illiteracy in rural areas of Colombia since 1990.

“In [rural] regions, a child must walk or ride a donkey for up to 40 minutes to reach the closest schools,” Soriano said. “The children have very few opportunities to go to secondary school. ...There are [few] teachers that would like to teach in the countryside.”

At the beginning of his teaching career, Soriano noticed that children from rural areas seemed to be having more difficulties than the other students, largely due to illiterate parents and an inability to access books. Soriano took matters into his own hands, saddling up two unused donkeys at his house with books, “because they can carry a heavy load.”

Every Wednesday at dusk and Saturday at dawn, Soriano hops on the back of a donkey named Alfa, followed by second donkey Beto, who’s carrying additional books and a sitting blanket, and the biblioburro caravan heads off to select villages.

“You can just see that the kids are excited when they see the biblioburro coming this way. It makes them happy that he continues to come,” said Dairo Holguin, 34, who has two children that participate in the program. “For us, his program complements what the children learn in school. The books they do not have access to ... they get from the biblioburro.”

Soriano visits 15 villages on a rotating basis, and has logged nearly 4,000 hours riding his donkeys to the villages. While the biblioburro has its drawbacks—Soriano fractured his leg in 2008 after falling off one of the donkeys—he’s helped over 4,000 kids in the past 20 years and doesn’t plan on stopping.

“For us teachers, it’s an educational triumph, and for the parents [it’s] a great satisfaction when a child learns how to read. That’s how a community changes and the child becomes a good citizen and a useful person,” Soriano said. “Literature is how we connect them with the world.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.