In certain rural areas of Colombia, children say that milk comes from cows and knowledge comes from donkeys. It sound strange, but it’s true. Thanks to an ingenious teacher who decided to change his country through grass-roots education, war-torn children are learning how to read and write.
Since he was a kid, he was attracted to books and libraries. When he wanted to get away from the perennial commands from his mother Carmenza; “It’s time to pray”, It’s time to study”, “It’s time to go to church”, “It’s time to do your homework”, “There is no food today”, he sought refuge in the village’s library. In the company of books he felt safe. It was always him, the library and books.
When he grew up he decided to become a teacher. He wanted to teach children who had never seen a book, deep in the rural areas of Colombia in the Department of Nueva Granada. These areas were torn apart from the violence brought by drug-related guerillas. They had seen men hanging from trees, they had seen their parents being shot or taken prisoners to serve as soldiers, they had seen their friends taken to guerrilla camps to be trained as boy-soldiers. They were children marked by war. Every time they saw a stranger coming, they hid away in freight. A stranger was a potential enemy.
In order to teach these humble children to read and write, he came up with an original idea. He purchased two donkeys—or burros–and named them Alpha and Beto. Together, both burros read, Alfabeto (alphabet). The message was clear. He called his education project Biblioburro because he carried a load of approximately 120 children’s books on these two donkeys for his rural classes.
Biblioburro literally means “Donkey Library”. It was a simple way to help children do their homework, since they had no books at home and no library in sight.
He daily travels with his burros between five and eleven kilometers to desolated villages to bring knowledge to illiterate children. These journeys are often more than eight hours long. The children play games, color simple drawings, or read and write under the cool shade of tropical trees. With color crayons the children “color the world.”
The Biblioburro Project has been taken to other geographical areas of Colombia, like the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where they have accumulated more than 400 books and distributed to 32 schools by volunteer work provided by the children’s parents.
This one-of-a-kind teacher was interviewed by Larry King in the widely viewed television program, “Heroes”. He told Larry King that children need to understand vital concepts such as rights, duties and commitments. These core values will make better educated citizens who will stand up and say “No” to war.
For over ten years, Luis Humberto Soriano Bohórquez has been transforming Colombia with his original project. It’s not a matter of financial resources, it’s a matter of attitude. I tip my hat to this humble teacher who, together with his wife Diana, is making the difference in the rural villages of Colombia in South America. Good Day.