Mempo Giardinelli - Abuelitas Cuentacuentos Argentina

Acceptance speech by Mempo Giardinelli

IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award winner 2012

Abuelitas Cuenta Cuentos Argentina

In 1998, I went to Germany for a tour of literary readings. I had a new novel and I must visit seven cities. In one of them, Mainz, I met an old, dearest friend who had, in those days, her mother in the hospital. One Sunday morning, she asked me to go together to visit her mother, and of course I accepted. One hour later, waiting my friend, I saw a large pavilion with dozens of beds, and next to each bed a person reading aloud.

When we leave the hospital, I asked my friend about the matter of those readings. Did they read religious books? Maybe the Bible? She answered, no, Mempo, they are voluntaries and they read novels, short-stories and poems in order to assisting people to die. (assisting people before diying?)

Coming back to my country, I flew thinking about the extreme poverty that we suffer in the whole State of Chaco, in the Northeast of Argentina. In those times was visible the profound social inequity. So, I said myself that we could and we must organize a program of literary readings, but in order to help our children to live.

In 1999 we started with the Storytellers Grandmother’s Program. We knew that in our City of Resistencia, in the heart of South American Chaco region, most of the children very rarely have had the opportunity of sharing experiences of affection and beauty.

Today, we have about 3.000 grandmas reading in more than 60 argentinian cities, and in seven other South American countries. In Medellín, Colombia, grandmas read organized around the City Network of Associate Libraries for hundreds of children displaced by violence. In Valdivia, Chile, our program was adapted to help to the youngest victims of the last earthquake. In Santiago and other cities they read in homeless camps. And in Monterrey and Ciudad Juárez, México, we know more than 100 voluntaries grandmas reading in the middle of narco-violence.

We can say, in 2012, that our foundation grandmas are reading for an average of more than one hundred thousand children weekly.

But the best is that, in fact, they are Reading Grandmothers, not exactly storytellers because their entire activity turns around the book. They try to teach its symbolic value through the most loving and generous way. So, they are not performers, they are not entertainers. No. They are qualified readers, grandmothers going to read once a week, minimum, at schools, hospitals, children's dining halls, orphanages. They choose to read literary texts, classics or contemporaries for children groups. They accompany the intellectual growth of the children, because the same grandmothers read to the same children groups along the years. Today we can find teenagers who are able of competent readings, because our grandmas read for them for several years.

Our Foundation mission is to work on reading development, and for that reason we know that reading is fundamental, specially because we give children to eat and we give them to read.

For that, we create a managing system, in order to guarantee the sustainability and the registry of the actions of our grandmas. By this way, we can follow their work without being presents, and they can read in the privacy of the classroom or any other place they choose for reading.

Certainly, there are no place out for grandmas readings. They read in jails with mothers convicts and the children who raise in cells. Others go to hospitals and read in the nursery for young mothers, and mainly for young girls who were premature mothers. And they also read in homes for disabled children, and/or in communitarian dining rooms.

The effectiveness of the program depends on two fundamental factors: first, the quality of readings, that is to say, best classic and contemporary Literature for children and young people.

The other, and perhaps more important, is Love, that word that not always is used in the education growing and that in Literature is usually associated as a pretentious thing.

Well, in this item Love is the center, the engine and the guarantee of continuity. I mean Love for the human being, Love for the great universal literature, and Love for the word and the art that each grandma could feel and transmit.

I like so much when I think that this program is based on love. In some sense is the same, romantic idea of any love story, ending as in the fairy tales: "and they had many, many grandmas".

IBBY-Asahi Winners 2012

Acceptance speech, London, UK

23 August 2012