Gaby Vallejo

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room II

Speaker: Gaby Vallejo (Bolivia)




Gaby Vallejo Canedo


The Th’uruchapitas Library works with prisoners’ children; they sleep with their parents in the jails and then spend the day out on the streets exposed to food, safety and clothing risks.

Their parents are in jail for a variety of reasons: the 1008 Law, drug or marihuana trade, thefts, failing to pay their children’s pensions, rape, fraud, etc.

The children’s way of life makes most of them to feel insecure, distrustful and suspicious in their dealings with people and things. Yet, they are intelligent, lively, tender in certain situations and aggressive in others. One can perceive their thirst for love, support and protection which they channel through behaviour patterns aimed at having people notice them.


The children in the Not to be Alone Program at the Th’uruchapitas Library come and go. Many boys and girls stop coming because their parents take them out of the program when they are released or other familiar reasons.

As a result, it has been impossible to carry out a proper monitoring of the attitude changes in these children regarding their reading and writing.

Nonetheless when they come to the library, both boys and girls exhibit behaviour patterns resulting from their unusual living conditions: parents in jail, spending the night in jail surrounded by children of all ages and deprived of any privacy:

- Aggressive and violent reactions against their mates expressed through pinching, punching and using foul language.

- Lack of interest in what they do, read and say.

- Distrustfulness of the others.

- A lack of interest in talking about themselves.

- Signs of tenderness and love towards the ladies running the program as an expression of their need for love.



When the children walk into the library, you can notice the noise they make and their joy. For them, coming to the library is a big event. They run to choose the material they will use for their activities and then to find a good place, what they call “front row” accommodation.

First of all the librarian-organizer passes the book basket around and the children choose the books they want. Then they all read in silence for 10 minutes, reading for the sake of reading, not associated to any particular task. After this time the books are collected and each child is handed their own notebooks. The organizer proposes ways to go about writing, sometimes focused on a research objective at the library.

Throughout the sessions, almost all the children acquire abilities for writing increasingly elaborate texts; this is shown through the number of words used and the quality of the expressions. Nevertheless, their texts are always shorter than the ones children write in schools. For instance, girl A writes 32 words in her first creative effort and then finishes the school year with 57 words; boy B stars with 22 words and finishes the year with 104 words.

A writing technique they employ develops the patterns: I am… I have… I can… I dream… enabling the children to express their desires, fears, experiences, etc. The following samples show their necessity to be happy and better:

“I hate foul language,” “I dream my freedom”

In other cases, self-reference explores the future: “I don’t want to go to jail, I would fly away if I was taken to jail”.

We wanted to follow the writing strategy used by Pablo Neruda in his book, El Libro de las Preguntas which asks the readers for poetic answers to poetic questions. But the children’s answers reflect their dark reality, “because my friend is bad”, “because people are bad”, “because there are too many children living at the CAIC (the Integrated Prison Care Centre)”, “because the jail is closed”, “because they insult each other”.

We know that the works have been written by children who suffer as a consequence of having their parents in jail. We also know that they spend their time in groups, in the day care centre, in the foster home. In consequence, the organizer, on occasions, tries to get the children to write about their reality and so pour out their feelings. But this is never imposed. Rather it springs from reading books such as the story, “Si o no; así de fácil “ where war and suffering eat up the heart of the king and his people. Here children turned their life into text: “I feel my heart eaten when my mum is in jail”, “when my brother ran away”, “when my dad hits me”, “when my parents argue with each other, their hearts are being eaten”.


As a general conclusion, the program Not to be Alone of the Th’uruchapitas Library is a gratifying and questioning experience. It is gratifying because reading makes children explore other unknown worlds, travel with their imaginations, stay in game places around the reading, provoke them emotions and forget for a moment their problems, sadness and worries. Also, achieving some positive changes in their attitude with regards to reading and writing.

It is a questioning experience since through these children’s reading and writing we can read the Bolivian reality, in this case how little children are protected and cared for. And further, to think about the kind of behaviour and violence in Bolivian society and the issue of life in prison.

Their reading, linked directly or indirectly, to their everyday experiences, is likely to remain with them for a long time or for a lifetime; this fact is shown in their new texts and dialogues.

We verified that the library can be a wonderful place that promotes the meeting between readers and books; that reading and writing are tools that facilitate personal projection, creativity and imagination.

We also verified that the constant contact with books and a permanent encouragement towards writing make children like reading and modify their attitudes towards school.

The children that participated in the program and who said they were afraid of reading in the classroom, at school, lost their fears of reading in front of their classmates and became classroom librarians at their schools.

The children managed to improve on the quality of their texts: more words, ideas, creativity and, some children who at the beginning were not interested in reading, succeeded in reading with pleasure. This is an important attitudinal change.

We conclude that it is necessary to set up more facilities similar to the Th’uruchapitas Library which encourage and foster reading and writing among all children and young people, not only for those from jails but also from outside.