Linda Veltze


Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-22 14:00-15:30 Room I

Speaker: Linda Veltze (USA)


Ethics Drives Us to Action: Service Learning in Bolivia


The university from which I am from, Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina has a Library Science program which is deeply involved in a cooperative relationship with a small little library in Cochabamba, Bolivia called Biblioteca Th’uruchapitas. This little library is a non profit library which opens its doors to all and has the books of its collection constantly circulating around the city through a school and community lending program. It is staffed by volunteers who have founded this non-profit institution and keep it running.

Our university and Biblioteca Th’uruchapitas were awarded the IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award in 2003 with its $10,000 award. Part of the criteria was that our program and cooperative relationship serve as a model for other programs that could be created around the world. Since 1999 professors and students have carried over 4,000 brand new books in their backpacks across borders, and without the usual concern that the cost of postage is too prohibitive to supply books to libraries in a developing country such as Bolivia. Conducting a study abroad course in the country and in the same city allowed our airline tickets and the accompanying baggage the permission we needed to get books into the hands of children who needed them. We have also contributed over $13,000 directly to Biblioteca Th’uruchapitas in the last years, and $6,500 the last year. They have used this money to conduct reading programs all over the city of Cochabamba, and have used it to build up the necessary payment for purchase of land and or building supplies for a new and permanent library. Currently the library facility is a rented one that the volunteers pay for out of their own pockets.

Our library science students first heard about this project in their children’s literature course when they are given a choice to research and present about international projects and entities (such as IBBY, Bologna Book Fair, International Youth Library and the Bolivia Sister Library Project). That is their first introduction to our library science program’s sponsorship of this project. The first question that anyone might ask is “why?” would a professor take on the project of Project Director on the U.S. side when so many other academic issues leave one with little time. The project includes collecting money, asking for book donations, teaching about Bolivia and its needs, and transporting these items to another country?

The moral basis for this project is one of social justice: In the field of libraries we have so much in the U.S. and yet there are children in the world who do not have these library resources. Why cannot we share? How can this be done? How does it enrich our own lives to become sisters with librarians in another country, many of who work two jobs yet with great pride work to found a library and share its resources with all its citizens?

The success of our project is because it is appropriately identified as a social justice issue, and we have all ages of children and adults working in this project. Because our library science program has its academic home in a college of education, many of our graduate students are already working as teachers and librarians in a k-12 school. Their k-12 students are interested in this project. Their libraries order books about Bolivia to share with their children. Their student councils, honor societies, classes and entire schools work to raise funds. Their book fairs incorporate the opportunity to not only buy books for themselves but to buy books for others. Tracy Chapman, a media specialist in Taylorsville, North Carolina wrote letters home to parents and invited all of the children to donate the free book that they got with each purchase to the children of Bolivia. Many schools write messages of endearment to the children they have never and will never meet on labels placed on the inside of each book.

Through this Sister Library project, children learn early on that it is a moral obligation to share with those who have so little. The program has become so significant, that one school in Catawba County, North Carolina wanted a library science graduate to fill the new position at their school with a person knowledgeable about the Sister Library project and who would work to initiate it in their school. The newly hired librarian, Cheri Hudson did so and involved her students in a program based on recognizing the right of every child to be educated through children’s literature. Bolivia being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was rightfully an appropriate place to begin.

Our study abroads have converted previously “died in the wool” Americans into true internationalists, and the best spokesmen of all were the children of Bolivia, and their indescribable beauty. But children all over the world are beautiful, and all children deserve to have a book in their hands, and to enrich their childhood with both imaginative and factual accounts of the world around them. For that reason I have served to encourage individuals from all over the world to help libraries in the developing world.

One could look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a basic ethical document that assumes, without stating so directly, that all children have the right to read children’s literature. In Article 28 on Education where it talks about the recognition of the right of the child to education and as a result the right to educational information and guidance, it very specifically says that “States Parties shall promote and encourage international co-operation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world…” In this regard, it says, “particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.” It also says, that the “education of the child shall be directed to: …the development of the childs personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential…” In article 31 it mentions the “right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.” The provision of these equal opportunities infers the opportunity for children’s books to play an important role in all children’s lives.

How can one do any of the above without children’s literature? With the scarce literary resources in developing countries, how can one accomplish the above without libraries where the books can be read again and again by many different children, and not just kept behind the glass of a middle to upper class family’s bookshelf.

The founders of Biblioteca Th’uruchapitas use in their reading promotion plan the highest form of ethical conduct. They conduct reading programs for the children of prisoners in the program called “Para No Estar Solos.” They have conducted programs for the children of the vendors in the famous Cochabamba market called “La Cancha.” The poorest of the schools in the city has the opportunity to use the books that we take each year.

As the graduate students learned about the Sister Library project they were able to read in School Library Journal about one of their former classmates’ success and what it meant for her elementary school class to help. Carolyn Mann’s experience in rural North Carolina was featured in SLJ’s June 1, 2005 issue. “ Reaching out to touch kids in Bolivia taught our students that they can make a genuine difference in the world. There aren’t many lessons more important than that.”

Among the many resources that can be shared with both k-12 students and graduate students are the December, 2005 issue of FACES, PEOPLE, PLACES AND CULTURES which featured “Bolivia, Land of Extremes” and Liliana de la Quintana’s series for children called “Colecion Wawa-Libros” which featured a separate book for the Uru, Afro, Jalq’a, Moxeno, Siriono, Aymara, Guarayo, Guarani, Weenhayek, and urban children of Bolivia. Liliana and her husband, Alfredo Ovando travel far and wide writing books and making documentaries about the diverse peoples of Bolivia. Reading her books or viewing their videos inspires respect for the children from these backgrounds, both within Bolivia and outside of it.

Let me share with you the words that a library science graduate student, April Eichmiller, wrote: “How can we walk through life refusing to acknowledge those who walk beside us? We can no longer pretend to live in isolation. We have the power to open doors for ourselves and for others.”

In summary…children’s literature and ethics are intertwined. One rests upon the other, and the Sister Library relationship between Appalachian State University and Biblioteca Th’uruchapitas are a case in point. Such a project gives the opportunity for children in a developing country without sufficient resources to have a rich collection of books, to become readers, to enrich their lives. These are part of their educational and cultural Rights as described in the UN Convention. Children’s literature also helps those who are in partnership with Biblioteca Th’uruchapitas to learn about Bolivia and to understand the reasons for such inequities yet at the same time gain respect for the rich cultural heritage of Bolivia. Such children’s literature used by teachers and librarians can help children from countries rich in books and libraries develop a social conscience for the needs of other children who live far away and help them to feel connected with them and their literary world.

In the year 2000 when returning to the U.S. from the IBBY conference in Colombia, I sat next to a biology professor from some place in middle America who was returning after a research project deep in the jungles of Colombia. She explained to me that there was a certain tribe that her university group lived with for a period of time that were known all through South America for their knowledge of how to protect the environment. The most amazing part of her story was a morning ceremony she described which they participated in with the tribespeople. She said they directed their prayers downward to Mother Earth, and Mama Luis, the tribal chief, prayed for all his brothers and sisters around the world that they may live in harmony with one another and protect this earth. I found it so beautiful to think that even though I had not heard of Mama Luisa until that flight, that for years he had been praying for me in a spirit of love and mutual connectedness.

Inspiring mutual connectedness among peoples of the world through children’s literature is an ethical notion. To go even further, one could tie the vision of Jella Lepman who founded the International Youth Library and who was influential in the founding of IBBY, that children’s literature can promote peace in this world . I consider our Sister Library Project a project for peace in the world, uniting all who wish to participate in providing that ethical right of children to have books, to develop literacy, to be productive citizens through this education.