Libraries and Education in Guatemala

Submitted by Sonia Smith

On November 19th 2012, the Youth and School sections sponsored the event: Libraries and education in Guatemala. This event was presented by the McGill Student Committee of Librarians Without Borders. The speaker, Jorge Chojolán – an internationally recognized social entrepreneur, educator, and human rights activist – was born into the indigenous Mayan community in the deeply inequitable society of Guatemala. Despite the barriers before him, he rose to achieve a university degree and went on to found the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in the predominantly indigenous city of Quetzaltenango. The Academy is a non-profit institution and does not receive any funding from the Guatemalan Government. The goal of its founder is to transform his society through education at the school by educating and empowering some of Guatemala’s most vulnerable children: girls, the indigenous and the poor.

Mr. Chojolán discussed the importance of education to democracy in Guatemala and spoke about the Academy’s unique educational model. We learned of the differences made to the lives of these children through access to education and to a library created by Librarians Without Borders in January 2011. Before the existence of this school library, the only access to books for the community was a very small public library housed in a building that was used previously as a jail. To get access to the books, the children must request to the “guardian” the book that they want to read by the title, but ‘alas’, as no catalogue exists, the collection is really inaccessible. The scholarships that the school offers to needy children are sponsored by different U.S. organizations. The library collection includes approximately 1,700 items acquired primarily by donations, and it is mainly in Spanish with some English material. It was a very enjoyable and informative evening.