Lack of access to libraries in developing countries
We often take for granted the idea that libraries always existed and could be found anywhere throughout the world. However, for some countries, libraries are rarely accessible for most of the population or they don’t exist at all. This is a common problem for many children living in Peru and Cambodia.
In both of these countries access to libraries is very difficult, especially for families living in rural areas. Due to lack of transportation, children cannot simply go to a city or town to read or buy books. Furthermore, while books seem cheap by Western standards, the cost remains too high for many families. As a consequence, children in these countries don't read nearly as much as their counterparts in other parts of the world. This can have a negative impact on the literacy rates of these children!
At Globalteer, we believe all children should have access to books. Not just for the educational benefits, but also for the enjoyment of reading stories and just being kids!
As part of our educational programmes we are aiming to provide access to books for the children we support. Currently we do this through 3 avenues.
- Supporting a library project - La Pagina en la Puerta - in Cusco, Peru.
- The Library Programme at Helping Hands near Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Proving books at Picaflor House just outside Cusco, Peru
Languages in Peru
Peru is a linguistically complex country, particularly in the Andes mountain regions throughout Peru. Although Spanish is the official language, it is not the only common language in the country. Quechua is the second most common language in Peru, with, about 16% of the population is using it. Additionally, there are several other native languages throughout the Andes and Amazonian regions.
Quecha is still quite common in the Andes regions, particularly in rural areas. Quechua was the language of the Inca Empire, thus not related to the Spanish language that was brought over by the Spaniards. Therefore, speakers of the two language speakers are unable to understand one another. This provides significant problems in the current generation, as public school is conducted in Spanish, but in some rural areas the parents only speak Quechua. As a result, parents are unable to help their children with homework or school assignments.
Literacy Rates in Peru
Although Peru has made great progress in their literacy rates, with the current literacy rate at 94%, this is mainly a reflection of the younger generations. In older generations the literacy rate decreases, with the literacy rate of those over 65 years old at 79%. The literacy rate also looks at Spanish literacy. The literacy rate for those who speak Quechua or other native languages is 83%. The group that is most prone it illiteracy in Peru is rural women who speak native languages. This poses further barrier to children from these households who need help with their schoolwork.
In addition to access to better education, access to books can really help children in these circumstances by allowing them to practice reading in a fun way. Being able to read books that spark the imagination and interest helps fosters a love of reading; which in turn helps improve literacy.
Lack of Access to Books
While there are public libraries in Peru, many of these are inaccessible to many children, particularly those in small towns or rural villages. And the ones that do exist are mainly catered to adults, carrying only reference books and resource materials. There aren't sections overflowing with all types of exiting non-fiction stories that you may have experienced as a child.
Additionally, many families cannot afford the luxury of buying new books. Children can find cheap books at local markets, but they tend to be low quality, with incomplete texts.
La Pagina en La Puerta - Cusco Peru
One of the projects we support in Peru is a small library project on the outskirts of Cusco, Peru. The project aims to enhance children's learning and development by providing a free library to the local children. The project was started by Amy Ugate from the USA when she was living and working in Cusco. She recognised the need for children in her community to have access to books and reading materials to support their studies. Although, Amy sadly passed away in 2015, her vision is carried on at the project, benefiting many local children with it free resources.
The project, located at the edge of Cusco, welcomes children from ages 6 to 17. Through kind donations the project has been able to build up a vast array of stories for all ages over the years. The children can come and read stories or enjoy various activities such as drawing or crafts. The reading skills that the children develop at the library can be carried over to educational reading and help improve their performance in school.
Students can use the books and dictionaries as resources to do their homework or to simply enjoy a story in the quite areas. Or they can make new friends and have fun in the games room. The project has a comprehension programme to help students improve their reading ability. While the programmes are not obligatory, most of the children who come to the library happily take part!
The library provides the children with the joy that's sparked in the imagination when reading. It can give them a sense of freedom & fun and lets them dream big.
Picaflor House - Cusco Peru
Picaflor House is our after-school education programme supporting children in the small town of Oropesa, just outside Cusco. In addition to the classes to help their acedemic studies, children at the project also enjoy a range of activities they don't get at public school; such as arts & crafts, sports & games, traditional dance and English. Furthermore, it is a safe place to for the children to be after-school while their parents are still working.
In addition to the literacy programme at the project, we have developed quite a collection of books for the children at the project. The book collection has a range of books for all ages for the children to enjoy. In the Kindergarten programme we also aim to foster a love of reading early, with story time being a regular activity in the class!
Loss of Books in Cambodia
To understand the lack of reference materials in schools in Cambodia, it is important to know the history of the country. During the Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge) regime, almost an entire generation of educated people was lost and 90% of schools, libraries and books turned into ashes. Of the thousands of books in the National Library of Cambodia, only about 40,000 remained. Reading materials, including educational books, were either banned or destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Since then, the country has been trying to rebuild its culture and national heritage with what is left of the sacred books, archives and oral documentations.
Although many books and valuable resources have been restored there is still a lack of books available in schools. Furthermore, there’s a general lack of budgeting for the production of new books in the country which impacts student's education and literacy overall.
Literacy Rates in Cambodia
According to the Cambodian Socio-Economic Survey, the youth literacy rate for both females and males, was up to 92.2%, a definite improvement for the country. However, the literacy rate in rural areas remains lower than in urban areas. Despite how important education is, many children still leave school early to work to help support their family. According to UNICEF, nearly 25% of children in Grade 3 cannot write a single word in a dictation test at primary level.
Lack of Access to Libraries
According to a UNESCO report, “there’s a lack of trained personnel; lack of public libraries and public reading facilities; shortage of appropriate physical facilities; lack of national and international co-operation mechanisms.”
Nowadays, even though the country is developing, this statement by UNESCO is still true. There’s a lack of basic reference material such as dictionaries and general encyclopaedias that deeply affect the overall education level. Among the 5,000 primary schools in Cambodia, there should be 5,000 libraries too. However, most of these do not contain a library. And the ones that do only contain a very poor collection of textbooks, and no non-fiction books purely for the joy of reading.
Library at Helping Hands - Siem Reap, Cambodia
Helping Hands provides children in a rural village just outside Siem Reap with free supplementary education. In Cambodia, students only attend public school for half days, in 2 shifts (morning or afternoon). The other half of the day, students enrolled at the programme come and receive supplementary lessons to help improve their academic performance to help break the cycle of poverty still common in rural Cambodia. 300+ students attend the project that provides core lessons in Khmer Literacy, Numeracy, English, Arts & Crafts, Sports and Music; as well as teaching Health & Hygiene and Life Skills.
Through kind donations from volunteers, donors and supporters the project has developed a library consisting of around 600 books. There is a variety of books suitable for all the students in both Khmer and English. Students are able to enjoy reading time when they arrive early, between lessons or when they finish their homework as part of their 'self-study' time. Volunteers have help paint the library to make it a cozy place for the children to enjoy their reading time.
How You Can Help
You can support the great work at these projects by donating, fundraising or volunteering. All donations big or small go a long way in helping the projects. If you are travelling to either of these locations, and don't have the time to volunteer, consider if you have enough space in your bag to bring a few books along with you. We have offices in both Cusco and Siem Reap that are easily accessible to drop kind donations off at. While the donation of a book may seem a small thing, it is an essential tool in a child's learning and development.
"A library is a place of hope where people can receive knowledge. It is the place where children are going to discover the entire world." – Teresa Boullón, founder of Un Millón de Niños Lectores (One Million Readers).