To the unaccustomed eye, a man toting 120 books while riding a stubborn donkey would seem nothing short of a circus spectacle. But for hundreds of children in the rural villages of Colombia, Luis Soriano is far from a clown. He is a man with a mission to save rural children from illiteracy.
“In [rural] regions, a child must walk or ride a donkey for up to 40 minutes to reach the closest schools,” Soriano said. “The children have very few opportunities to go to secondary school. …There are [few] teachers that would like to teach in the countryside.”
At the start of his 17-year teaching career, Soriano realized that some students were having difficulty not just learning, but finishing their homework assignments. Most of the students falling behind lived in rural villages, where illiterate parents and lack of access to books prevented them from completing their studies.
To help bridge the learning gap, Soriano decided to personally bring books to the children.
“I saw two unemployed donkeys at home and had the idea [to use] them in my biblioburro project because they can carry a heavy load,” Soriano said. “I put the books on their backs in saddles and they became my work tools.”
Every Wednesday at dusk and every Saturday at dawn, Soriano leaves his wife and three young children to travel to select villages — up to four hours each way — aboard a donkey named Alfa. A second donkey, Beto, follows behind, toting additional books and a sitting blanket. They visit 15 villages on a rotating basis.
In addition to the biblioburro program, he and his wife built the largest free library in Magdalena next to their home. The library has 4,200 books, most of which are donated — some from as far away as New York City.
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