I've been involved with Books for a Better world for quite some time now. It's hard to believe I started volunteering in 2005! Over the years, I have too many wonderful memories to put down in one post, but I'll give it a go!
Quite a few of my memories have to do with getting stuck on the bumpy, hilly, muddy, and all-around difficult roads to the rural Central American schools we visit. Getting stuck is never ideal, but it's usually when you start to uncover the cooperation and grit of the local communities to get much-needed resources to their kids' schools.
On one such occasion (2008), Alice, Kira and I were making our way out to a remote village near Ahuachapán, El Salvador. Our trusty driver (of many years), Don Pabel, was taking us up a particularly steep road when his old Mitsubishi 4X4 truck suddenly gave out. Intent on getting us to our destination, Pabel grabbed a couple of branches from a nearby tree and bent them to connect God only knows what inside the engine compartment to get the truck running again. It was incredible! The truck kept running for the remainder of our time together! Sadly, we lost our friend Pabel in 2018. His dedication to Books for a Better World and the children of his local community will always be remembered!
Of our many sites in Guatemala, one of my favorite places to visit is San José el Espinero. Nestled in a mountain valley between Alta and Baja Verapáz, San José is only accessible by way of a very difficult and muddy trail. The one-room schoolhouse is lead by a dedicated teacher who lives in Salamá (the main hub of the area) and makes the hike in and out once a week. He stays on-site on weekdays to be present with the kids. When our local volunteer Mily Reyes told me about this school I wanted to do anything we could to show some support.
On the day we decided to visit, some of the older kids from a school at the top of the hill offered to guide me and carry the books in their packs. They made the trail look easy--hopping through the mud patches and rocky terrain in their rubber books. I, on the other hand, had an old pair of sneakers that were hardly capable of a hike like this. Needless to say, I provided these kids with some pretty good entertainment as I slipped my way down the path. It wasn't all laughs for them, however. They were keen to help me along by pointing out dry logs and other stable spots of ground for my poor, slippery feet. I'll never forget the kindness of these kids!
When we arrived, you could tell the kids from up the hill were stoked to see their friends and deliver the good news that we had books in our packs! Chickens and ducks wandered around the schoolhouse. There was a magnificent waterfall tumbling down a distant slope, and you could hear the faint sound of the water's power. We were, after all, right in the middle of a cloud forest. I imagined what it must be like to grow up in such a remote, beautiful place
As we got acquainted, I realized this school had ZERO children's books and they rarely received visits from anyone outside their community. They saw the mud all over my pants and you could tell they had lots of questions about what would lead me to do something so crazy! I imagined the kids probably wondered why I didn't come prepared with rubber boots. It's safe to say they were intrigued!
After spending some time reading the new collection of books, the teacher dismissed everyone for the day and the kids who guided me down the hill begged me to stay a little longer so they could play a round of fútbol with their buddies. How could I say no to that? Besides, I did need a little rest before heading UP the hill to get back to my car.
I watched the soccer match for a bit and chatted with a family who lives next door to the schoolhouse. They explained how hard their community worked to lobby for this school and how important education is to them. A young woman also showed me her little coffee roasting station and served me some freshly roasted, homegrown coffee! I sure did appreciate that, as I knew I'd need the energy to make it back up the trail.
I've gone back to San José a couple times, and their appreciation for reading and education never cease to amaze me. I'll be forever changed by my experiences in this very special community.
~Allen Beach, 2006-2019 travel volunteer and board member