Books can change the world…

One of my, Henrik’s, (engineering) heroes is Clarence “Kelly”Johnson, the brilliant aeronautics engineer and aircraft designer. Kelly led the design of some of the most iconic aircraft of all time – P38 Lightning, F80 Shooting Star, F104 Starfighter, U2, SR71 Black Bird – and was also the founder and the first director of Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works.

In his auto-biography, “Kelly: More Than My Share Of It All”, Kelly wrote the following:

“Our parents instilled a love of learning in us children. They always encouraged us to study in school and to read on our own. Next to my father, I credit Andrew Carnegie with being the most important influence on my early life through the library he had donated to Ishpeming…”   (underline added)

The organization Karen is working for, Biblioworks, is not quite in the Carnegie league – his donations built 2,509 libraries – but the intent is the same, and if Biblioworks can affect a few kids the way Kelly was affected, all the work will have been worth it. Btw, the title of this post is Biblioworks’ slogan.

Over the last three days, Karen and I traveled to the last two Biblioworks’ libraries that Karen hadn’t visited yet. They are located in Tomina and Sopachuy.

The “A” marker shows where Sopachuy is. Tomina is to the north along highway 6.

Tomina is about 3.5 hours from Sucre, two hours paved road, one and a half hour dirt. And Sopachuy is another hour, about 40 km, from Tomina, along a cobblestoned road. On the map above, it is worth noting that goggle maps does not have enough info to show the road that leads into Sopachuy. Nor can our GPS route us to Sopachuy, it doesn’t see the road either. This is when you know you’re getting off the gringo trail…

The library in Tomina. Karen and Roxanna reading with a group of kids.

The Tomina library – the building on the right. The Casa parked outside.

Karen reading with Dulce Maria (Sweet Maria), the librarian’s daughter.

The Tomina library was busy, kids from the age of eight up through “kids” of the age of 20; the older kids go the to vocational school in town. They were doing homework, playing games, and reading. Decent sized library with a good collection of books, in particular school books.

Bolivia is a very poor country, not in the sense that people are starving, but Bolivian’s have very few possessions, including books. To give some perspective, a teacher in a rural community like Tomina or Sopachuy, makes roughly US $200 / month. And books are not much less expensive than they are in the US. Thus libraries are often the only place where kids can go to read the expensive school books – the school may not have them.

On Thursday, we drove to Sopachuy, a delightful little town, muy, muy, tranquillo.

The road to Sopachuy. Cobblestoned. Pigs. This is about as far off the beaten gringo trail as we have been.

And zooming in, a girl walking in traditional clothing walking down the road.

The library in Sopachuy was quite small, imagine two small bedrooms, this will give you the scale. But again, the library was well visited. When we visited, the kids were from the age of eight through 16; they were reading, doing homework, playing chess, etc.

Karen and the kids. This is about half the library…

Bolivian kids are the cutest.

Kevin, the son of the librarian.

The library in Sopachuy. The library consists of the room behind the open door, and the room behind the window to the right of the door.

The kids in Sopachuy are like kids are anywhere: friendly, curious, giggly. They were quite impressed with the Casa, not sure they have ever seen a camper before. As one gentleman said when he heard we were tourists: “Then why are you in Sopachuy?”. Actually, the town and the surroundings are quite pretty.

These were the first two first Biblioworks libraries I had seen, and I was deeply touched. I can remember the joy of biking to the library when I was a kid, spending hours reading Teknikens Värld, browsing books, reading books, and then biking back with a book-bag filled with new adventures.

What Biblioworks is doing is truly worthwhile, and I am glad and proud that Karen, and I to a lesser extent, are associated with Biblioworks. If you are reading this, and you’ve ever spent a few hours in a library lost in a book, then go to Biblioworks and donate enough money to buy a few books. I can guarantee you that your donation will not go to overhead.

And symbolically, on Thursday evening, as we headed off to dinner through the darkened town of Sopachuy, there was one bright shining light on the square: the open door of the library…

The Library.


2 thoughts on “Books can change the world…

  1. Hi H&K: Love your post and your reference to the love of reading and Kelly Johnson. He was a friend and colleague to my grandfather Joe Szep, who is perhaps the last living member of the original Skunk Works.

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