We’ve always said that Reading Village transforms lives through literacy, but when our Executive Director, Linda Smith, founded the organization in 2007 she never intended the lives transformed to be only those of the children in Guatemala. Quite the contrary. Linda envisioned transformation rippling across communities through a network of local change-makers.
Seven years later, and we’ve prioritized the development of this network more than ever before. Where before there were only isolated success stories, we’ve begun to connect communities through sincere relationships and common interests. And our work is better because of it.
Literacy promotion and personal transformation may have started with the kids, but we certainly aren’t going to stop there. Here are a few of our favorite examples of how Reading Village is connecting communities to catalyze change:
A Local Leader: Ismael joined Reading Village in 2012 as our Community Facilitator. He is from the region where we work, speaks the local language, and was raised in the same circumstances as our teens. Where nonprofits too often fail to bridge the cultural divide, Ismael is our eyes, and ears, and hands. He shares their culture and history, he understands their values, their perspective, and their symbolism. He is, in short, an incredible colleague and resource within Reading Village.
But as valuable as he is to our work, Ismael is far more valuable to the communities he serves. It is impossible to quantify the benefit of having our scholars witness one of their own giving back to his own people in spades, the way Ismael has. His very presence is powerful, but the reflection and thought that he invests in his work sets Ismael apart.
Ismael is currently weaving together the various stakeholders in Reading Village’s work. He is a role model of our students and a bridge to the leadership team, but he is also in the homes of our scholars actively engaging their families in the transformation. Too often just tangential accessories to any scholarship program, Ismael has shifted our focus to incorporate the parental community in the education and development of their children – a natural but not always intuitive role. The best part is that the parents love that he’s there. Having invested in the lives of our teens by being more than just the leader of their workshops, Ismael is invited back into their homes time and time again.
And there, outside of the classroom or the library, among a family’s chickens or drying corn, Ismael is developing allies in the pursuit of children realizing their full potential.
Redefining Who Learning Is For: Rosmery is a recent graduate of Reading Village. A classic success story, this young lady is not only a great representative of our organization but an effective change-maker in her community. Since graduating from highschool, Rosmery has been working for CONALFA, an adult literacy project funded by the Guatemalan government. While she was working to find a place for the adult literacy projects to take place, her peers and fellow reading promoters were building their town’s first library. Rosmery collaborated with our local staff to make the connection between CONALFA and this new community reading space. In doing so, she stretched the Reading Village network a little further and strengthened the community connections that are needed to create a culture of change.
In the town of Concepcion where Rosmery works, many adults never studied beyond the first or second grade. Some never at all. Where people are entrenched in the idea that learning is just for children, Rosmery’s effort to bring adult literacy into a community library is brilliant. “The library could be a powerful transforming force in changing this way of thinking,” Linda noted on her recent visit. It could ultimately transform the people’s understanding of learning and the priority they place on education. Rosmery’s ability to connect very real needs with local resources is creating a tangible opportunity for change amongst her neighbors. Concepcion is lucky to have her, and we’re just grateful to have stood beside her during this exciting time!
In Ismael’s and Rosmery’s examples, Reading Village has found itself in a position to catalyze connections within and across communities to more effectively propagate change. “Operating from a single perspective with limited agility would be short sighted,” Kassia, our Director of Development, noted. “The Reading Village model works precisely for its ability to engage a diverse network in its creation of a literate community. Where others see dead ends, we see opportunity.”
Not every literacy organization reaches beyond its immediate beneficiaries. Not every staff member visits every family. Not every alumni reconnects with past peers.
Not everyone does these things. We do.