When Reading Village was in its first stages of development, I received some sage advice from a colleague who had learned the hard way. “Don’t spread your communities all around the country,” he said. “Grow regionally. It will allow you to take advantage of organic connections between the communities and allow you to maximize your resources.”
Every day I thank that colleague, mentally at least, because he couldn’t have been more right. For the past six years as we’ve grown and evolved, we’ve experienced exactly the sort of organic and unpredictable benefits that he was eluding to simply because we’ve chosen to start off deep rather than wide. Here’s just a smattering of what we’ve seen unfold:
- One Community Facilitator has been able to manage the program and mentor the teens in our first three communities, because they are all in close proximity. This makes every dollar go significantly farther.
- The principal at the elementary school in our first community was a teacher in the afternoons in our second community and helped establish our credibility there.
- The teens in Chuacruz and Los Morales have seen the teens in Concepción take the initiative to open a public library and are now working on their own community development projects!
Nothing could epitomize these connections more concretely than what happened most recently. Just last month, we gathered all forty of our reading promoters from all three communities for a weekend retreat. As I thought about what I wanted to tell them, I began to imagine the friendships that would develop over the weekend, and how they could bring together their previously isolated, struggling Mayan communities, and the potential that this had to create sustainable change.
On a small screen across a broken internet connection, I told them I had many hopes for them and concluded: “Above all, I hope you form friendships with your peers who come from other communities – friendships that will last for many years into the future, friendships that will last until you become adults, parents, professionals and elders in your communities – that you continue sharing ideas and projects and mutual support. This way we can form a large and powerful network of Mayan communities with a culture of literacy and education. Imagine every grandfather and grandmother able to read, every parent able to read and children growing up with access to books. Imagine family members reading them stories. Imagine breaking the cycle of illiteracy and poverty to create an environment in which every child has what it takes to achieve his or her dreams. This is a big dream,” I said, “but every dream begins with a seed. Plant some seeds this weekend.”
I don’t know how these words fell on the crowd – such is the inadequacy of Skype. But I do know that Ismael, our Community Facilitator, has become a messenger carrying greetings to and from the teens across communities. Seeds are being sown. And I know that the deep network we continue to build in one corner of Guatemala is only possible when you grow thoughtfully and strategically. I know – whether the teens know it or not – that their friendships are a foundation for a better future. Now my energy is focused on adding to this network.
Linda Smith, Founder & Executive Director of Reading Village