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The first library opens in San Rafael and is an incredible gift to the community

Fostering a culture of reading among our students and families continues to be a priority for Common Hope. Although students might read in the classroom, very few young people in Guatemala read for pleasure. Even if students have the desire to read, there are almost no libraries where students can borrow books.

According to a study issued by the Guatemala Ministry of Education, 57% of students graduating from high school in the department of Sacatepequez (the area where Common Hope works) have only read 1-2 books over the course of a year for their own personal interest. In addition, the study found that 14% of graduating students had never read a book for pleasure. These numbers clearly show the importance of Common Hope’s reading promotion programs with children, parents, and students in the public schools we partner with.

“Books became a tool not only to strengthen their vocabulary, but the images allowed children to expand their imagination and see a world beyond what was in front of them.”

The impact of books in a rural community

Access to books is even more challenging in rural and remote areas like San Rafael el Arado where there was no library in the school or in the community. Since Common Hope began to work in San Rafael, Site Coordinator Lesbia Marroquin saw the need to include activities that helped our social work staff connect with the children we were working with, while also helping us see what they were learning in school. Books became a tool not only to strengthen their vocabulary, but the images allowed children to expand their imagination and see a world beyond what was in front of them.

Mirna, a social worker in San Rafael, began an initiative where she would loan books to children and families. This created a sense of commitment to care for the books and return them. Day after day, children would come to the social workers’ small office to borrow a book. One child has read over 60 books! Another student always carries a book with him and reads during recess and in his free time.

“Through books, children would discover a friend they could take with them and spend time with. These interactions between the child and the book propelled them to come back week after week to borrow another book from our little office,” said Lesbia

Three trips, 300 books, one generous gift

The new library space before

In October 2014, Kristine Carver and her mother Cheryl Rutoski traveled to Guatemala on Cheryl’s first trip to the country. As a third grade teacher, Cheryl was very interested to see what the school system was like in Guatemala. She spent time volunteering in the library in Antigua, and loved interacting with the children through books.

Kristine and Cheryl also traveled to San Rafael to see their sponsored student, and during a visit to the school, they quickly learned that the school did not have a library. It was in that moment that Cheryl decided she wanted to see what she could do. Kristine and Cheryl partnered with Lesbia, and the school agreed to make a spot for the library.

Back in the States, Kristine and her family, Brian, Max, and Malaina got right to work collecting books. They returned to San Rafael in March of 2015 with approximately 50 books and saw the space where the new library was going to be. This motivated them to collect even more books from friends, neighbors, and coworkers to take on their next trip in the summer. By August 15, their suitcases were packed with approximately 300 books!

The new library space after

On this trip, Kristine was joined by her friend Zach who was adopted from Guatemala, and his adoptive mother Catherine. When they returned to San Rafael, they found the library had been freshly painted and bookshelves had been built. Carpeting and foam puzzle pieces were provided to cover the floor. They quickly got to work dusting off windows, hanging decorations, installing the bookshelves, and filling them with books. They finished right in time for the special inauguration event, where the kindergarten class came in to sing, dance, and do an art activity. “The kids were so in love with all of the books and decorations,” Kristine said, “and they loved the mats on the floor!”

Kristine also had the opportunity to bring her sponsored student, Gabino, and his family to the library for their visit, which she said was very special.

“We really hope other sponsors who visit San Rafael are able to bring their students to the library and read a book with them. It is such a special place!”

A place to read, learn, imagine, and grow

All of the different donations to San Rafael have had a significant impact on the community, and now this new library will, too. Lesbia says that they are working with the school principal to make plans for how make best use of this gift from Kristine’s family. “With time, we will strengthen our practices and new ideas will merge on how to use the library effectively,” says Lesbia.

As of now, the library is open three mornings a week and is staffed by a Common Hope student who is studying Accounting on the weekends. Additionally, the Education Promoters plan for the youngest students to do their reading activities in the library each week, and teachers are using the library to do reading lessons with their students.

Common Hope would like to extend a warm thank you to Kristine and her family for their generous donation and continued support. You have helped open the world of reading to the children in San Rafael. Now they have a dedicated place to read, learn, imagine, and grow–and that is an incredible gift.

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