UNAM student creates network of community libraries in Oaxaca
Through a Facebook post, she asked for book donations and her first goal was to collect 500 books - Photo: File photo/UNAM

UNAM student creates network of community libraries in Oaxaca

18/05/2019
13:01
Mexico City
Guadalupe Jimarez
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With this project, she wants to make education available to the most isolated communities of the Sierra Mixe

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The memory of her mother reading her Lilus Kikus by Elena Poniatowska before going to bed accompanies Kupijy Vargas. For her, a book is a “window to see the world in a different way, to dream.” Now, she is 21 years old and this memory has made her start a network of community libraries in the Sierra Mixe in Oaxaca, from where she is from, three hours away from the capital of that Mexican state.

It all began last year. “I noticed that the major was too theoretical and the practice was left behind.” The FES Acatlán student asserts that her initiative was born from a crisis, “I wanted to do something for my community and I asked myself how I could help,” she says.

The young woman turned to social media to ask for her colleagues’ support. Through a Facebook post, she asked for book donations and her first goal was to collect 500 books, however, the post went viral and she managed to gather more than 4,000 books, including encyclopedias, novels, school books, and poetry. “[The post] was only shared 17 times. Through Facebook messages, mothers, misters, and young people told me: ‘I help you with these books,’ the only thing we asked is for them to be in good condition and to be useful for children.”

The magic that guides this project can be understood with a Mixe concept: Ja wejën J kajän which, according to Kupijy, translates to “develop all capacities in benefit of the community.” She is convinced that “education is the change’s transforming agent.”

Her father, a graphic artist and engraver, and her mother, a special education teacher for indigenous children with disabilities, promoted in the reading habit in the Pedagogy student, who had dyslexia and hence learned to read until she was seven years old.

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Reading has changed the way she sees the world, while, for many years, watching TV was not a usual activity for her. She asserts that during her childhood she did not watch TV because she did not have one, “My only entertainment was my books. If I got grounded, they took them away from me,” she reveals with laughter.

Libraries have also marked the young woman. She remembers going to one called “BS” in Oaxaca. Since then, she has thought of these reading centers as “a space to promote culture in an active way, through workshops and courses,” she says.

Thanks to this action, the young woman won the 2019 Youth’s State Award of Oaxaca in the category of social labor.

Little by little, the college student’s resolution began to take shape, for the idea to create a community library reached the General Direction of Publications and Editorial Promotion of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), who gave her part of the bibliographical material that made possible the first community library of Ranchería de Tejas, Oaxaca.

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The location of this first venue has a great emotional value for Kupijy because her father was born in that municipality and her grandmother grew up among the hills and the wet soil smell of Tejas. According to the Cultural Information System, in Mexico, there are 2,232 libraries and the Mexican foundation Brigada para leer en libertad (Reading in Freedom Brigade) has 176 community libraries.

In contrast, figures by FEMSA, reveal that there are over 17,000 OXXO convenience stores in Mexico. It can be said that a Mexican has more access to soft drinks than to books.
 

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Books among the hills
It is 8:00 and the sun is still not warm. Nearly 20 kids from the Ranchería Tejas walk several minutes from their homes to arrive at the community library with Kupijy, who reads them stories while they draw fantastic creatures, inhabitants of those narrations, with crayons and colors that were also donations.

Each user has an ID made with notebook pages. The picture was drawn by each of the. At first, they did not take the books with them, but after a while, they noticed the advantages of taking one home.

Kupijy says: “I thought: let’s create a library as a culture center; to promote culture and strengthen identity because the community’s knowledge is not valued and is made invisible.”

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Between yellow and pink walls, without glasses in the windows, the children sit down at the table of this reading center located next to the community kitchen.

The books are organized in sections in furniture with wooden shelves installed in the walls. The college student classified the material with her sister because, luckily, they were too many for her to do it alone, therefore, it was necessary to ask for support from the then-Tlahui leader, Crisóforo Gallardo, who managed the transport to carry the many books that could not be put inside Kupijy’s suitcases.

She asserts that the main objective of this network of libraries is “to decentralize information, cause although there is right to education, there is nothing that guarantees it for every child in Mexico. Those who live in rural areas do not have this privilege.”

INEGI confirms that “13 out of every 100 persons over 15 years old, do not know how to read or write,” in Oaxaca. At a national level, 6 out of 100 persons are illiterate.”
 

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From Tejas to Rancho Flores
The second library opened its doors in Rancho Flores in the Sierra Mixe in November 2019. This time, there was more dissemination; it was less difficult to get the material and they had the support from local authorities.

The lack of hands in this initiative has also hindered its development. “We need people to provide attention, workshops, like creative writing, and to continue the activities in the libraries,” Therefore, they have only been able to provide attention during Kupijy’s vacations.

“I have experienced a lot of satisfaction. At first, 10 children arrived, then 15, then 20. I learned that reading is a matter of motivation, not an imposition, because that has made Mexico be at a lagging in reading,” she adds.

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Hence, little by little, the space has become small and now they are looking for a building of their own since the place belongs to the municipality. “When we have it, we will install a playroom. We have experimented with the success of bringing children close to reading through games,” asserts the young woman from Oaxaca.

Diana Quezada, a librarian by the UNAM and a full-time academic says that “improving the network of public libraries in Mexico would be possible if their infrastructure were better,” because most of them are in terrible conditions.

Likewise, the expert says that “it is necessary to develop information technologies and strategies for training and recruiting personnel that can promote the creation of books collections, which would raise the quality of the bibliographical offer.”

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According to INEGI’s Reading Module, in Mexico, the number of readers has decreased in the last five years. On average, Mexicans read 3.3 books per year. The main reason, as those surveyed said, was the lack of time.

One of Kupijy’s goals is to have a post in public education, not only in Oaxaca but in the country because she wants to promote visual arts to embody her state’s identity, as well as to promote indigenous language and the dissemination of science.

Kupijy also asserts that she will share the knowledge of how to manage this project so that it can be replicated. “We must share the experience we have and work with other states; civil society really wants to engage,” she asserts.

Kupijy has no doubts, she will continue with this project. She is fighting for a cause.

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