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The Gift of Reading

by | Nov 6, 2015

Mexico prides itself on being one of the few Latin American countries that has a national library program. The National Reading Program (Programa Nacional de Lectura), established by the federal government in 2002, seeks to increase reading outside of the classroom through the distribution of library equipment and supplies to public schools. Unfortunately, the needs have outweighed the resources and the program has been insufficient in that, only about half of the schools have designated space for a school library, and in general these are small and inadequate to serve those student bodies. This deficiency is most striking in schools serving Mexico’s poor and indigenous populations.

Valle Verde is one of the most challenged and poverty stricken communities in Tijuana, Baja California. Two local public elementary schools, Ve´e Sa´Kua´a and Guelaguetza, serve a total of 1,200 students from very poor migrant families, primarily from a Mixtec background. Many of the students are children of illiterate parents, who only speak their indigenous Mixtec language. When parents lack basic literacy skills, their children face additional obstacles in early development. As a result, they enter the school system behind their peers and find themselves struggling to catch up. Additionally, when these children do not have parent engagement supporting literacy and attend schools that lack trained personnel to help them overcome literacy obstacles, they have a reduced opportunity to learn to read and write Spanish well. This has negative consequences for their overall academic development and their development as human beings.

In this context, the project to establish libraries at the two low-income indigenous elementary schools in the Valle Verde neighborhood, serves as a shining example of how meaningful philanthropic support can give life to a program led by local committed educators’, and result in truly inspired change for students and their community.

It all started in 2005 with a generous ICF donor with a background in education and a passion for making reading part of the daily life of children. Given her passion for getting children and youth interested in books and learning, she approached ICF’s Education Program team, who in turn reached out to one of the foundation’s trusted partners in Tijuana, Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud. Through this alliance, an initial grant was made, and the Ve’e Saa Kua’a School was able to build a library space and begin to provide a variety of workshops and literacy activities for its students. Over time the project grew and prospered, and additional funds were granted to build a library at the Guelaguetza School.

Now in its 10th year of operation, the Biblioteca Valle Verde program is successfully supporting local students to overcome their educational challenges; through storytelling, reading, and other literacy activities, children have the opportunity to develop the cognitive capacities that will help them become fully literate in Spanish and will allow them to continue their education without falling behind. It has been said by educators that until third grade we are “learning to read,” and after third grade, we are “reading to learn.” Through this program, children are given the opportunity to learn and to develop their educational potential. This allows them to better function in their lives and to pursue an education that will help them break the cycle of poverty.

To support this program, and other education programs in the region, click below:

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