Determined to make a difference, 39-year-old Luis Soriano and his two donkeys, Beto and Alfa, spend every weekend trekking across the Colombian backcountry.
They cross streams, climb hills, and risk encountering dangerous wildlife and even more dangerous guerrillas with one purpose: Soriano wants to bring books and education to the children of poverty-stricken northern Colombia.
When the small-town primary school teacher first got the idea to start a traveling library on the backs of his donkeys, he had few supporters. He worked all week teaching the children in his own town, and the path to nearby villages was long, difficult, and scattered with bandits and drug lords. He only had 70 books from his personal collection, but he wasn’t willing to let naysayers interfere with his belief that his cause was worth it.
He crafted specially-made bookshelves to strap to his donkeys, painted a sign that read, BIBLIOBURRO (donkey library) in big letters, kissed his wife goodbye, and set out before daylight. As the years passed and Soriano’s visits became regular and expected, the man with the crazy idea was recognized everywhere he went. Children made journeys of their own to meet the Biblioburro on its stops, and everyone donated books and funds to keep the venture alive.
The story of the Biblioburro spread through rural Colombia, the rest of the country, and then around the world. Soriano became an inspiration of education, and in 2011, PBS released a film depicting the life, mission, and journey of Soriano and his eight-hooved, mobile library.
The film is shot from the teacher’s perspective as he guides his donkeys along nearly impassable trails. They travel through the country’s most beautiful landscapes and head toward rural villages where owning a single book is an incredible luxury. It shows Soriano using his voice and his passion to instill in others the importance of education.
The reality of life as one of the traveling library’s patrons is made heartbreakingly clear. The children share memories of war, massacre, mutilation, and murder. They tell their tales with the sobriety achieved only by those who have survived their worst nightmares. A person experienced with struggle and heartbreak himself, Soriano responds with:
“Now, let’s put it behind us. We have to live in the present and show that Colombians are good people. Colombia must change.”
And change is exactly what the Biblioburro is bringing to these remote villages. Soriano’s trips are exhausting, and maintaining the circulating library takes both time and money. Through donations alone, he now has over 4,800 books, from nonfiction to picture books and children’s books to novels to educational texts, stacked ceiling-high in his small home. Soon, he hopes to move his growing collection to a donation-funded library.
A simple idea of spreading knowledge and books to faraway villages has sent a profound message to the people of Colombia and the rest of the world. It has inspired others to take on similar ventures and given the world a glimpse of the good that can be done with something as simple as a donkey and a book.
You can watch the full film at PBS.org.
What do you think of Biblioburro? Let us know in the comments.
Images via PBS
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