Families crowded around the sidelines of the basketball court in front of the community center as children of all ages competed in soccer and volleyball tournaments, relay races, dance competitions and balloon toss games, all organized and led by the team of youth health promoters. The celebration came as the culmination of two and a half months of summer camp activities including dance, sports, arts and crafts, swimming lessons, and math and grammar reinforcement workshops.

The highlight of the afternoon for many was the presentation of Carnival de Qatakamara, a traditional dance from Cuzco, performed by 16 kids and teen promoters twirling and bowing in their vibrantly ornamented outfits. “¡SEÑORITA! ¡Tómame una FOTO!” As the show ended I was bombarded by frantic waves and persistent tugs by the performers eager to see their images reappear on the digital screen, confirming their eternal presence in the excitement of the day. The ceremonies concluded as the inaugural ribbon was cut, officially opening the library doors to all.

Now with the academic year in full swing, the kids come bounding into the center with the same energy for after school homework help. In years past, the youth health promoters (who also serve as after-school tutors) had been charged with the often near impossible task of settling the kids down to their studies. They had also faced the additional challenge of doing so with very limited resources. The proposal for the library came as a response to the lack of books and references needed to continue bringing meaningful support to the community’s children.   


Teen helping younger students in the new children's library


Children enjoying books at the new library

Beginning with a 5 soles (about $2) donation from each household in the surrounding communities, the Socios en Salud staff, in collaboration with community leaders, bought books and children’s stories for the library. These, along with donations from personnel and friends of Socios, made up the initial 150 books on inauguration day.

In the month since opening day, I have seen the library blossom to over 400 books, not including the previous collection or the reference books for teens and adults. I now climb the hill every day to find kids leaning over encyclopedias with pencils scribbling in notebooks, as the promoters twist between long division lessons and spelling tests.

Shortly after the inauguration, I asked the group of teens what would be most important for further progress. The immediate first response was “More books for the library!” Through self-organized book drives and door-to-door solicitations, the teens have procured not only more books, but more children to attend the after school library hours. Committed to expanding the library, they are in the process of planning more fundraisers. Motivated by the success of the dance performance, the teen promoters are also continuing the dance workshops, now open to all kids and teens in the community.

The library only occupies a small corner of the community center. However through advocacy efforts of the teen health promoters and the community members who continue to utilize the space and donate supplies, the new library has embodied the essence of community.

If you have would like to donate Spanish language encyclopedias or children’s books, please contact Rachel Ross (rross@pih.org).

[published April 2008]