First Impressions at San Juan del Sur Biblioteca

This week, I began my internship at the SJDS Biblioteca or the library of San Juan del Sur. For this small coastal town in Southern Nicaragua, the library serves as a vital educational resource. With a collection of nearly 12,000 books, computers, and free internet access, the library has become a central space in town for community members to congregate. In addition, the SJDS Biblioteca offers a variety of workshops and classes including sessions on public health, art, and English. One of the most unique aspects of this library is the Mobile Project. Designed to target the poorer, rural communities surrounding the town, the Mobile Project brings books to residents who are unable to come to the library. The Mobile Project also raises money to build bathrooms and provide supplies for schools that lack resources and are in critical need.

Outside the Library of San Juan del Sur

In the fall, as I was searching for a summer internship, I attended a lecture by Dr. Rosa Elena Bello, a major community organizer here in SJDS. She spoke about her efforts to remodel the educational and health care systems for women and children in town. Her work and the challenges that this town faced resonated strongly with me. After talking with her partner, Margaret Gullette, who works here at the Brandeis Women’s Research Center, I was put in touch with the director of the SJDS Biblioteca. After explaining my passion for both education and working with children, I was offered an internship for the summer. Over the next couple months, the two of us began tailoring an internship that would combine both the library’s needs as well as my own.

Upon arriving in town, I was taken to the library to meet other staff members and get a tour. Walking into the center of the library you see an open space with walls lined by bookshelves. In the center are rows of tables and chairs that come the afternoon, are filled with children and adults working on school projects or taking advantage of the library’s free internet access. On the left, is a small room containing four computers and a printer, which are usually reserved for students many of whom do not have a computer of their own.

I spent my first week working on the Mobile Project. Three times a week, staff load up trucks with boxes of books and drive out to rural schools on the outskirts of San Juan del Sur. My first day, I helped the children exchange their books. They would file out of the classrooms a few at a time to return their books from the previous visit. Some brought their library card but many did not so we had to look up their name, double check that they brought back all of their books, and write the information down on their card. After that, they were free to pick out two new books. What I found remarkable is that these children were so excited to have access to these books that very few of them ever forget to bring them back. In fact this library has a higher return rate than most of the libraries in the U.S.!

Feeling more comfortable on my second trip out to the schools I asked to help out with that day’s art activity. Before the children go out to exchange their books, they first have the opportunity to do an art project. For many of these children, our monthly visits are the only time they ever get a chance to participate in any type of crafts. For this month, in honor of Father’s Day we helped each of the children make cards for their fathers. First, I read the entire class a story called, The Ten Best Things About My Father. After that we passed out paper, glue, and markers and walked around to help each of them complete the activity. Classrooms here often contain children ranging in ages so the younger children needed a lot of help. In the end, each of the children had a card that was shaped like a shirt and tie. Inside the card we helped them write a message to their fathers.  The children were particularly excited when I showed them how to decorate their cards by drawing hearts.

In two days, my supervisor and the director of the library will arrive. I will be working with her to create a plan for the English lessons and art activities that I will work on with the children this summer. Along with teaching both art and English classes, I will continue my work with the Mobile project. So far, my excursions to the rural schools have been a wonderful introduction for my summer internship. I already feel more comfortable using my Spanish skills. I also have a greater understanding of the school system here and the ways in which the library supplements the educational opportunities for these children. The library is an integral part of this community and over the next two months I look forward to assisting both the children and the library in any way I can.

– Abigail Simon ’14

5 thoughts on “First Impressions at San Juan del Sur Biblioteca”

  1. Wow! This seems like a life changing internship because you’re helping children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to books, education and arts and crafts. This must feel really rewarding already. It’s also fascinating that this library has a higher return rate than most of the libraries here in the United States! What is your major? Have you been to Nicaragua or a country similar to it before?

    1. I’m an education major with minors in Hispanic studies and Social Justice/Social Policy so this internship aligns pretty perfectly with my interests. As for your second question, I’ve never experienced anything like Nicaragua before. Before coming here, I had never been to a Spanish speaking country or a developing nation. However, while it has taken a little bit of time to adjust I’m learning so much from both my internship and from simply living in a country so different from my own.

  2. This seems like a wonderful opportunity to learn so much from other people and the experience you will undergo in Nicaragua will definitely strengthen your Spanish speaking skills. I have some books at home that I would love to donate, but I guess the issue at hand would be how the books can be delivered to a different continent without the burden of paying money. It’s amazing how the return rate for books is so high, I would have never guessed. Good luck with your internship. All the Best, Harold.

    1. Donated books are always welcome but you are right in guessing that shipping tends to be the main problem. Usually what we do is send them to Colorado, and then the director of the library brings them in her suitcase when she comes to Nicaragua. I’m not sure if you’d still be interested in doing that but if you are feel free to email me. As for the Spanish, I have definitely been using it a lot but I have to constantly remind myself to be patient. My friend here keeps telling me ‘poco a poco’ meaning little by little; I guess just like with anything worth learning it takes time. Thanks for the well wishes, and I hope your internship is going well!

  3. Wow!!! Your internship sounds pretty interesting!!! I think that it is great that you are giving those children,who otherwise would not be able to have those classes, an opportunity to learn English and to have experiences that they may not have had if not for the program you are part of. I definitely agree with what Harold said about developing your Spanish language skills even more after spending some time in a country where you have to speak Spanish. I wish you the best and I hope to hear more from your experience in Nicaragua.

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