Biblioburro

Traffickers of high-grade knowledge

Violence, drug dealing and war, these are the usual themes of tales told about Colombia. Here is a nicer story. Here is the story of a library with ten legs. A Colombian peasant and his two donkeys roam the countryside, delivering knowledge, enlightenment and hope to the country’s most remote communities...

80_biblioburro_image1180_biblioburro_image2280_biblioburro_image3380_biblioburro_image4480_biblioburro_image5580_biblioburro_image6680_biblioburro_image77“ One Hundred Years of Solitude ” is not only the name of a great literary work by Gabriel García Márquez. Centuries of solitude have been endured by the children and elderly of lost villages scattered through the mountains and jungles of Colombia, forgotten by God and left to fend for themselves by a negligent State. Without paved roads, running water or schools, submerged to the neck in poverty, surrounded by the drug trade and with war clawing at their lives the inhabitants resign themselves to hard lives in isolation.

Across Colombia, according to UNESCO, more than 413,000 children do not have access to basic primary education. When the State fails to answer demands, all one can do is pray to the Virgin Mary or await the serendipitous appearance of some kind of superman. But help did not come from a character wrapped in a cape and spandex. For people in northern Colombian villages such as La Gloria and El Difícil, help arrived in the form of an everyday hero — a neighboring villager and his two donkeys.

Luis Humberto Soriano is a short man with a soft voice. His strong hands and tanned skin are silent witnesses to a life spent outdoors, close to the land. A lover of stories and adventure, Soriano learnt to read, obtained a degree in Spanish Literature and became a teacher. Tired of his students not doing their homework because they didn’t have the right books, Soriano decided one day to buy books with his own money and to use his donkeys, Alfa and Beto, as a wandering library to carry knowledge from the outside world to villagers in nearby settlements.

Thus, in 2000, the Biblioburro was born and the library now holds over 2,800 books. Soriano never charges people to borrow, but asks only that those who do borrow books return them and that they have clean hands. On each of his regular trips into the jungle and over the mountains, Soriano continues his quiet quest to break the solitude, and to show his neighbors the possibility of a different life.