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Championing Literacy and Dreaming Big in Peru

Sheila Kinkade | September 8, 2016

For Teresa Boullón, creating libraries in Peruvian schools isn’t just about giving children opportunities to read; it’s about encouraging them to dream big about their lives and possibilities. That’s why on this International Literacy Day, we call attention not only to Teresa but to all those YouthActionNet® fellows who are working to ensure children have access to the education and resources that will enable them to become readers and big thinkers--for life. 

“Reading makes you believe you can do everything you want; it makes you believe the world is bigger than what you see every day,” says Teresa. “[Books help] you to believe you can reach your dreams and do what’s needed to change your world.”

With 75 percent of Peruvian children lacking basic reading ability, Teresa set out to meet their needs through solving a related problem: the absence of libraries in the nation’s public schools. Five years ago, she launched Un Millón de Niños Lectores (One Million Readers), a social enterprise, with the ambitious goal of providing a million students and community members with access to reading materials by 2021.

Today, creative partnership-building lies at the heart of Teresa’s efforts to equip low-income schools with libraries. Un Millón de Niños Lectores enlists the support of a range of companies to fund its efforts, while mobilizing members of the educational community to build and sustain school libraries. Parents volunteer their time to paint and transform unused spaces into libraries, with recycled materials used to create tables, chairs, and bookshelves.

To date, the organization has built libraries at 21 schools across the country reaching over 18,600 students. It’s also worked to sensitize 80,000 parents to the importance of books and reading in their children’s lives, while training 1,750 teachers to integrate library materials into their curricula.

But this is only the beginning. In July of this year, Teresa achieved a major milestone, working with authorities in the prominent Miraflores District of Lima to inaugurate a policy establishing a local public library system. Libraries have now been opened at nine of the district’s schools, with three more on the way next year. When fully implemented, the new policy is expected to benefit up to 100,000 people. With a model now established, two more school districts are looking to replicate it.

Ultimately, Teresa seeks to influence national-level policy to ensure a system is in place that makes libraries available for all Peruvians. Her recent success in Miraflores shows how one step at a time, she’s getting closer to reaching her audacious goal.

Learn more about Teresa’s innovative approach to promoting literacy in this video.