Saturday, April 13, 2013


I am inspired by the network of supporters that we have created around the world.  Throughout the past seven years, the story of La Puerta Abierta,  the first community  children's library in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala,  has reached people near and far. 

Three years ago I was blessed to cross paths with Carol Hodges, a librarian from Tidewater Community College who by chance, stumbled across La Puerta Abierta while touring Central America.  She was moved by our efforts to share literacy and creative learning with the youth of our community and was instrumental in creating a sister library relationship between TCC and BPA.  Over the years, Carol has collected and donated meaningful and quality children's books to our library collection.

Last year  Carol connected with Kole Matheson, an instructor at TCC, who was impressed by our commitment to youth and was guided by compassion to help our center as well.  Kole and his wife Andrea organized a supply drive in 2012 collecting and delivering duffle bags packed with educational games, school materials and books for our community.

This year,  Andrea's thirteen year old daughter Julianna who participates in the Teen Leaders Club at the Great Bridge/Hickory YMCA shared the vision of La Puerta Abierta with her local youth group and inspired the teen community to donate to our center whole-heartedly.   Donation boxes quickly filled with glue sticks, glitter, pencils, stickers and paint destined for the children of Santiago Atitlan. 

Thank you Carol, Kole, Andrea, TCC and the Great Bridge/Hickory YMCA for spreading the story of La Puerta Abierta throughout your community and for sharing your kindness with the children of Santiago Atitlan.

As I reflect on the  trail of support that has been created by one serendipitous encounter with Carol three years ago, I am reminded that La Puerta Abierta truly is a community endeavor, a project that supports the community of Santiago Atitlan and a project that is supported by communities who believe in our work.   I am also reminded of the power of person, one story, can make a big difference!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

All Smiles

All these smiling faces make me want to smile.  Do they make you want to smile too?
Miss Ana blows bubbles to her students at the end of our Friday morning Mommy and Me Class!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meet Nicole and her Bright Dreams

 La Puerta Abierta received a wonderful gift in early 2012 when we learned that Nicole, an energetic and vibrant Education Major at North Carolina State University would be volunteering at our center over the summer.  Nicole had big dreams for her10 week stay in Guatemala.  In addition to volunteering as a teacher at La Puerta Abierta, Nicole had  also designed a program to promote reading within our community.  She was given funding from a university grant which allowed her to purchase a wide array of new books for our center, a computer and printer for La Puerta Abierta, and language soft-ware for both our staff and students.  That was just the beginning....

In addition, Nicole hoped to create a program in which local students could write their own culturally sensitive books which could be published and later used in schools, homes and community centers.  The idea was brilliant...books written and illustrated by local children to be read and enjoyed by local children.  Books are hard to come by in rural Guatemalan communities and most children grow up without having exposure to books.  While 2 months seemed like a short amount of time to accomplish a very ambitious project, I encouraged Nicole to stick to her plans and helped her to create a work plan.  She was teamed up with Juanita, one of our most promising teachers at La Puerta Abierta and carried out her book project with the help and coordination of the staff at Panul Public School, one of the 8 schools that we partner with via our Traveling Library Program. 

While Nicole did experience a few challenges along the way (time moves slowly here and dead-lines are hard to meet, Spanish is a second language for the Tzutuhil speaking community of Santiago, reading and writing skills are poor, and students have little exposure to creative activities), she met with students twice weekly to move forward with the book project and to help and encourage children with their stories.

Six weeks later, an enthusiastic group of students from Panul received their very own books, in many cases their first book, written and illustrated by themselves!  Story topics included a variety of cultural themes such as local deities, market fruits, and traditional folk-lore.

To celebrate and honor the young writers and their stories, Nicole organized two book readings in our community.  The first was held at The Sharing the Dream Elders' Center where Santiago seniors delighted in seeing the young, sweet faces of  students reading stories about their community.  The second fiesta was held at Panul School where the children shared their stories with class-mates, teachers and families.

Nicole is now back in America  where she will complete her last year of studies before becoming a teacher.  She plans to integrate her experiences abroad in her teaching curriculum and La Puerta Abierta hopes to create an on-going relationship with her future classes.

La Puerta Abierta extends a heart felt thank you to Nicole for her generosity, compassion, and innovative ideas.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Puzzles for Panabaj

Candelaria has been working in the community of Panabaj for over 3 years now.  She is our Traveling Library Coordinator and every Monday afternoon, she journeys to the tiny Panabaj Community Center nestled between coffee bushes, dirt roads and small square houses to bring 2 hours of fun to the children of Panabaj.  Each visit includes a story, a creative art project and a critical thinking activity.

Last Monday, Candelaria packed up a box of puzzles to share with the children at the Panabaj Learning Center.  I was intrigued to see how such a simple game could bring hours of entertainment to the students.  In addition of "playing" with the puzzles, I observed how the children quickly discovered strategies for linking their puzzle pieces.  This may seem like a simple task for children growing up in developed countries who are surrounded by educational toys and games.  However, for the students of Panabaj toys such as puzzles, memory, and building blocks are hard to come by.  At La Puerta Abierta, we strive to provide opportunities for students to develop their critical thinking skills through play.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Muchas Gracias Karen y Amigas

Over 5 years ago, Karen Hedrick, a retired teacher from San Diego and I chatted excitedly over a cup of coffee about our shared dream of creating a children's library for the community of Santiago Atitlan.  We both loved books and children and were inspired to share the gift of reading with the children of Santiago Atitlan.  Little did I know that our casual conversation would transform into La Puerta Abierta Children's Library.  Karen and I co-founded La Puerta Abierta in January of 2007.  Throughout the past five years, we've developed a center which hosts story hours, lends books, inspires creativity and critical thinking, brings book kits to rural communities, and serves our community as a safe and nurturing environment for Santiago youth. 

This past May, Karen organized a service oriented trip for 5 of her friends (Patti, Anne, Annie, Terri, Sharon and Lauri) from Spokane Washington.  The group spent one week volunteering in our center and surrounding schools.  During their stay in Santiago, the group taught violin classes, donated eye-glasses to the elders, shared felt story boards with our students, participated in a letter exchange between Guatemalan and US students, and worked in Tzanchaj school to teach music and voice lessons to the older students. 

In addition, Karen and friends organized a supply and book drive within their community and donated new books and materials to our center.

Muchas Gracias!

Saturday Mornings...

Saturday mornings at La Puerta Abierta are colorful, lively and fun.  Children as young as 1 and as old as five gather in our center for an hour of stories, music and creative play.  We've been collaborating with Sara, a talented Early Childhood Development Specialist comitted to living in Santiago for the duration of the year, who is helping us develop activities for our young students that are stimulating, engaging and age-appropriate.  While the children in our classes are our primary focus, we also aim to model simple learning activities that parents can observe during the class and later replicate within the home. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Special Delivery from Tidewater Community College

Our teachers are all smiles as they unpack the supplies delivered from Tidewater Community College.
Juanita, our talented story-teller shares one of the donated books from TCC with a group of attentive students.

In August of 2010, La Biblioteca Puerta Abierta received a wonderful gift.  As if fate had lead her to our front door, Carol Hodges, a librarian from Tidewater Community College stumbled upon our small children's library.  In a bustling village of moto-taxis, crowded stone buildings, zig-zagging streets with no signs, this truly was a small miracle.  When Carol entered our library, a local librarian was reading the last pages of a book to a young audience for a community story hour. During this brief encounter, Carol  was inspired by our mission to share the gift of reading and books with the students of Santiago Atitlan.

Upon arrival to Virginia, Carol was moved to create ways to support our programs and to connect the students and staff of Tidewater Community college with La Puerta Abierta.

TCC has organized two supply drives for our center.  Earlier this year, she teamed with  Kole Matheson, a TCC Adjunct English and ESL Professor and Library Specialist to lead an on campus book and material drive for La Puerta Abierta.  Our staff was overjoyed to receive a personally delivered suitcase stuffed with supplies and books for our library.  Carol  hand-picked many of the books herself at a Guadalajara book fair that she had attended in late 2011. 

La Puerta Abierta  remains immensely grateful for the serendipitous visit over two years ago which linked us with Carol and her library.  We are honored to have been taken under the wings of The Tidewater Community College Library as their sister library and have been touched by Carol's kindness and generosity.

Muchas Gracias Tidewater Community College!