Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

National Library Week: 6 Mobile Libraries Bring Books to the World

Americans like me who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s (in other words–old!) are likely to fondly remember bookmobiles. In some small or rural communities, they were the only way to borrow books. Today, there are less than 1,000 bookmobiles in use in the U.S. That could be because more than 306 million people in the U.S. lived within a public library service area in 2014. And anyone with a computer or smartphone can get free access to e-books and audiobooks, as well as the printed versions, from their local library.

But in other parts of the world, it’s not so easy. In many countries, there are very few public libraries, and in some, even schools don’t have books or libraries. And with only 35 percent of the world’s population connected to the internet, there are vast numbers of people–especially children–who have no way to gain access to books. In honor of National Library Week, this post explores six visionary mobile libraries that go to great lengths to promote the love of reading and literacy throughout their little part of the globe.

Argentina: Arma de Instruccion Masiva

In Argentina, the artist Raul Lemesoff converted a green 1979 Ford Falcon purchased from the Argentine armed forces into a tank-like vehicle with enough shelf space for 900 books, offering everything from novels to poetry. Lemesoff was inspired to build his Arma de Instruccion Masiva (Weapon of Mass Instruction) as a way of counteracting fear with education. On World Book Day in March 2015, he drove around the urban centers and rural communities of Argentina, offering free books to people on the street, as long as they promised to read them.

Colombia: Biblioburro

In 1990, a primary school teacher in Colombia named Luis Soriano Bohorquez was inspired to save rural children in Colombia’s Magdalena province from illiteracy. Every Saturday at dawn, Luis sets out to 15 select villages with his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto (their names combined translate to “alphabet”). Luis rides Alfa up to four hours each way, with Beto following behind carrying a sitting blanket and more books. Children get homework help, learn to read or listen to stories and geography lessons that he prepares. Soriano started his library with just 70 books from his own collection. Thanks to donations, he now has some 4,800 books piled up in his little house in the small town of La Gloria. In 2011, PBS made a documentary film about his work, Biblioburro: The Donkey Library.

Biblioburro, Traveling Library in Colombia
By Acción Visual/Diana Arias [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Italy: Bibliomotocarro

In 2003, retired teacher Antonio La Cava realized that children in the local villages of the Basilicata region in southern Italy didn’t have easy access to books. He bought a used Piaggio Ape motorbike van and modified it, creating the Bibliomotocarro (the Library Motor Car). The small, bright blue vehicle resembles a tiny house–including a Spanish-tiled roof, a chimney, and large glass windows that display the over 1,200 books inside. There are also built-in speakers to play the organ music he uses to announce his arrival. Each month, he travels over 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) to eight different villages, where children gather in the squares to wait for him.

Mongolia: Children’s Mobile Library

Dashdondog Jamba is a children’s book writer and publisher and has translated more than fifty children’s books by foreign writers into Mongolian. His Children’s Mobile Library transports books to children in the remote regions of the Gobi desert, and throughout every province of Mongolia. Since the early 1990’s, he has faced the challenges of mountainous terrain and severe weather conditions to travel over 50,000 miles by camel, on horseback, on carts pulled by horses or oxen, and more recently, with a van. Assisted by his wife and son, they often remain in one place for several days to allow as many children as possible to read the books.

Norway: Bokbaten Epos

In a coastal country that includes many islands and islets, with remote hamlets located along the fjords, the sea is often the easiest way to reach some communities. In 1959, a group of librarians in Hordaland pioneered the concept of a floating library. At first, a refurbished tobacco cutter was used, and it was an immediate success. In 1963, a larger 85-foot boat was specially built to serve as the seafaring mobile library. The new vessel also offers cultural programs such as films, plays, puppet shows and visits with authors. Bokbaten Epos (the Library Boat) carries about 6,000 books to the residents of 150 small communities in three counties along the West coast of Norway who don’t have their own libraries.

Bokbåten Epos

Bokbåten Epos by Andrva (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan: Bright Star Mobile Library

When Saeed Malik returned to his home country of Pakistan in 2004 after working for the United Nations World Food Program for 35 years, he learned that most government and private elementary schools in the rural areas of the Islamabad Capital Territory did not have library services or books of their own. He founded the Bright Star Mobile Library in 2011 to introduce young Pakistanis to the world of reading and books. Four refurbished U.N. jeeps make weekly visits to about 20 elementary schools in the outskirts of the capital city, carrying over 1,000 books and serving nearly 6,000 young students.


Libraries Transform. Whether a library is on land, sea, or even donkey, those who bring books and resources to their local community are truly agents of transformation.

How are you celebrating National Library Week? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us at #ProQuest.

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CultureGrams: Over 100 New Videos!

We’ve recently added 102 new videos to the CultureGrams video collection! These unique videos, produced by CultureGrams editors from footage submitted from contributors around the world, highlight many aspects of daily life and culture for 11 countries.

We’re offering two of these in full to non-subscribers via YouTube, so share with your colleagues and friends!

Kids collect water in the Central African Repbulic . . .

and musicians and dancers perform in Ethiopia.

You can also witness scenes from Burkina Faso’s revolution, attend a wedding in Cameroon, watch a dance competition in DR Congo, join the world in commemorating South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, shiver with ice swimmers in Hungary, ride the tube in the UK, and much more.

Special thanks to our prolific contributor Salym Fayad for providing beautiful, culturally important footage for so many of these videos.

All 728 videos in the CultureGrams collection are available for streaming and download. Feel free to incorporate these videos into presentations or use them for other educational purposes. Or watch them just for the fun of it. Enjoy!

CultureGrams: Soccer and Beyond

The U.S. women’s team may have won the World Cup, but here in Colombia (where I’m spending the summer with my family), we’re still recovering from a heartbreaking loss to Argentina via a shoot-out in the final seconds of the America Cup’s quarter-finals. I watched the game at a nearby community center for the cultural experience. Though I’m the furthest thing from a sports fan, I was almost too depressed afterwards to walk home through the suddenly silent streets filled with spectators unable to turn the TV off just yet. I can’t imagine how they felt. And nothing has endeared us to the locals quite as much as the Colombian national team jerseys our kids regularly wear–even if a 6-year-old boy did recently ask me incredulously if what he was seeing was true: your son doesn’t really know how to play soccer? And how old is he? (That my answer was 4 did nothing to lessen his shock.)  In other words, fútbol is a big deal here.

But it’s not the only way that Colombians entertain themselves. Since I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed many other activities, including the classic game of marbles. The kids in this video live outside of the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, near the entrance of Tayrona National Park,  where most of their parents work. Their little neighborhood is composed of about 20 houses, in the center of which is located an open-air pool hall (“No children allowed!”) and enough flat dirt for a serious game of marbles.

Which was eventually interrupted by, you guessed it, a soccer game. Only this time there was a 6-year-old boy patient enough to teach my son how to do a header.

Read about other games and sports Colombians and others play in our World Edition Recreation sections and our Kids Edition Games and Sports sections.

Learning Culture in a Local Market

Hola from Colombia, the country I just arrived in and where I’ll be living with my family for the summer. We are currently in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. It has long been a tourist destination within the country and is increasingly attracting visitors from around the world as well. This is especially true of the walled old city (where we live), which is a UNESCO heritage site, and the nearby Miami-style strip of hotels and shopping centers that make up the Bocagrande neighborhood.

It would be easy to never break out of the tourist bubble that is this area, but, CultureGrams editor that I am, I’m of course interested in local culture and the everyday life patterns of the people who live in the vast and much poorer neighborhoods that make up the rest of the city.

And so it was that one of the first places we went in our new hometown was Bazurto Market, a place so local that the taxi drivers who took us there asked us again and again why exactly we had chosen that destination (especially when there is a nice mall just a few blocks away!).

Markets are a common subject of photos and videos in CultureGrams and for good reason: they contain a wealth of information about a place. They of course reveal what foods and goods people most commonly use and what they pay for them. But they can also illuminate family dynamics (Are children manning the stalls? Are they with their parents? Are they working on homework at the same time?), services rendered (Do people commonly have clothes custom made by tailors? Are construction workers available for hire?), and a population’s resourcefulness (What kinds of used parts are for sale? What commercial goods are replicated and produced by hand?). Even the arrangement of goods often has an artistic pattern that is unique to a place.

So enjoy some images from El Mercado Bazurto before they make their way into the Colombia CultureGrams photo collection and be sure to check out the local market in the next country you visit!


A tailor works on custom orders.


A woman cleans one of the market’s many alleyways with a bucket of soapy water and a broom.


One of the many dominoes games happening among the market stalls.


Shoes of all colors and styles abound.


Many stalls are packed to capacity with goods.


Like many in the market, this woman hand paints figurines for sale.


Judging by the number of birds and cages for sale throughout the market, birds are a popular Colombian pet.


This boy helps his mother at their stall that offers a wide array of goods, new and used, that can be used to fix appliances and other household items.


Fish like these, caught in nearby waters, are brought to the market in the morning and kept there all day without refrigeration.


Plantains, both green and ripe. are a staple here. They are often fried into flat rounds called “patacones.”


Everyone has time to watch the televised Colombian soccer game.


Some of the many kids that can be found in the stalls, usually with at least one parent nearby.


A woman reclines in a market alleyway in a chair she created from ties used to secure bags of goods.

CultureGrams: 174 New Videos!

We’ve recently added 174 new videos to the CultureGrams video collection! These unique videos, produced by CultureGrams editors from footage submitted from contributors around the world, highlight many aspects of daily life and culture for 16 countries.

Watch young dancers perform in Côte d’Ivoire . . .


vendors sell their goods at a floating market in Thailand . . .


men weave cloth in Guinea-Bissau . . .


and people celebrate New Year’s in Cambodia . . .

You can also visit the traditional Malian drummer Boubou in his mud  house, learn how to make Colombia’s national dish of sancocho, shop at a fish market in Sri Lanka, root for South African veterinarians as they try to guide a sedated rhino into a trailer, and much more.

Special thanks to our prolific contributor Salym Fayad for providing beautiful, culturally important footage for so many of these videos.

All 612 videos in the CultureGrams collection are available for streaming and download in QT/MP4 and WMV formats. Feel free to incorporate these videos into presentations or use them for other educational purposes. Or watch them just for the fun of it. After all, it doesn’t get much better than a Thai hotel clerk singing karaoke at his desk while being bathed in a light show of his own creation.

CultureGrams: Sancocho recipe

Sancocho is a traditional stew popular throughout Latin America. There are many variations on this dish. It can include beef, goat, pork, chicken, or fish and contain any number of vegetables and tubers. The recipe given here is for a chicken-based Colombian sancocho. Find more recipes from Thailand and every other country in the world in the CultureGrams collection here!


Image credit: Salym Fayad


Sancocho de Gallina (Chicken and Vegetable Stew)


1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1 bunch scallions
1 bunch cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
3 whole chicken breasts, skinned and quartered with bones left on
1 yucca, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 red potatoes, cut into chunks
2 plantains, peeled, halved, and sliced into thirds lengthwise
Cilantro paste
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, slightly melted
Salt and pepper


  1. Simmer 1 cup chicken stock, scallions, cilantro, and cumin for a few minutes. Let cool. Process until becomes a smooth paste. Set aside.
  2. In large saucepan, simmer remaining chicken stock and chicken breasts. As the chicken simmers, add yucca and potatoes. Skim off any froth. After a half hour, add plantains. After 50 minutes, add cilantro paste and lemon juice. Cook for another 10 minutes.
  3. Mix roux ingredients and add to the soup, stirring to mix well. Test potatoes and yucca for tenderness and chicken for doneness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: If overcooked, the yucca, potato, and plantain disintegrate, but their rich flavors remain.