Want hope? Watch the burro on PBS POV tonight!

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Want a dose of hope?
Watch Biblioburro: The Donkey Library tonight on the PBS POV documentary series!

If you enjoyed the earlier Sweetgrass documentary about horseback sheepherders in Montana, then you’re sure to love tonight’s story of a teacher in rural Colombia who is transforming lives with a mobile library he packs on his two burros. The movie opens like a fairy tale with a closeup of a burro and the teacher’s enthusiastic voice telling the story of his bright idea.

But this is no fairy tale! Families in this rural area of northern Colombia live “in the heart of the conflict zone between leftist guerillas and paramilitaries,” the film tells us. We see school teacher Luis Soriano, who founded and operates the Biblioburro library, gather his students for a typical day in his open-air classroom. He begins by asking the kids to draw a picture of “some of the bad things that happen in our village.” He wants to surface the kids’ fears and strengthen their collective resilience, but their colorful sketches are jaw dropping! One child draws a helicopter shooting at people as land mines blow off their limbs. Another child shows a sketch and explains, “that one got chopped up with a machete.”

The teacher’s lesson ends with his confident reassurance: “You hear this children? You have to remember that we’re courageous people, and each one of you is important for the future of this country.” This is not idle talk. As you’ll learn in the course of the film, Soriano once was nearly murdered in the course of his route through the jungle. His own good-hearted commitment to Biblioburro is astonishing.

How does he do this in addition to his day job in the open-air classroom? He loads his custom-made book boxes long before dawn, then straps them across the backs of his two burros. Soon, he’s off to help light up more children’s lives with little doses of literature.

ReadTheSpirit is not alone in recommending both this documentary and the courageous work of Luis Soriano. The New York Times’ Simone Romero reported on Biblioburro when the documentary was in production a couple of years ago. Romero wrote, in part: “A whimsical riff on the bookmobile, Mr. Soriano’s Biblioburro is a small institution: one man and two donkeys. He created it out of the simple belief that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region, and perhaps Colombia. … Mr. Soriano has never traveled outside Colombia—but he remains dedicated to bringing its people a touch of the outside world. His project has won acclaim from the nation’s literacy specialists and is the subject of a new documentary by a Colombian filmmaker, Carlos Rendón Zipaguata.”

Now, we all get to see this stirring film, courtesy of the PBS POV series.

Care to read more?

Wikipedia’s Biblioburro entry includes links to the Romero story and others.

Discuss Biblioburro with your Small Group

There’s a lot talk about in this hour-long film. Gabriel García Márquez was born in this same region of Colombia; readers familiar with his acclaimed novels will enjoy drawing parallels. The film also mentions Don Quixote; and you’ll see obvious parallels with Cervantes.

Beyond the lush literary associations here, the film is both a troubling and a reassuring look at families caught in a particularly dangerous corner of our world. Seeing Luis Soriano’s strategy for improving life will prompt conversation about ways we all might improve our world.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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