A Book to Read Empowers Nicaraguans
A young boy helps take care of his family's cows and calf with the help of his little cousin.

PUEBLO NUEVO, NICARAGUA

Pueblo Nuevo is a small farming village of 3,500 tucked into the northern mountains of Nicaragua a half-hour off the Pan-American Highway. The bus ride into Pueblo Nuevo winds past fields being plowed by oxen, rows of drying corn and simple adobe homes and gives a dramatic view of the green mountains that rise up in the distance. Pueblo Nuevo itself sits next to the river that cuts through the valley and is the center of a municipality composed of forty-two small communities and 30,000 people spread across the extensive watershed.

The majority of the population in the municipality finds itself entrenched in a harsh cycle of poverty due in large part to decades of social and environmental difficulties. The Sandinista-Contra war interrupted daily life for years. In 1999, Pueblo Nuevo was greatly impacted by Hurricane Mitch and the effects of lost land due to mass erosion is still felt by this rural community. More recently, families in Pueblo Nuevo are feeling pinched by the soaring cost of living.

The wide majority of children living in the town of Pueblo Nuevo attend the local elementary school. However, many leave school to work alongside their parents during planting and harvesting seasons or leave altogether because their parents cannot afford the required notebooks and pencils. Many students never graduate from high school for economic reasons.

But when Peace Corps volunteer and current ABREN board president Kristina Underdal initiated the idea of a children’s library in Pueblo Nuevo in 2000, the community stepped forward enthusiastically with volunteer labor to build the original "Amigos" children’s library. Since the library opened, the people of Pueblo Nuevo have sustained it in many ways. A partial list includes:

• Keeping up buildings and grounds, including community clean-up days and repainting of play structure
• Maintaining and repairing electrical infrastructure
• Paying for utilities at the center
• Keeping book collection in good condition by adding protective covers and making repairs as needed
• Preparing nutritional snacks for preschool program
• Volunteering to teach arts and music and help with youth activities
• Designed and built Centro Amigos and Casa Margarita libraries and community center.