The children of El Pital shudder as they hear the pounding beat of horse hooves galloping towards their rural community in the Cangrejal Valley, Honduras. They pause their games and perk their ears up – listening carefully to better hear what’s coming their way. As the leaves begin to rustle just up the road, children and adults alike exchange looks of concern, wondering who among them has been sure to prepare for the monthly visit from this mystical character.
As the pounding grows near, the children know all too well that those hooves hail from Bibliolandia, and that atop the swift horse rides a character who can only be satiated by one thing – stories. This masked character, who has “terrorized” the children of the region since 2010, is determined to consume books that contain the children’s own, creative, colorful and delightful stories.
Through the thick green bushes lining the dusty road, the hat and bandana-clad character finally appears. Towering above them, El Bibliobandido halts his horse… and he looks positively ravenous! Small children run and hide behind their mothers, while the men stand outside to keep watch. El Bibliobandido’s grumpy horse stomps his hooves into the dirt and groans.
A small group of brave children know exactly what must be done. They make a dash for the community library, a small, brightly painted cinder-block room that is currently attached to the community’s newly built high school. The children feel safe inside the library – as it is where they go to listen to story hour, do their homework, and receive support with their reading and writing.
Their eyes dart around the room – passing over dozens of books and resources donated to their community – and finally land on the red satchel they’ve stashed in the corner. It’s heavy, overflowing with handmade books. These carefully crafted books contain the enchanting stories that all of the children in the community have worked so hard to create over the past month.
Hauling the satchel out of the library and onto the rocky dirt road, the children feel confident that El Bibliobandido will be pleased. This month, on top of dreaming up even more wild and adventurous stories, the children have learned to spell their words more correctly, scribe their letters more beautifully, and draw their pictures more carefully. They know this is the only way to keep El Bibliobandido’s voracious appetite at bay, and keep him from terrorizing them… at least until next month.
For children who have a 42% chance of dropping out of school before the fifth grade, El Bibliobandido provides motivation to improve their literacy skills and progress farther through school. It is known that illiteracy is one of the factors that keeps individuals and communities in a cycle of poverty, yet in Honduras, 25% of the population still can not read or write. In rural areas of the country such as El Pital, where access to books is extremely limited, the number of people who lack these basic skills is typically much higher. Widespread illiteracy can keep these communities locked into the dangerous and stifling reverberations of poverty – their communities riddled with violence, poor health, and frustration. Yet where government cannot be relied upon for quality education and literacy support, creative solutions and community collaboration come to the rescue.
With the help of the brave children, El Bibliobandido hoists the red satchel filled with books onto his horse and pours it into his knapsack – like a giant burlap stomach, his knapsack grows fatter with each community he visits. The children of El Pital clamor with excitement as El Bibliobandido rides up the road to the next community that lies along the Cangrejal River. Luckily, teams of children from El Pital have done an excellent job of warning the children of the other communities in the Valley about the terror of El Bibliobandido. They’ve taught the other children to make their own books, and to fill them with magical, colorful stories as well. Safe this time, the children of El Pital can only hope that their fellow school children are just as prepared with their own brilliant creations.
Although El Bibliobandido is a mystical character who was created in partnership by Un Mundo, Rev- and the community to “terrorize” children as a creative way to motivate them, he has come to be loved by all. Children and adults alike know that this character provides them with a creative outlet and an educational resource that is otherwise unavailable to them – one that encourages them to advance skills that are critical to their future, while inviting them to tell their own stories of truth. In reality, El Bibliobandido’s hunger drives anything but terror – it inspires creativity, encourages critical thinking, builds literacy, and brings joy to the lives of thousands of people in this rural Honduran community.
And all it takes is a story...
By Sierra Brashear