Empowering Villages through Books: Brett Puterbaugh shares Village Bookbuilder’s Charge

According to UNESCO, around the world, global illiteracy rates are on the rise. In 2016 they estimated the global adult literacy rate was 86%, while the youth literacy rate was 91%. In addition, the majority of countries missed the Education for All (EFA) goal of reducing adult illiteracy rates by 50% between 2000 and 2015. This is Village Builders’ charge–to address these challenges and give hope through books. In areas impacted by poverty, violence, disease, and limited economic opportunities, they believe that books “open minds to a world of possibilities and give [children and youth] the tools to get there.” We reached out to Brett Puterbaugh, volunteer and advocate to learn more. 

For Tyler Clark, Village Bookbuilders’ founder, reading was a refuge that helped him get through tough family times and imagine new and exciting futures. From the Lord of the Rings set to non-fiction books such as the 7 Habits of a Highly Effective People, he grew as a person and felt empowered through the power of literacy. Many years later, he decided to take this love of learning and reading back to the community where he had previously volunteered in Mexico, raising money and collecting books with his wife to build the first library in the whole region. This is where Village Bookbuilders got started–a desire to spread opportunities to explore and grow. 

            From this seed, we have now had the privilege to build libraries in Ghana, Malawi, Nepal Peru, and Mexico. These exciting new libraries have reached over 6,260 children and growing as we work to finalize our in-progress projects in Peru, Mexico Nepal, Belize, and Kenya by December 2020. 

            So how do we pick our books? We ensure that every book we donate has the power to edify and enlighten. For example, we do not take down books like Twilight or in Africa we do not bring down Mark Twain books that have to do with salary. While it does leave a wide range of options, we make sure that every library at least has the following titles: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, The Boy who harnessed the wind, I am Malala, and Richest Man in Babylon. Aside from these titles, we make sure there are books of every genre, from toddler age-appropriate to engineering reference books to give the children options. 

An important part of our program is to push beyond access to books towards empowering children and their teachers to use literacy as a way to learn across the curriculum. Therefore, with every library built, we provide principal and teacher training. For example, our El Olvidó Library in Mexico recently started doing an activity “Suitcase Traveler” where kids fill a suitcase of their favorite books and share them with their peers, we, in turn, share this with our other libraries as another strategy to promote literacy and grow networks of readers. Other successful activities that local libraries have come up with are inviting mothers to come and read with their children once a week, are using the books to promote writing through book reviews, and allowing children to check books out to take home each week. As a portion of our program invites volunteers to come to these communities to see the projects in action and to promote reading activities, they have often provided workshops to parents about the importance of reading to their children or having their children read to them. This is also how we finance most of our work, using a portion of the fees from these trips to support the construction of new library projects. 

            We measure the impact of our program in a variety of ways, tracking the number of books read per child per month, academic scores, and high school graduation rates. We also have more anecdotal examples such as asking children to share what they wanted to be when they grow up. Before the library was built in Mexico kids often mentioned plans to be a taxi driver, farmer, and/or to migrate to the U.S. After the library was built their answers transformed to express interests in being doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and pilots. In Ghana, our efforts along with scholarship programs have guaranteed that children from the schools we work with can go on to pursue secondary education–a reality that is often out of reach for many rural villages across the country.  

The power of books has the ability to go a long way! While we might spend $5 for one book, this book is likely to be read 110 times over the course of its shelf life. It can support children’s literacy, imagination, and dreams while developing a culture of reading and love of learning; we believe that it is through these supports that we can support systemic change.

If you are interested in learning more about Village Bookbuilders and where they are headed next, please follow their story at www.villagebookbuilders.org

Thank you to Peter Puterbaugh, a volunteer with Village Bookbuilders, for sharing their story. We look forward to hearing your story and that of your organization. If you have an organization or know of one we should highlight, please get in touch!

Maxie and Paula