Laura Kelly is a long-time resident of Barra de Potosí and owns “Casa del Encanto”, a quaint, tranquil hotel in the centre of the village. The Children’s Library Project of Barra de Potosí began with her and she takes us through the growth and prospects of this project.
Aaron: Briefly introduce yourself.
Laura: My name is Laura Kelly. I am American by birth but moved to Mexico 28 years ago. I fell in love with the people, the ‘costeña’ culture and have since made Barra de Potosí my home.
A: The Children’s Library Project began right here in your home with the kids of the village. Can you describe its evolution?
L: The library has had a natural, organic evolution which I would divide into three stages. 20 years ago, I was recovering from cancer treatment and was somewhat hammock bound in Barra. Being the only foreigner in the village, the kids were compelled to investigate me. It started with me reading them fairy tales. Over time I began to source art materials, school supplies and books. B’n’B guests and tourists to the area learned of the project through online message boards and began to hand deliver donated supplies to the cause. This lead to the development of visiting workshop volunteers wherein tourists gave specialised workshops in diverse topics in a mutually gratifying exchange of cultures.
As the library expanded we legalized as a private non-profit NGO. Around this time, Cecilia and Kevin from PEI happened to stay as guests at my B’n’B and bore witness to the library project. PEI began to send volunteers. A house went up for sale and we sourced the finance to purchase it. In following years, we had a consistent, stable volunteer presence and institutional structure to develop a daily after school curriculum, which spanned homework help to detailed specialised classes such as Music, Art and English. This was the golden age of the library.
Stage 3 is the current phase in which the library has declined from its peak and is surviving as volunteers come and go for shorter periods of time, not affording as definite a structure. Given the complex security situation in the state of Guerrero, we are not able to receive the level of volunteer support we previously enjoyed.
A: You must feel strongly about quality education..
L: Yes, I certainly do. My father was a developer of the public library system in the State of Illinois and a lobbyist for the American Library Association on the federal level in the US. I have an inherent appreciation for education and literature. A public library with free life-long access is fundamental to democracy.
A: What’s next?
L: The long-term goal has always been sustainability and integration into the fabric of the local community with the core staff being Mexican or persons highly integrated into Mexican society. Toward this goal, our current stage is focused on securing permanent funding which will provide a full-time, highly skilled, paid director. This will provide a firm base for managing additional volunteers and for acquiring additional funding for various projects. We are currently working with partners from two excellent sources and are confident we will succeed in this in the coming months.
A: In short, what is the mission of the Children’s Library Project of Barra de Potosí?
L: The library’s vision is to support the central values of this costeña community centring around family and nature by enhancing the children’s education and providing generalized education support to the entire family, focussing particularly on literacy, health and environmental education.
And also to bridge cultures and provide constructive interaction between visiting tourists and locals to harness the positive impacts of international tourism and development.