Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
For the last several years, Peru has ranked very last of the 65 countries and regions that use the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment ) test of student achievement. According to the results, 60 percent of Peruvian students lack basic reading ability and 75 percent are unable to perform basic math exercises. The PISA also indicates that low income students are the poorest performers, showing a two and a half year gap in education levels from their peers. In the country overall, 75 percent of the population does not understand what they read – and of these, three quarters are women.
There are currently 7.8 million students in enrolled primary school in Peru. Of these, only 150,000 have sufficiently equipped libraries, nearly all of which are in private schools. Monthly private school tuition fees are typically the equivalent of two salaries average Peruvian salaries, making this option unobtainable for most. Public schools on the other hand, usually lack libraries and books, and there is no sort of national public school library system. These children who are not learning to read will not only have trouble interpreting the world around them as adults, but they will also be excluded from many jobs. This lack of future economic activity in turn means they are likely to become dependent on welfare later in life.
According to Peruvian law, “all children in Peru have the right to read one book a month.” However, the state only provides books where there are libraries. This means that in schools with no libraries, there first must be resources to build a library before the school can access public resources to stock the shelves with books.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Teresa Boullon, through her organization ReCreo, is showing parents, teachers, communities, and the government that reading is a tool for reviving low income and failing communities and countering a culture of dependency on handouts. In areas of Peru where there is little access to books, much less a culture of reading, Teresa is bringing community stakeholders together to change that. By removing physical, intellectual, and cultural barriers to literacy, ReCreo works with residents to create their own channels for acquiring listening and reading skills. Through that experience, citizens see they are able to change a fundamental problem in their own communities. Learning from that success, community members feel ready to take on other community challenges.
To reinforce the work in low income communities, Teresa is building national movement where reading is not only accessible for all, but even “cool.” To do this, Teresa works on the national and local level. Nationally, through her “1 Million Young Readers” campaign, Teresa is activating citizens to hold the state accountable in improving the quality of the education system. Locally, Teresa works with community members on multiple levels to together to tip towards a reading culture. This includes: retooling school curriculums, with the buy-in of principals; building school libraries, with the support of teachers and parents (mostly single mothers) from waste materials; and working with these parents and the local government to ensure the transformations are permanently adopted.
In this way, Teresa is making space for reading. By working with different actors in a way that is uniquely appealing to each, she involves them in reading so they become multipliers. She has given companies’ corporate responsibility arms an important project in launching and stocking libraries; she offers mothers and teachers new was of earning income through spreading reading and library building skills; she is showing the Ministry of Education a way to improve learning; and she proposes to municipalities a way to strengthen social fabric in low income communities. However, most importantly, Teresa’s work is offering citizens practice in resolving their problems, thereby gaining confidence in their own skills and in their ability to demand support from key allies. The model is already being taken up across Peru, and she has invitations to spread to other countries in Latin America.