As a Communications Advisor with The Riecken Community LIbraries, I see everyday how the entire organization works with limited resources to truly bring change to communities in poor, generally remote, regions of Honduras and Guatemala. Access to information - through books, dynamic programs, training and community gatherings - is what each Riecken Community Library is about. Anyone considering donating to their work should be pleased to learn that the Riecken Community Library model is a sustainable one - requiring partnership between the community, its municipality and the Riecken Foundation. The deep commitment of local staff and volunteers is truly amazing to behold.
Having previously visited Guatemala, the "need" was compelling: nurturing and guiding the growth of newly created libraries in the hinterlands. I wanted to see how they operated in the digital age. I was invited to join a site visit with a Board member and planned a trip around it (taking Spanish classes in the charming city of Antigua.) The first stop was to visit the office and office staff at a plantation outside of town, the space being generously donated by a prominent, socially conscious Guatemalan owner. The small staff described what they do and how they do it. Then off to a two hour drive to Lake Atitlan, taking a launch to the village across the lake an hour away. By road the mountainous trip would have taken more than six hours. And they say this library was easier to reach than the 17 others in Guatemala! So how was it? My first reaction was surprise: it was not a new building but converted space that housed other community functions-- in the center of town. We arrived early as a group of 50 or more seniors paraded in for their weekly multi-generation one-on-one sessions with the young children. Attentive children (they were not actors!) actually listened attentively to the sage advice of the elders. I was told they were being told about the importance of preserving their culture and indigenous ways and language. However, in the next room there were three desktops fully utilized by three six or seven year olds. They were moving around the cursors, playing a game, and exploring the desktop. However, the locally-supplied internet connection was "down" that day because the single provider in the community was awaiting an equipment replacement. The kids were unsupervised at the time. One can only imagine how much could be done with good computer access, some training, and some "early adapters" that would help open the outside world to these young kids.
We all are witness of well-meaning efforts resulting in bureaucracies eating away available funds, consultants who produce nothing more than useless reports, recipients who do not appreciate or use effectively what they get. The Riecken libraries and community centers in Guatemala and Honduras are exactly the opposite of this scenario. Available funds are used wisely and well. The results are formidable. Recipients are enthusiastic with the help they receive, especially the children. These children are growing up with something all children in underdeveloped countries of the world should have: an opportunity to improve themselves and to have the tools to get out of the vicious circles of ignorance and poverty. And the people in the communities Riecken serves have a community center where they pursue productive and worthwhile activities that benefit everybody. The Riecken model is an example of how organizations should work. I have been a witness of their efforts and their successes. The Riecken Foundation deserves all the help it can get.
I am primarily familiar with the foundation's role in Guatemala, but what I've seen, I really like. So much so that for my recent 50th birthday I asked others to support the foundation instead of gifts. I've visited one of the libraries and I'm amazed at the success the organization can produce with such little overhead. It's first in line for a non-church charity in my budget.
In April of 2012 I visited 2 libraries developed by the Riecken Foundation; 1 in San Juan La Laguna and 1 in Chiche'. Both were intensely in use at the time and apparently very popular in their respective communities. The directors were enthusiastic and passionate about their role in their communities. Each also appeared to be well qualified and well trained to manage these community resources. The purpose of the visits was to observe first hand the use of funds provided by the Rotary Club of Reno, Nevada, USA. We were impressed.
I joined the board because I was able to see, for myself, the impact of these libraries on rural communities in Central America. I saw young girls showing off their reading schools. I saw indigenous residents meeting to discuss community issues. I saw young people doing research on computers for their homework rather than hanging out in the streets. Riecken Libraries allow so many under-served, deserving people gain free access to information and join the global community.