How impossible not to marvel at such tiny brown hands and those impossibly tiny feet! In sneakers, muddy and torn, Emily stood on tip toe so she could trace her finger down ragged spines of well worn, much loved children’s books. “Bienvenidos a la Biblioteca para Niños de Vilcabamba,” I thought, stumbling mentally over this mouthful of Spanish, so new to my tongue.
Pulling a cute book, for Emily, with an adorable rabbit on the cover, I thought she might like, tiny Emily cut dark eyes at me as she pulled hard on the biggest book in a stack. Instantly, a cascade of books tumbled onto dingy tile. Undaunted, Emily clung to her giant book, then expertly smacked it down onto the table. She flipped the book open and right away traced her finger around vibrant blue wings of a jungle dwelling butterfly while simultaneously seeking the insect’s twin on the opposite page.
As she ran her finger across the page Emily found a tiny tear. She lingered and fingered the tear until finally ordering me, her adoring slave, with a single word, “cinta,” meaning that I was to go find clear tape for her to repair the ripped page. I unfolded myself from the blue plastic chair to rummage through a white plastic box in search of a working roll of clear plastic tape. Handing her the tape, Emily found and traced another tear with her tiny finger. “Tijeras.” she intoned. Wandering off in search of scissors I had to marvel at that guttural and commanding voice. “A surprisingly powerful emanation from such a tiny human,” I muttered, while digging little red scissors out from a tangled bunch jammed into an old soup can. Two rips were soon fixed with precision cutting that included a slight nip to my left index finger and the placing and replacing of tape to get it just right before Emily was satisfied with her work.
Setting aside the scissors and tape she finally turned the page. Now I was as curious as Emily to see what was next. “Ahhh,” I sighed, thinking, this is a book that Emily knows very well. Emily tucked her tiny feet up under her to better contain her little body into what, to her, was an enormous chair. Her eager brown eyes spotted another favorite being. This time it was a bee. A big, burly, buzzing, bright yellow, striped bumble bee. Again Emily traced the bee with one finger while she sought the bee’s home across the page until she came to…another rip in the page. Patiently, Emily allowed me to hold the tape while she cut and placed it. She refined her work with each new tear encountered and repaired. Soon, Emily had bandaged this battered old book like she would a dear old friend. She knew intimately every picture, crease and tear. Fluorescent light bearing down from above caused my eyes to burn and squint turning Emily’s beloved insect book into a roiling mirage of color and flight.
When Emily started her ninth page of repairs my mind wandered off while wondering about her life and about what sort of future would be or could be hers. Clearly, Emily had little interest in fluffy bunnies or cute kitties. She is a realist. An active observer, curious about the natural world. She showed the care and patience of a doctor as she carefully patched her favorite giant book back to good health. Her commanding intelligence was formidable. Her tiny self, to me, a miracle to behold.
Growing up in Ecuador it will be difficult for Emily to find access to a broad variety of books. Bibles, sure, and some text books. Yet here, at the Biblioteca, she finds books that encourage her love of nature and spark her passion to understand the world around her. Here, Emily is surrounded by other curious, caring people, while building relationships which could have potentially profound impacts on her life. A very big deal for a very little girl and all of this done in the spirit of love. These books, and the loving inspiration that puts them there, allow Emily to connect to an old stranger through their shared love of learning. That connection surpasses language and, hopefully, will kindle a flame that illuminates Emily’s heart and mind creating, for her, possibilities beyond her wildest dreams, sparked by what she once found, and shared, in these worn and beloved books.
That is the gift of the Biblioteca, endless possibilities opening up for one child and then another and another and another.… Thank you, Jessica Fields and Roberto Melendez, for creating the opening for this meaningful intersection of lives and dreams, right here, in our beloved little Andean village of Vilcabamba. This is, truly, a labor of love. Thank you, too, to all the volunteers, many of whom work behind the scenes, and thank you, especially, to all of these children of Vilcabamba who so fill our hearts with loving kindness.
My prayer for Emily is my prayer for all children everywhere — a prayer for children’s lives full of expanding beneficial possibilities — and a prayer that for all children everywhere, caring people will be there who can help guide them safely to the fulfillment of their dreams, and finally, I pray that those dreams are illuminated with that sacred wisdom which comes, only, from an educated heart.
Katharine Bowers spent 25 years in private practice as an educational consultant and HANDLE® certified neuro developmental therapist. She also collaborated with schools, senior centers, hospitals and other community service organizations. Her focus was on helping those with challenges including attentional deficits, sensory integration, brain injury, stroke rehabilitation, sports performance, speaking, singing, depression and anxiety. Bowers also, for decades, advocated for children in schools, with families and in public community information events. Additionally, she became an environmental activist speaking out publicly on behalf of children’s health.