My dear friend and colleague, Sujei Lugo, is tireless in her work to put books into the hands of young people; books that authentically reflect who they are and that position them to create their own space in the world. One of her projects is to get books to young people in Puerto Rico and she needs our help to do that. The education system there is floundering and we all know that education is key future opportunities. If you’d like to donate to the Paypal account she mentions, or if you have any questions about the project, contact Sujei: sujeilugo at gmail dot com.
After Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, several schools served as shelters, offices and food/water supply centers, and others started serving as community centers where children and adults met to get together, play, eat, and do activities to distract themselves. Months later around 300 schools were/are being closed, those that are still opened don’t have reliable power or water, or don’t have enough teachers, government support, or a safe infrastructure. Teachers, parents, guardians, community leaders and students are doing their best to keep their schools opened, find support from NGOs, and develop educational and recreational activities, projects, and initiatives for their communities.
I’ve been in direct contact with educators and community activists from my hometown, Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico, and also with friends and collaborators from other areas on the island I met when I lived back home. We have been talking, exploring, organizing, and developing short-term and long-term goals for collaborations. and projects with Puerto Rican youth in mind.
The most recent project I’ve been working on is with Rosaura Rodríguez, an artist, comic writer, educator and all-around awesome person who wears many hats. Rosaura works with youth ages 6-18 in the towns of Arecibo and Jayuya (where she is currently living) by providing creative art therapy and autobiographical illustration narratives workshops. She also works at and is the co-founder of Camp Tabonuco, a youth environmental educational program (in her own farm!) that focuses on “the personal values of integrity and self‐sufficiency, the community values of cooperation and collaboration, and the environmental values of sustainability and ecological literacy in our administrative, programming, and collaborative work.” And, she works for an organization that provides shelter for young girls.
When Rosaura knew about the book/community library project I’ve been working on in my hometown, she asked me if there was a way to get books for the youth she was working with. Once she brought several comics and books to her workshops the kids couldn’t keep their hand off them. This is where we explored the idea of creating reading corners and a library to enhance both programs, to engage in youth reading interests and provide emotional, recreational and educational support. The children got excited with the idea and started making list of topics, genres, and format of books they wanted to read. Art materials were also part of the list to support their art therapy creative workshops, abstract painting and coloring activities.
Together we created an Amazon wishlist of art materials and books for the youth and we are more than happy with the support we’ve been receiving from friends, colleagues, and the kid lit community! There’s still a lot to work on, books and materials to acquire and donations to receive. There’s also a venmo/paypal account that will be used to buy books directly from local Puerto Rican publishers and bookstores who are in much-need of support and love.
My commitment with Puerto Rico and all these projects and future ones! is a long-term one. My parents, brothers and loved ones are there, I grew up there, I got my public education from first grade all the way to grad school there, and found my commitment and passion for children’s literature, social justice and communities there.