Saturday, November 25, 2006

Anne Marie McSweeny Book Delivery Project

The Anne Marie McSweeny Book Delivery Project

The area of San Martin Plaza is a bustling center in downtown Lima, Peru. A huge bronze statue of General Martin on his horse overlooks a city square twice as big as a football field. Impressive buildings with ornate Colonial style architecture surround the square. This is the hub of both the best and worst Lima has to offer. The charm of San Martin Plaza is offset by dozens of armed police who are on the lookout for pick pockets and prostitutes that are as common as pigeons on the statue’s head.

This section of Lima is famous for it’s bookstores. The streets radiating from the main square offer a collection of small used book shops that would be fascinating to someone who spoke Spanish. I don’t read much Spanish, so I am usually attracted to the books with the best pictures. The biggest bookstore is called the Naverratte which is a cross between Barnes and Noble and Office Max. Here you can buy everything from novels to packing tape.

A project we started this year was to deliver books to remote schools in the jungle of Peru. This project came about after the death of my friend Anne Marie McSweeny who died in an auto accident in June of 2006. Anne had willed her bicycles to her friend Karl Stock. Karl wanted to use the money raised from selling Anne Marie’s bicycles for something that would benefit many people. As Karl and I thought of a plan we agreed that Anne Marie would be in favor of helping children with a book delivery program. Karl sold Anne Marie’s bikes and raised $5,000 for the project.

When I returned to Peru this October I needed to find the best way to organize the book delivery program. Buying the books was one concern. Delivering books to remote schools was another problem. I didn’t have a good idea of how many books I could buy or how I could transport them. This year would be a scouting trip to find more schools and the best way to distribute the books.

When I looked through the book stores in Lima I found many good books at the used book stores. There were many hard bound books available for $2 - $5. New paperback books could be bought for about the same price. When selecting books I tried to find a mix between educational and entertainment. Sometimes I found sets of encyclopedias, science text books, and “How To” books for sewing, gardening and raising animals. Since I am partial to Spanish books with lots of pictures I usually picked those first. I also found many novels that had been translated into Spanish, such as, Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Phantom of the Opera were some of the dozens of titles I recognized. To round out my list of 100 books I included some with a Disney theme such as Mickey Mouse or other comics.

My budget was about $500 per school. I would get books for three schools now and seven schools in the future. The next concern was how to box and transport 300 books for three schools. For comparison; 100 National Geographic Magazines fit into a square two foot cube box and weighs about 80 pounds. That was the average size for the books I bought. I divided my 300 books into five boxes of about 50 pounds each. Good cardboard boxes are rare in Peru so I had to reinforce each box with several layers of flimsy cardboard. The good thing is that clear packing tape is plentiful for thirty cents a roll. I used a full roll on each box to make it suitable for transport.

My ultimate destination was to travel by taxi 300 miles into the jungle to the school at the Puerto Occopa Orphanage. Along the way I delivered books to a school in the mountain town of Chosica and to another school in the jungle village of Yurinaki. The directors of both these schools were thankful for the unexpected gift since they had few books on their shelves. We gave each of the schools a photo of Anne Marie and told them about her gift to the school. Her photo is now on display in their new library.

A side note:
Two weeks later I flew to the Amazon River City of Iquitos. Three years ago we had helped build a school nine kilometers out of town.
A fellow named Juan Torres is the superintendent for all the schools in Lorento Provence which is Peru largest jungle region. He is based in Iquitos and is in charge of 120 school districts and 18,000 teachers. Juan is in a very influential position to determine the future of schools in Peru. I had a meeting with him to discuss the future of the Jack Wolff School we built three years ago. He wanted to see the school so we drove in his pickup truck with four other directors to visit the village. They were impressed with the progress made so far at the school. I was able to spend most of the afternoon with Juan discussing Peru schools and philosophies of helping the desolate areas in Peru. He asked me to come over to his house for dinner that night to continue our talk.

It turns out Juan had grown up in a remote Indian Amazon village a hundred miles from any major towns. He was able to come to Iquitos when he was 16 years old and finish high school. He then went to Lima and went to college to become a teacher. He eventually became involved in the management of the education system. During our discussion he said he would like to return to his jungle village from 30 years ago and visit his original school. We thought we could combine this trip with a book delivery tour to six other remote Amazon village schools. Juan wants to visit these schools in his district because this area is so remote they do not have many state government visitors. It is kind of like the governor of New York showing up for a small town hall meeting. We are now planning the schedule for this journey back to his Indian village roots. He seems interested in making this trip possible and a way to expand the Anne Marie Book Delivery Project.

Another side note:
We recently have been asked to help build a new school 25 miles further into the jungle from Iquitos. The village has a lumber mill and can manufacture some of the material for the school. We are discussing what type of help we can provide and if the government will recognize the new school and provide the teachers. More updates on this new school project later.

P.S. These projects have been made possible by the generous donations of PAC Tour riders. If you would like to contribute to the Orphanage or School Builders Fund you can make a tax deductible donation to:

“The Christ Lutheran Church Peru Fund”.
Mail your check to:
PAC Tour, P.O. Box 303, Sharon, WI 53585.

A receipt will be sent to you acknowledging your donation. Thank you for your continuing support with these projects.

End

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