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Barnard Student Delivers Books, Sense of Hope to Central American Children
Shelby Boyle reads to children in El Salvador as part of the Books for a Better World program.

Incoming Barnard first-year Shelby Boyle doesn't know the meaning of traveling light. Ever since she was 14 years old, she has been carrying books to children in rural areas of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other Central American countries. During the past five summers, Boyle has spent at least a month, sometimes two, volunteering for Books for a Better World, a nonprofit dedicated to raising child literacy rates in Latin America.

In an average trip, Boyle visits more than 20 schools and libraries and delivers up to 70 books per stop. Once she reaches the town closest to her destination, Boyle typically gets up at 4:00 a.m., loads her backpack with books, and boards the first "chicken bus" taking people from town to countryside, or else hops on the back of a pick-up truck. Sometimes she travels with other volunteers, sometimes alone. In addition to delivering books, she likes to spend time with the children, reading to them in Spanish, and with their teachers, talking about how to implement reading programs.

"The first time I went [to Central America] I was floored by the poverty I saw and how people are trying to clean up in the wake of civil war," says Boyle. "Being with children in a reading corner, school or library, you see how excited they are and how literacy is the key to free themselves from their background."

Boyle describes her journeys as "adventures." She usually stays with local families, often sleeping on their floors and forgoing amenities like running water. This summer, she had to cut her trip short after contracting dengue fever, which locals call "breakbone" fever because of its severe flu-like symptoms.

Children in El Salvador are eagerly read the new books that Boyle has brought from them.

Her illness may have confined Boyle to bed for three weeks, but it did nothing to diminish her spirit. Boyle looks forward to beginning her studies in neuroscience and behavior and Latin American Studies at Barnard -- where she hopes to recruit some new travel companions for next summer's adventures.

Books for a Better World seeks to enfranchise, empower and motivate children in 60 rural sites in Latin America by establishing libraries and scholarship programs and delivering more than 10,000 books, one backpack at a time. For more information, visit http://www.booksforabetterworld.org/.

Published: Sep 02, 2005
Last modified: Sep 02, 2005

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