Photo: Catalina Arango

None of my Geography teachers taught me that France (Francia in Spanish) was not only a country but a woman. The first time I met her, she was reading a book to a group of five-year-old kids. Astonishingly, those 15 preschoolers were quiet, attentive, hands on their laps, eyes wide open. They were seated in silence on a rainbow carpet in the corner of a small library. Francia was seated on a stool in front of them. Warm, collected, in control of the situation, she was reading El Reino del Revés by María Elena Walsh. Those kids and I were witnessing a work of magic: using her words, she slowly created a colorful universe in which the syllables were fireworks that lighted up the darkness.

She was the director of the library and my boss for a year. Twice a week, she read to the kids as part of a strategy of reading promotion that sought to bring close young minds and books. She created a group of university students and gave us the keys to those wonderful universes where letters and words danced endlessly. She did all of that despite the fact that half of the population of my community has never touched a book in their lives.

She showed those kids that there were other and more playful ways to see the world. Perhaps a chocolate factory was the perfect place to face their fears and egos. Maybe a dream eater could be the solution to their nightmares. Possibly there was a kingdom where they could wear their gloves on their feet and their shoes on their hands. When those kids had the chance to blink once the spell of the reading was over, they were surely ready to discover other landscapes.

She taught me that there was always hope for communities like mine in which poverty and illiteracy are the roots of other problems. Hope is within the pages of a book. Hope as a way to self-discovery, engagement, and commitment. Hope and, of course, happiness.

By: Catalina Arango, University of Ottawa

Catalina Arango was one of the winners of a writing contest launched by the Ottawa Multicultural Media Initiative (OMMI).

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