Literacy in the Amazon Jungle

In the heart of South America, the Conapac Library is located in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, about 50 miles downriver from the city of Iquitos. This is a public library with a collection of nonfiction and fiction books for adults and children. Founded in 1999, the library serves residents of river communities in the surrounding area with reading programs, games, computer lessons, music classes, language studies, sewing workshops, spelling bees, student scholarships and more. The library offers tutoring in reading and organized activities in reading, math, science, and social studies. Some visitors travel hours by foot or dugout canoe through the rainforest to get to the library just for the chance to learn to read. With a simple thatched roof construction, solar panels, and no running water, the library is in another world where children are helped to discover the love of reading in its purest form. The library also holds annual field trips to Iquitos, the Zoo, and to the Canopy Walkway. Their sponsored programs include a music program, a regional Spelling Bee, and an annual Christmas Party. Check out the library's website.

The library is in need of volunteers to assist in the daily routine with the children and for people to teach about life in other parts of the world. These children will possibly never leave the Amazon basin during their lifetimes but will be responsible for caring for one of our world's most valuable resources--the Amazon Rainforest. In the past when I have traveled abroad, I have come across important programs and organizations that inspire me but by the time I know about them it ends up being too little, too late when combined with a tourist's timeline. This time, instead of traveling for my own entertainment, I am going to Peru in the light of serving others.

Why? As a Secondary English teacher in the US public school system, I work with at-risk children every day and study by night for my ESL/ELL and K-12 Reading Specialist certifications. It can be easy to get stuck in a daily routine and forget about life as a global citizen. The children of the Peruvian Amazon are mostly isolated from the rest of the world and would grow up unaware of life in other parts of the world if it were not for this library and the volunteers that help run it. They deal with major issues of rainforest pollution and conservation, maintaining sources for clean drinking water filtration, and preserving traditional culture.

Starting July 6, 2014, I am volunteering with the CONAPAC Children's Library located on the Amazon River for 2 weeks. I will stay in a lodge with basic accommodations during the evenings and travel by boat each morning to the children's library. Once there, I will assist in teaching basic English and daily library duties. This includes reading and speaking in both Spanish and English (something I'm very excited to revisit especially since I am in the process of earning my ESL/ELL licensure), teaching computer lessons, and just generally giving the children who visit this library direct attention and information.

In the past 5 1/2 years of teaching since earning my education license I have become passionate about helping at-risk children with reading and literacy. Early in my teaching career I realized how poorly prepared most beginning secondary teachers are when it comes to helping students who still cannot read for information (the final stage of reading) and realized going back to school was inevitable. This may not be a mission trip for religion, but it is most definitely a mission for global teaching and literacy!

In order to prepare for this service trip I have to receive numerous vaccinations, prepare myself physically and mentally to live without electricity or air conditioning 3 degrees away from the equator, pack everything I bring in air-tight ziplock bags to protect against the rainforest humidity (including packing out any trash from when I'm there), save up for personal expenses and jungle supplies, and beg forgiveness from my amazing husband and animals for my pending absence. Because of high customs duties and expensive international shipping costs, many volunteers also bring educational materials with them. I am planning on packing very light with as many books, puzzles, and activity books as possible. As an educator currently attending graduate school, the cost of airfare alone puts this trip out of my reach without assistance. If you are in a position to give to support this mission of education and literacy across international borders, it would be greatly appreciated. Not in a position to donate but would love to help? Please share my page on Facebook or its mission of international, multilingual literacy with others. Want to join me at the library this July? Even better! Whether its through funding, well wishes, or diving into this adventure alongside me, I appreciate anything and everything no matter how extraordinary or modest.


CONAPAC is a Peruvian non-profit organization whose mission is to promote conservation of the rainforest through education of its stewards, the people who live along the Amazon and Napo Rivers. Our centerpiece project is the Adopt-A-School program, which is strengthened by workshops and complemented by service and sustainable projects in river communities.
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Alison Elizabeth 
St. Paul, MN
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