Yesterday was our second Saturday of books and games with the kids of Sancayani. Along with big bags full of mandarinas, bananas and bread, we loaded a few heavy boxes full of books into the back of the car and drove up to 14,000 feet to meet them in their schoolyard. As we bumped along the road at about 10:30, we came into sight of the school and the ten or fifteen kids waiting for us leapt up and ran towards us. A few pretended to hide behind the whitewashed pillars and in the door frames in shyness, but peeked out, smiling, as we hopped out of the car. It was sunny but the wind was cold, and so strong that it kept blowing our hats off of our heads. At Blanca’s (Blanca works in the Mano a Mano Internacional office in Bolivia) bidding, the kids led us behind the building to where the wind was less bitter. Perched on logs, rocks and concrete ledges, we gave the older students pencils and word-finds that Tracy (a volunteer from Europe) had put together while Blanca helped the younger kids glue together foam cutouts to make churches and bells.

Throughout the morning kids kept trickling in, arriving by bike or walking with a little sibling strapped to their back. By noon about thirty had found us. Generally the kids were fairly quiet and reserved, though more than a few were outwardly enthusiastic: the two little boys in my group of ten huddled together and whispered quietly to each other, looking around at everyone else and only vaguely trying to complete the word-find at hand; the girl at my side tapped my shoulder and proudly announced every word she found, and raced to finish first.

After word games and foam cutouts were mostly completed Blanca and I retrieved the books from the trunk, spread them out on a blanket, and invited the kids to each pick one to read. At first they approached the blanket shyly in twos and threes; after a few minutes nearly all of the kids ages eight and over clutched a book or were crouched over the pile, shuffling around for a suitable story to read. Rachel (a volunteer from the US), Ivo (Mano a Mano Apoyo Aereo pilot) and I sat with them, listened to them, and helped them read aloud. I read with Ronald, a 12-year-old boy wearing a red sweater and homemade slingshot slung over his shoulder. He read hesitantly, following the words with his index finger, carefully sounding out each sound and neglecting the spaces in between the words. Although I’m sure he knew most of the words he was reading, I doubt he understood them as he occupied himself with differentiating the sounds of b versus d and putting syllables together. His earnest attempts at what was obviously a difficult task were immediately interrupted if anyone, particularly a girl, looked over or walked by us: his eyes would nervously glance up at her and his voice would get suddenly soft.


The ten-year-old word-find enthusiast, Maribel, was reading aloud to herself at our feet with a confident, consistent voice, exclaiming at pictures and funny phrases. Ronald sometimes paused and listen shyly to her reading, and then stumbled on his way. I was half sure he was scared of me, but I got a few genuine smiles out of him as we read and talked about the words. We got through one page in about twenty minutes, but his voluntary persistence really impressed me. None of the kids was required to be there, and could leave at any time. There was only one mom present, who came with a baby and her young son, and who quietly sat and observed the morning activities.

I joined a seventh-grade girl named Fl