The Bogota Post speaks to a teacher who believes books could change the way of life in her Guyanese village
Joyce Simon has spent the last ten years taking English books back to her home – the small village of Tipuru in Guyana, on South America’s northeastern coast. The 200 villagers speak Macushi – the local tribal language – but English too, since Guyana is a former British colony.
Joyce explains that the books she grew up with at her school were “traditional and old fashioned”. They shaped her view of the outside world – which seemed a beguiling and attractive place to the impressionable youngster.
The books also taught her that village lifestyle was “wrong.” She says, “I grew up thinking that white people were something to look up to. We became ashamed of our own traditions – eating on the floor, catching our own fish. The books I grew up with are still there and so the people still have the limited information that I had. Some are sexist or racist.”
A primary teacher here in Bogota, Joyce believes in the power of books to bring about change. Pointing out a copy of Usborne’s The Great Animal Search, she says that superstition and fear of the unknown is still rife in her village.
“People believe there are some animals you can’t look at because you’ll get a headache. We are afraid of snakes because it’s either its life or yours. Our experience of snakes is that you get bitten and then three days later you die. I would like to change this, and books like this would help with the facts.”
As well as fostering values like community, family and relationships, books teach children responsibility, Joyce says.
But trying to develop a culture of reading in her village presents its own unique challenges. She explains, “students as young as five would walk for miles to and from school, sometimes starting their journey at 4am. That makes it difficult to take books.”
Books that did make it home often fell victim to an older relative’s tobacco habit. “The older generation don’t place much importance on books. The old men were smokers and if a book went home it would be used for smoking.”
Since Joyce began her project ten years ago a small library has been constructed and books are beginning to trickle in from the outside world. Shipping books is expensive, so she is transporting her library home book by book, each time she visits.
Joyce is willing to show anyone who’s interested a slice of Macushi indigenous life – and all she asks in return is that they take a stack of books over with them. Living won’t be easy in the village, where accommodation will be a hammock in a mud hut, but visitors won’t go hungry: the versatile Joyce is handy with a bow and arrow and has been fishing since she was a child.
Joyce is looking for English language books suitable for all ages. If you’d like to know more about her project, or you have books to donate, please contact her at [email protected]
By Amy Ridout