The research of pre-pandemic living conditions for children in Argentina found young people to be among those most affected by poverty. In 2019 it was estimated that poverty impacted almost 60% of children and teenagers.
Over the last two years the socioeconomic crisis has worsened, predominately affecting households with children. Structural poverty measured through an Indicator of Unsatisfied Basic Needs follows a stable course with some downward trend but still affects 27.6% of the country’s children. One of the areas evaluated was access to books. Researchers found that four out of ten children do not have children’s books at home, a rate which has not changed significantly in the last nine years.
The Library System of the Catholic University of Córdoba decided to focus on supporting vulnerable children as part of a social responsibility project, believing that providing children access to reading, painting, play and recreational activities inspires imagination and enhances creativity, and will make a lasting difference. This belief is supported by research confirming that young children who experience better development in language, cognitive, motor and social-emotional abilities are more successful in adulthood.
In 2019, the library introduced its “Dear Library, here I come! Read. Discover. Fly” programme (in Spanish - Piedra libre para la biblio! Lee. Descubre. Vuela.) to offer early childhood development activities to kindergartens in neighbourhoods close to the University. Local librarians estimated that in 15 of these kindergarten classes there were a total of 1,800 children who would benefit from programme participation.
In addition to reading promotion and development of creative and artistic expression, the programme developed interdisciplinary activities in collaboration with external partners to educate children in sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles.
The launch of the programme was organised around World Nature Protection Day to raise awareness of the importance of caring for and protecting natural environments. The library partnered with the Botanical Garden of the university and a storyteller and artist from the city of Córdoba, who worked together with children during the events. On October 2019, just before the pandemic, a total of 120 children participated in events organised over the two days.
The first evaluation had enthusiastic reviews such as “I cannot use words to express my sincere gratitude for this offer to kindergartens and for believing that children in vulnerable situations can also access spaces such as the Jean Sonet Library and have a fabulous and unforgettable experience. We learned all together a lot of things that open a world of opportunities before us.”
Andrea, a director of one of the participating kindergartens, confirms that for many children, it was their first encounter with a library, books or an academic environment. Teachers admit it was easier to explain to children the value of learning and becoming professionals in the future as they were observing and interacting with students on campus. A child shared with a teacher: “I want to become a doctor when I grow up!”
Painting, play and recreation complemented reading activities, and storybooks were later donated to the participating kindergartens as the first steps in building their own libraries. “We will continue to work with the texts that programme organisers so kindly gave us in order to promote learning opportunities for the future”, stated the director of a kindergarten.
In 2020 and 2021, no face-to-face events were organised, but the programme is looking forward to resuming with two-day events twice a year, one in each academic semester, to reach about 300 children at each event.