Today, we had the chance to visit a pair of libraries high in the hills inland from Lima. We visited the town of Cocachacra and its smaller neighbor Carachacra, about an hour and a half’s drive up the Carretera Central.
Cocachacra is dug into a rocky mountainside, just off the main road. A relatively poor town of about 3500 people, its population lives mainly off agriculture and mining. Its library — and two others in the vicinity — have been supported in part by a group of friends in Lima, some of whom used to work at the American embassy.
The current mayor of Cocachacra spoke of a commitment to education that he’d made to the community’s parents. He’d already opened a new computer lab for the town — funded through the local budget and inaugurated only last week — though a block away from the library, in the town hall. He was aiming to build a new building for the library and computer lab and was seeking funding for it. He spoke of the need for information – farmers in the community would hugely benefit from a way to easily access agricultural information, for instance. While political commitments can play a positive role, they can also create challenges. The library’s Lima supporters had spent 7 years training and working with the town’s librarian, but when the new mayor arrived, he replaced her with his own choice. While the new librarian is eager to learn and serve the community, she requires a lot more investment in order to reach the same level as the previous one. We’ve heard that this is a pretty common occurrence throughout the public library system in Peru.
We are also learning that the cabinas about which we’ve heard so much aren’t the answer to the information question for Peru. There’s more than 30,000 cabinas — small internet cafes — around the country, but they are simply access points. They don’t provide training or guidance or a safe space for learning. Citizens recognize this. There’s a cabina in Cocachacra, but the mayor said that parents had asked for a place with computers specifically dedicated to learning. The internet surfing that was possible at a cabina wasn’t sufficient. Over and over on this trip, we hear about these needs — there’s recognition that internet and access to info can help solve difficult community problems, but there’s not an institution that’s meeting these needs right now.
Late this afternoon, we met with representatives of Microsoft Community Affairs, including Gianina Jimenez, who shared with us her very thoughtful perspective on open government efforts in Peru. She also mentioned she’d been reading this blog — hi Gianina, and thanks for reading!