Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: $1 Million for Libraries in Medellin

Just last Saturday night, Padre Fernando offered a prayer for an end to violence in his native city of Medellin, Colombia. Today some good news for Medellin and in the Spanish newspaper, El País, a headline that says it all: "Bibliotecas contra la violencia" ("Libraries against violence").

"The Colombian city of Medellín has gone in the last few years from being known for its high levels of violence and drug trafficking to being an example of urban renewal through a program of development based on education and culture. The latest honor it has achieved is the Access to Learning Award, along with $1 million given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Fundación Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), for its "innovative use of technology in public libraries to promote the development of the community."

The rest of the story from Colombia Reports:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the Medellin public libraries with US$1 million for providing computers and internet access to citizens in 34 libraries throughout the city.

The EPM Foundations Network of Public Libraries (NPL) is located throughout Medellin in some of the city's most marginalized communities. The libraries have become cultural centers "for accessing knowledge, learning and also as areas of community action and pride," Clara Patricia Restrepo, executive director of the EPM Foundation, said.

The majority of NPL's guests are from low-income communities who do not have a computer at home, like Hugo Patiño. The 50-year-old cook, who came to Medellin in 2007 after violence displaced him from his home in northern Colombia, had never used a computer before. But through courses at the public library, he learned how to create cost estimates, keep books and to promote a business online. Now Patiño is inspired to open his own restaurant.

The NPL has more than 500,000 visitors per months. "Their work is a stunning example of how a country can use the power of public libraries and technology to transform people's lives," Deborah Jacobs, director of the Global Libraries initiative for the foundation, said.

The EPM Foundation will use the money to expand their services on its web portal and to develop information and communication technology training programs.

Photo: A professor helps a student practice her computer skills at The Biblioteca Carlos Castro Saavedra - Tren de Papel, Medellin, Colombia.

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