I want so much more than this provincial life.
- Beauty and The Beast
As we are setting up for this shoot in the small library of Villa Catalina, I watch as Naomi continues to pull one book after another off the shelf. In some ways it seems like she doesn't even notice the chaos that is happening around her. Bookshelves are being moved, flashes are going off and every couple of minutes, someone swoops in to fix a piece of hair that is out of place...and all the while, Naomi just continues reading. She sits quietly and contently, only looking up from her book when we ask her to smile at the camera.
As I look at this photo and think back on the day of this shoot, I am amazed at how perfectly Naomi encapsulated the spirit of Belle. My thoughts immediately go to the opening number of Beauty and the Beast where Belle walks through her small village. As the townspeople hustle and bustle around her, Belle's gaze stays focused on one thing: her book.
In so many ways, books act as a symbol of empowerment throughout the story of Beauty and the Beast. Belle dreams of a life outside of her small village because the books she reads take her to "far off places". Belle has the courage to stand up to Gaston because the "princes" she reads about do not treat women the way that he does. The knowledge that Belle gains from reading, is the very thing that propels her forward.
For children living in rural communities here in Nicaragua, literacy is key. Literacy can mean the difference between a life full of disadvantages or a life full of opportunities. Literacy helps foster creative and critical thinking skills at an early age that can lead to success on both an economical and personal level in the future. And on an even larger scale, literacy can break the chains of generational poverty by teaching kids to value education with the hope that one day, they will teach their kids to value it, as well.
One of the things I find really hopeful as I research statistics on Nicaragua, is seeing how far the country has come in the past 30 years or so when it comes to literacy. Before 1980, it was estimated that less that 50% of the country (less than 30% in rural communities) was literate. Today, it is estimated that close to 80% of the population can read and write and what's more, the youth literacy rate (15-24 years) is estimated at 92% (UNESCO).
There is hope and things are changing but to me, there is still one key factor that is missing here in Nicaragua: books! In all the time I have spent in Villa Catalina, I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I have ever seen a child reading a book outside of school. Besides the small library (which is rarely open outside of school hours), the kids have almost no access to books.
There is this incredibly moving moment in Beauty and the Beast where the Beast gives Belle his library. Growing up in a small town, Belle has limited access to books. We learn early on that Belle is reading the same books again and again, so when the Beast gives her his library that has more books than she could ever imagine, it is as if he is giving her the world. He is opening up her horizons and giving her the tools she needs to be able to dream, imagine and create the life she wants to live.
Just down the road from Villa Catalina in another rural community called El Chonco, there is a wonderful organization, Cuentos Para Cambios, that is doing just the same. In a few short months, a state-of-the-art library will open in this community, giving kids and adults the gift of books and literacy programs. For the first time, kids just like Naomi will have access to hundreds of books! Books that will take them to "far off places" and books that will teach them to dream beyond their circumstances.
We are so excited to partner with Cuentos Para Cambios in the future as we believe that theatre and literacy go hand in hand! Check out their website and stay tuned for upcoming collaborations!
Photo cred: Edgard Buenas