Promoting Transparency!

During the last month all participants from this Project have been receiving the information they requested as part of the practice they did during the workshop about the right to access public information.  Requests have been made to the Ministry of Finances, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Energy and Mining, Ministry of Culture and Municipalities, among others.  It was noticeable that many of the requests they made were about the budgets assigned to their communities and how the funds have been used.

Request made by Amalia to the Ministry of Finances, asking about the budget assigned for education in her community

In the community of San Carlos Sija there is a big concern about the environment and a couple of requests were addressed to the Ministry of Energy and Mining to find out about active licenses to exploit mines in their department, Quetzaltenango, and to know if any person or company is not acting legally.  For this and other reactions they will be using the blogs at the library.

Request made by Silvia to the Ministry of Energy and Mining, asking for the list of legal mining operations in her department

The biggest challenge for the libraries is still to provide free reliable internet to their communities and to update their computers so that more users can access to information and engage in civic participation through technology and social networks.

Libraries Promoting the Right to Access Public Information

In September 2008 the “Law for Accessing Public Information” was approved, as an effort to promote this basic human right, citizen participation and transparency in the management of public institutions. However, many Guatemalan citizens are unaware of this right and the process of requesting public information, especially in rural areas. Our latest workshop was about teaching the young participants about this right, its background and how to take advantage of it through technology.

David Gaitán from Acción Ciudadana

In this occasion we had the presence of coordinators from Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action) and the Transparency and Integrity Program from USAID. During the workshop every participant received an easy to understand guide about how to access public information, as well as the law and documents about promoting transparency and the struggle against corruption.

They also learned how to request information to public institutions through their websites. At the end of the workshop most of the youngsters had sent information requests to different public institutions, including the Ministry of Minery and the Ministry of Finances, about approval of minery licenses and the resources destined to their communities for education, among others.  Soon our participants will be sharing the results of these requests trough the library blogs.

Thanks to Rising Voices, Acción Ciudadana and the Transparency and Integrity Program, our libraries have taken another step forward in the promotion of the principles of open societies.

New Bloggers in Xela!

Last week we had our second workshop which was about the creation and management of blogs. The three libraries participating in this project have now their own blog and all the participants learned how to create new posts.


Besides the three libraries blogs everyone created a personal blog for those who want to write not only about the libraries activities and community issues but for more personal purposes. They were taught not only about what a blog is and how to manage it and update it; they also learned techniques to tell stories in more compelling ways. In this occasion we had the collaboration from Kara Andrade, a journalist who has been blogging and teaching about blogs since 1999 in the United States and Guatemala. She kept the youngsters attention throughout the workshops and shared her own story about when she began her first journalist activities when she was 6 years old, as she had to document a road trip that she did with her family to the United States. Using the learned story structure the participants presented personal and library stories and they were able to upload their pictures and write a short bio in their personal blogs.

Kara Andrade

Also collaborating with Kara was Bea Gallardo, an independent producer, who taught them about the meaning of blogging and how they could be useful for personal and community development.

At the end of the second day, Bea presented a documentary called “Granito” (small grain) which is about interviews and testimonies of the civil war in Guatemala. This is an educational documentary aimed to let people know, especially young, what really happened during those years. Unfortunately they had to run to catch the last bus back to their communities and we were not able to discuss it, but we will do so before our next workshop next week, which will be about the right to access public information.

By then these new community bloggers will have plenty of things to share and talk about.

Our First Workshop!

Our first workshop took place last week with the attendance of 20 young members from the three communities in Xela.  During the first day we covered subjects about internet history, browsers, engine searches and email services.  At the end of the day all of the participants had created their email accounts, since the majority did not have one, and begun to exchange messages among themselves.  They are very excited about this new opportunity of communication, like Amalia Juventina, a 14 years old girl from Huitán, who was very eager to learn how to send emails and attach pictures, so that she can communicate with his father who has migrated to the United States to work and send money to his family.  They also had the chance to experiment more with engine searches, such as Google, and one of the activities they engaged on was searching about their major community problems and possible ways to help solving them.

Our participants

After having a couple of group activities, the first thing they did on the second day of the workshop was to check their emails, and a chain of messages started.  On that day we covered social networks and very important advices on safe ways to use the internet and interact through it.  All of the participants created their personal facebook profiles and included their picture, taken at that same moment.  The library in Cabricán now has its own facebook page, check it out .  Silvia and Roman, who had already created a facebook page for their libraries in Huitán and San Carlos Sija , were very helpful sharing how they manage and update it.







We had the honor of having Eddie Avila, Rising Voices Director, with us during the workshops and he also contributed in some subjects.

Some of our challenges are internet connections, which can be slow and expensive since it is only available through modems; and limited number of computers, especially in Huitán where they only have three.  Nevertheless, efforts are being made to gain support from the public and private sectors to have a better internet service and more computers in the libraries.

San Carlos Sija presenting their search results

The next workshop will be about blogging and will take place the first week of July.

Youth Groups Ready

Last week we had our first meeting with the young participants from the three communities in Xela.  Their ages range from 14 to 24 years and all have basic computer knowledge, mostly using word to do some of their homework at the libraries.  Some of the participants have a little more experience in the use of internet and they will be supporting those who don’t.  The school in San Carlos Sija, where two of the participants go to, is very pleased to have two of their students participating in this project, and have asked them that besides implementing the library’s blog, they do also a blog for the school, so that many students can get involved in the use of that technology to share information and generate dialogues.

Participants from Huitán

We took the trip’s opportunity to deliver the internet connection equipment to Cabricán, where the workshops will be happening, and next week the equipment will be delivered to Huitán.  An agreement was sign with the three municipalities in which they agree to finance half of the internet service during a year.  The other half will be covered by Riecken thanks to a partnership with INHERIT.  These libraries will offer the service free of charge, as one of Riecken’s core values is to promote free access to information, and a sustainability plan is being coordinated with the library’s local board to ensure its continuity.

The first workshop will take place the first week of June and will cover the use of Internet as a powerful tool to access and exchange information.  They will have the rest of the month to practice what they learn and to experiment access to information through internet before they learn how to create and manage a blog, which will be taught on the next workshop the first week of July.  In mid July Citizen’s Action will coordinate the workshops about “The Right to Access Public Information”.

Participants from Cabricán

Kara Andrade will be coordinating the workshops for Internet use and blogs.  She has been selected for a three-year fellowship by Ashoka, the global association of the world's leading social entrepreneurs, to continue to grow – a mobile-based collaborative citizen journalism network in Central America: .  She has also taught blogging and online media at The Day Worker Center of Mountain View, California, in collaboration with the Midpeninsula Community Media Center.

We will keep you posted.

Library "Fuente de Sabiduría", San Carlos Sija

Getting Started!

As we are getting ready to launch our project I’d like to introduce the three community libraries in Xela who will be participating.  From San Carlos Sija, Biblioteca Fuente de Sabiduría (source of wisdom), inaugurated on April 2007.  From Huitán, Biblioteca Mi Nuevo Mundo (my new world), inaugurated on March 2009 and from Cabricán, where the workshops will take place, Biblioteca Nuevo Amanecer (new sunrise), inaugurated on July 2004.  These community libraries, as all the libraries in the Riecken network, have stand out in their communities by not only providing access to information, through free access to books and internet (though in the past years it has been a real challenge to continue offering this service for free) and a wide reading program, but also through a number or programs and projects aimed to generate leadership and civic engagement.  These programs range from cultural and environmental to health and economic development projects.

We at Riecken Community Libraries are very excited and grateful for this opportunity and looking forward to sharing the progress with the Rising Voices family.  This project has generated a fair amount of interest in other organizations, like Acción Ciudadana (Citizen’s Action) who will be implementing the Right to Access Information workshops, the Transparency and Integrity Project from USAID, who will be following the project’s development so that in the future they could support the replication in the rest of the eleven libraries in Guatemala, and bloggers from Central America who have offered support to develop the workshops on information and communication technology.  We are planning to start in late May, we’ll keep you posted.  Good luck to all!

Library "Nuevo Amanecer", Cabricán