December 3, 2020

Food and books, the bet of a Chilean NGO for the most vulnerable

While the coronavirus pandemic pushes millions of people in Latin America into poverty and strict confinement, generating infinite anguish and boredom, a Chilean foundation has found the formula to make the most vulnerable quarantine lighter: food and books.

“Reading is a great agent of social development, not only cultural, and reading in times of COVID-19 is essential,” the founder of Banco de Libros, Luz Borges, explained to Efe.

“Books are food for the spirit and good company in times of a pandemic,” he added.

Created two years ago to bring reading to the most humble neighborhoods on the outskirts of Santiago, the foundation has had to reinvent itself with the pandemic.

The community centers where the books were kept are closed and many neighbors have run out of hobbies, so a month ago they decided to give it a twist and join forces with different neighborhood organizations to distribute their books in the “common pots”.

These initiatives, a sort of communal dining room, appeared in the 1920s, but they became very popular in the crisis of 1982, in the midst of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, and today they are expanding throughout Chile.

“They are a very important point of communal organization, support, solidarity and delivery without any interest,” said Borges.

With only 19 million inhabitants, Chile is the seventh country in the world with the most infections, behind Italy or Spain, according to Johns Hopkins University. The latest balance already amounts to more than 282,000 infections and 9,000 deaths between confirmed and suspected.

The pandemic, which cannot yet be taken for granted, is leaving a trail of poverty in its wake. The Central Bank of Chile estimates a recession of up to 7.5% by 2020, while the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) calculates that poverty could reach 13.7%.


With her glass pot filled with lentils and rice, a woman flips through several books on a cracked bookshelf topped by a sign that says “Pick one and read it as a family.”

It ends by opting for the most famous novel by his compatriot Isabel Allende, “The House of the Spirits”. Beside her, another woman takes the bestseller “Come, pray, love” by the American Liz Gilbert.

“I loved the Julia Roberts film and I want to read the book,” he tells Efe outside a local in Conchal√≠, a neighborhood on the northern outskirts of the capital and one of the most hit by the virus.

Since the crisis began, the foundation has already distributed nearly a thousand books among novels, poetry and children’s stories, although its founder acknowledges that the ones that are receiving the best are those of self-help and self-knowledge.

“Chile is uneven even in reading. As a national average, we are lousy readers, but we have a very reading elite. The books are very poorly distributed and are very expensive, even taking VAT from them,” he lamented.

The profile of neighbors who go to the common pots and who take books has been changing throughout these three months of health crisis.

Mario Mardones, one of the organizers of the Zapadores pot, tells Efe that at first many people arrived on the street, but that over the days entire families began to approach, that they have been left without work and savings and have to choose between paying rent or eating.

To cope with the economic ravages, the Chilean government distributed 2.5 million baskets of food and hygiene products and presented in Parliament an emergency program of 12,000 million dollars, which includes a basic income of 100,000 pesos (126 dollars). ), among other measures, although many on the street feel that it is still insufficient.

“The common pot is not only to alleviate hunger, we are neighbors who are organizing to build a new country,” concluded Mardones.

Maria M. Mur


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