Founder, Children Library, Journalist, La Paz, Mexico
I was introduced by to Ms. Angela Rosales by another WOW Woman in Mexico. La Paz is a small coastal town near the tip of the Baja California Peninsula. When our Colombian WOW Woman, and a lover of books, brought her family to Mexico, she immediately saw the need for a reading facility for kids. As it often happens with radical new ideas, she was met with resistance. An immigrant, eager to make things better in a new country, persevered. Ms. Rosales shares her story with WOW Woman.
Angela Maria Rosales.
2. Where is your hometown?
I am originally from Colombia but I have been living in La Paz, Mexico for the past 11 years.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Executive Director of Abrapalabra A.C.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)?
I have always loved to read and travel. Books have been a big part of my life thanks to wonderful literature teachers I had in school. I attended French school, back in the tropical Colombia, so I was always Europe-oriented. I was happy to move to Spain where I started a family, and my first two daughters were born in Palma de Mallorca, where we were living by the beach. I introduced them early enough to the wonderful world of books as we twice a week visited a brand new public Library, C’an Sales, located downtown Palma. The library had a wonderful book selection and activities that we all loved.
My husband found a job in La Paz, Mexico, and the four of us moved back to the american continent in 2008. La Paz was quite different from what I expected. It is nothing like mainland Mexico and I have to admit that we had a rough start. With very little to do, besides going to the beach, one afternoon I decided to take the girls to the Public Library. I still remember their disappointed faces, this experience couldn’t be further from Mallorca. It was then and there that I decided to change things!
My first thought was to remodel the existing library: new books, new furniture, new decorations, no big deal. Little did I know the people in charge were not willing to let a foreigner change things easily. I was even told that the local kids don’t like to read, hence it was bound to be a useless effort!
The idea of having a nice children library was still on my mind when I met Erika Rodriguez, the “local” link that I needed. She is Mexican and became very excited about the idea. Soon after I was offered a little room inside a beautiful Galleria to open the library.
Right now we have five Abrapalabra locations in La Paz and one in Michoacan.
After five years of hard work, the International Community Foundation in San Diego took notice in our reading program and offered us an opportunity (and finances) to expand. Right now we have five Abrapalabra locations in La Paz and one in Michoacan.
I have since had another daughter, and happy to report that all three girls spend endless afternoons surrounded by books.
What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I am very proud that Abrapalabra set the foundation for a reading culture for kids in La Paz. No one else is currently doing what we do to promote reading on a large scale. We have books that cannot be found anywhere else in the city. I am proud that we brought the magic of books to the very isolated communities where kids have no opportunities or exposure to literature.
Books have the power to let you dream of a better world. That is our goal for these kids.
Our after-school reading programs not only enhance kids’ reading comprehension, they also help boost creativity, self-esteem, bring up values, and give children the opportunity to stay away from the streets where they may run/play unsupervised. We provide a safe space, a library where they can have fun while learning and dreaming.
Initially our first “readers” where kids of friends. After a while, the news travelled as it usually does, word of mouth, and we started to welcome new kids. They visited from all over the city and became friends of the library. Building this community has been especially rewarding.
It is also very heartwarming when a 4-year-old walks in and tells you this is the most beautiful library they have ever seen.
5. What did you study in school?
I am a journalist who never thought would end up as a librarian.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
Since I can remember, I wanted to be a journalist and travel around the world. But for years I played “teacher” games with my neighbor. Becoming a teacher was never an option for me because unfortunately in Colombia it is not something very common to go to school for. As a result I chose to become a journalist. It was the political situation in my country that made me flee. The country became unsafe and I knew that as a journalist my freedom of speech was going to be very limited. Bottom line is, not even in my wildest dreams I thought that many years down the line I would run many libraries.
Working with kids is something that I never pictured, although I was always surrounded by little ones as I was the oldest cousin in my large family.
During the last year of college, we had a project where we would have to research charity programs run by universities in Bogota. That assignment gave me an opportunity to meet an incredible and like minded group of students. Every Saturday morning we traveled to the poorest part of the city to bring educational activities for the kids. I still remember the happiness that I felt with them as I think it was the first time I realized just how much I liked to work with the kids in need.
An now this is what I do! La Paz library project has given me an opportunity to be the change that I want to see in the world by allowing me to make a difference in my community. I know that this kids have a better life because of what we do. No money in the world can buy that feeling…that’s what I call being successful!
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
Life really knocked me down when we moved to La Paz. Coming back to the third world was the hardest thing! I really liked Spain and didn’t want to be here. Then I realized that I had a loving and healthy family and there were worse things in life than living where you don’t want to be. It was when I opened the library everything started making sense. I could not have done what I did here in Europe. I found my mission, the chance to be the change in the world. There is this quote in Spanish that says: “you must accept what was not in your plans”. Even if the journey seems difficult, it could take you where your dreams come true. I couldn’t agree more!
8. Advice for other women?
Working on projects that make better a life for people is totally rewarding. Do some thing that you love, and you would never have to work.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
To me, education is the only way to move forward on Feminist Values. And that is what we do at the libraries. Empowering girls to become whatever they want to be. And teaching boys that a women would never be less than a man; we all have the same rights and deserve the best we can be.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I feel happy when I am surrounded by culture, bookshops, museums, libraries, galleries, theaters. I love beauty.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
Reading is my favorite hobby. Books have given me the chance to go to places, meet people, go inside their minds, walk in their shoes, live their life, ask questions, rethink my life, values. They have offered me priceless experiences.
Can’t think of my life without books.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I would love to keep doing what I do, continuing improving children’s lives. I would like to focus on early childhood education as our next project.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
My biggest hope is that our work with the libraries will give this children an “open window” to a different reality. My fear is that their reality could be stronger and shut that window forever.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
If I had a chance, I would have gone to college to become a teacher instead of a journalist. I did not realize the power of education back then.
15. What inspires you?
My three beautiful daughters. I want them to feel proud of their mother. I would like to be an example of somebody who works daily for a better world. We have been so very blessed that we are obliged to give that back to the society.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I hope that our work makes a difference in these children’s lives. I hope the stories they read inspire them to be better people.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Love, loving what you do, peace of mind, friends, health and a lot of books!
18. What is a quality you most love about yourself and why?
I am very determined and that has helped me accomplish most of my goals. A high self esteem has been useful too.
19. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Work hard, be kind to everybody. Accept what can not be changed and make the best out of it.
20. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
As a voracious reader, I must say I really enjoy novels, well-written novels. But I also read everything that comes in newspapers, magazines, cooking books, biographies, children books. I am bookworm!
It is hard to list my favorite books because there are so many!!! During different stages of my life I have had the opportunity to read books that made me who I am right now. Here are some of my favorites:
100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez. He has a unique way with which he describes the magical world of Macondo. I loved the characters and the story also involves the history of my country.
Oblivion: a Memoir, by Héctor Abad. This book is about love, a love from a son for his father. At the end the truth is that we will only die when we are forgotten.
Homeland, by Fernando Aramburo, is a brutal portrait of the impact of basque terrorism on ordinary people’s lives. Beautifully written, this books is a demonstration that violence is never the solution.
Waiting for Bojangles, by Olivier Bourdeaut. The power of an unconditional love is the main “motto” in this book describing a boy and his eccentric family.
Recently I read An Education, by Tara Westover. This incredible non-fiction book left me thinking for weeks about her story and the tremendous power of education! Only education can change the world and she is the living example of that.
And last, but not least, Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. To me, the messages and beauty of these 10 letters were overwhelming when I first read them in college.
For kids, I love books with values, the ones that make kids think about empathy. I would love books to help kids express tolerance, generosity, love, and all the emotions that are necessary for an emotional intelligence.
Little Smudge by Lionel LeNouanic. Butterfly Ears by Luisa Aguilar. The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. Olga De Dios us an author that I really recommend: Yellow Bird and Pink Monster are not to be missed. Hambre de Lobo, by Éric Pintus is one of the favorite books at the libraries.
21. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?
Lucia Frausto, from “Como Vamos La Paz”, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting better cities, working for transparency and anti-corruption policies in the local governments. I admire her energy, positivity and optimism with which she works with people who don’t always think or act like her.
22. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?