Judith’s Reading Room Sheds Light on Underprivileged Schoolchildren in Mexico’s Tourist ‘Hot Spot’
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — December 7, 2023 — In one of Mexico’s most glamorous tourist towns, where cruise ships dominate the skyline and fancy hotels like the Four Seasons and Vidanta attract wealthy visitors, children of the poorest families — whose parents serve as restaurant dish washers, resort maids, and sellers of handmade crafts on the local beaches — attend a public school without a library, without books, without computers or laptops, and without an English teacher.
After having been re-routed due from Acapulco to Puerto Vallarta due to the catastrophic CAT 5 Hurricane ‘Otis’ that hit and destroyed Acapulco on October 24, 2023, Judith’s Reading Room founders, Scott and Cathy Leiber, found themselves in Puerto Vallarta where they chanced upon Escuela ‘Agustin Flores Contreras’ and proceeded to introduce themselves to a teacher and then the school principal.
Judith’s Reading Room was founded in 2010 in the memory of Judith F. Krug , cousin to the founders, who served for 40 years as the Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association in Chicago, IL. The mission of Judith’s Reading Room is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging freedom through literacy.
It was in that spirit and commitment that the Leiber’s engaged with Maria Guadalupe Ramirez Lopez (Lupita), principal of the school, who for two hours explained the trials and tribulations of educating children in the public school system without resources. The school serves 189 children, ages 6-10, who go home each afternoon without books.
Ms. Ramirez-Lopez explained that just two days before our arrival she had had a meeting with parents who expressed their anxiety about the lack of books — and especially the lack of teaching in English — that they felt their children would never come out from under the yoke of illiteracy. They implored Ms. Ramirez-Lopez to find a way to help their children learn English so that they could enjoy the benefits of jobs serving the world’s English speaking tourists. Without knowing any of this, the Leibers arrived and explained to Ms. Ramirez-Lopez the mission of Judith’s Reading Room and their strong desire to inaugurate a library at the school. It would be the organization’s 106th library and its 2nd library in Mexico.
A chance encounter — met with a strong desire on the part of parents and teachers — led to an immediate commitment — to purchase $1,000 in children’s books and to return in February 2024. The agreement involves the parents, some of whom are carpenters, who will volunteer and build shelves in the room that will be designated as the Judith’s Reading Room library. Furthermore, four members of the Board of Directors will fly to Mexico the week of February 19th to read aloud children’s books in English and who will engage with teachers and parents to encourage a life-long love of reading.
The 106th Judith’s Reading Room library will be named in honor of Ms. Lola Danielli, Cathy Leiber’s high school Spanish teacher who Cathy credits with having “changed my life.” Ms. Danielli retired from teaching after 58 years in the Acalanes School System. Over 200 former students and friends attended her retirement party.