Based on the methodology stated in the SBC 101 course point 3.2, the following Impact Creation is proposed:
In 2012, we identified that in Colombia there is a very low cognitive development index in childhood, considering that the rate of reading in early childhood was 38.3%. One of the causes is that families do not have access to quality education. In other cases, the family needs to prioritize work and income generation over the efforts to maintain children studying at school.
Ten years later, in 2023, although efforts have been made by the Colombian state to reach rural transitional areas of post-conflict, the Ministry of Culture in 2018 reported that only 5.5% of the country’s public libraries were located in rural areas, suggesting limited access to books and other cultural resources for children living in these areas.
The education system is made up of: teachers in educational institutions and parents who actively support the culture and education of their children.
Given this problem, since its creation Picnic de Palabras’s aim has been to strengthen cognitive development in early childhood through access to cultural experiences mediated by high-quality narrative and visual books and educational resources. Along with the consolidation of a community of readers who can sensitize families and different stakeholders about the benefits of reading (teachers, reading promoters, companies, foundations). Often, these actors are unaware of their role and the impact they have as reading mediators to support the cognitive development of Colombian children.
Methodology: Picnic de Palabras
In response to the need to find strategies to support families in the cognitive and emotional development of their children, a simple, replicable, and scalable strategy was defined. It consists of facilitating access to high-quality children’s literature books in unconventional spaces, such as parks and squares where families spend their free time. In these spaces, families can recognize the value of reading associated with play, enjoyment, and emotional well-being. By having an experience that allows them to recognize and value the impact of reading on themselves and their children, the desire to incorporate reading into their daily lives is amplified.
Origin of Picnic de Palabras
This experience started in a park in Bogotá, Colombia, in June 2012. The original idea was to carry out itinerant reading experiences in different parks in Bogotá. However, after the first experience the readers expressed willingness to participate in a process beyond a single session. This led the team of volunteers to pivot this experience to verify if it was possible to create reading processes over time with the expected impact.
The development of this project required the consolidation of a collection of children’s literature books, initially 500 books that were bought in the first two years with an initial investment of more than 10,000,000 COP (2,500 USD). With this support and the creation of alliances with publishers who also contributed their books to the Picnic de Palabras collection, we became a social media reference for information related to children’s literature. These actions attracted new people and families who have joined us and facilitated spaces for inclusion and closing social and economic gaps in the encounters, as they are free of charge.
Throughout the first 6 years, the activity was held on Sundays in the afternoon, biweekly, for two hours. During this time, groups of young volunteers were also consolidated (with more than 30 people participating in Colombia at one point), who supported the experience for at least a year. The climate has been our main ally and enemy because, being outdoors, if it rains, everything is canceled. In recent years, due to the weather, the frequency has been reduced to a monthly activity.
We must highlight the active participation of families in the construction of a reading community. Like when a father during the first year of Picnic caught our attention because we assumed that all parents knew how to read aloud. This feedback gave way to a plan for special readers among authors, illustrators, editors, and mediators of Colombian children’s literature, with more than 60 experiences with special guests. This enhanced and strengthened the value of the project as an innovative space for reading experiences and for sensitizing and training readers within families.
These are some examples of how children and their families, our protagonists, actually learn to read through meaningful reading experiences. Over time we came to the conclusion that this is a way to measure the impact of the project over the years in relation to the cognitive development of children:
8-year Jennifer, one of the ice cream vendors’ daughters in the park who accompanied her father to work, was one of the first beneficiaries of the project from the beginning. One time when Claudia Rueda, a Colombian author, was sharing her books, 10-year-old Jennifer, practiced reading aloud with the author and recognized how well she read, and asked her where she had learned. The girl responded that she learned at Picnic de Palabras. “And school?” asked Claudia, and she only said: “At school, they taught me, but at Picnic, I learned to read.”
Just like Jennifer, Juana came to Picnic one day, she was 5 years old and was fascinated with books. One of the mediators asked her if she knew how to read, and she said no. The mediator suggested that maybe she did know and proposed to read a wordless book with her. Together they did, the mediator asked questions that Juana answered based on the reading of the images, and in the end, she told the girl that she did indeed know how to read, to which Juana responded with a big smile and went out to tell her older siblings. A year later, this girl coincided again at Picnic de Palabras with her family. The mediator recognized them and asked the mother what had happened to Juana after the experience, to which the mother replied that since that day, whenever she has a space, Juana reads and tries to always have a book with her. This case showed us the impact that reading experiences have in inspiring readers to continue reading in their daily lives.
Also, our youngest volunteer, Ana, regularly attended Picnic de Palabras with her family. One January Sunday, she asked her dad when there would be a Picnic, and he replied that it was a month away because we were resting. 6-year-old Juana, organized some of her books, packed them in a basket, took out a blanket, and asked her dad to take her to the park to have a Picnic. He helped her, and together they replicated the initiative by inviting people who were in the park that day.
Additionally, we want to reinforce the idea that with example you are able to become a source of inspiration and empowerment for other people. The positive experience of Picnic influences active participants to achieve an expanding wave. The use of unconventional space for the activity allows the family to support and empower the child when they choose a book, when they say they want to read it again, or switch it, or even go play. It reflects respect for the pace, time, and attention that readers have in the midst of their desire to read, play, and have fun.
Impact and international experience
In addition to the results in Colombia, the international community has been key in adapting the simplicity of this project to other global contexts. More than 90 volunteers have had the initiative to communicate with us to implement the experience based on available resources and considering the local needs of more than 30 cities in 10 countries in Latin America, the United States, and Europe (not counting the unauthorized copies of the project). Thus, more than 25,000 families have participated and benefited from it. We want to emphasize Picnic de Palabras – Monterrey, Mexico, where multicultural and reading in foreign languages encounters take place, due to the number of foreign families in that territory. The truth is that Picnic de Palabras was not only brought for the joy of reading to children and families but as a way to significantly impact the community. It helped to reclaim and reconfigure public spaces previously invaded by violence. The community had both a physical and symbolic impact by recovering the use of parks as spaces of peace and meeting through reading and children’s books.
After 10 years, Picnic de Palabras has become a reading experience and a reference point for both Colombia and the world. It is an initiative that adds and supports the sensitization of families on the importance and value of reading in their lives. Additionally, thanks to the methodology designed and implemented, other forms of community relationships have emerged that have served to support the solution of local problems.
The project’s major challenges have been:
Been able to guarantee a sustainable economic model over time
Strengthening quantitative measurement of impact
Forming a committed and qualified team
Capitalizing on the experience gained from Picnic de Palabras by taking advantage of the interest of the stakeholders and working in the areas of action that we are impacting.
Our goal is that participants recognize the value that books have in their lives, supporting and accompanying their families on the path to achieving personal and professional development. According to recent studies in the field of neuroscience, it is known that we are all born with the same amount of neurons, but the lack of stimuli will diminish the creation of connections during a child’s first 7 years of life. In those years it is essential to create processes that facilitate aesthetic experiences in early childhood, where reading and art stimuli will have an impact on the cognitive and emotional development of children throughout their lives.
Therefore, it is necessary to create actions that allow us to be sustainable over time. We want to have more success stories like Fernanda’s, Jennifer’s sister and one of the first readers of Picnic de Palabras, who after 10 years recognizes herself today as a reader and values it as a tool to fulfill her dream of one day having a Major.
The gap between the actual project and the desired Picnic de Palabras
To narrow down the problem and understand the impact that access to reading has in early childhood, we must state that Colombia’s index of cognitive development in childhood is very low. According to Evelio Cabrejo, philologist and expert in cognitive development of children in early childhood, the social and economic gap begins with access to cognitive stimulation that occurs within the family among babies who grow up with songs, lullabies, poetry, stories, and books, and those whose parents only meet their basic needs.
Therefore, reading is a competency that needs to be developed to maintain the habit. As is demonstrated in the case of Finland, a 2014 article of the Spanish magazine “abc” explains how they managed to become the top 1 educational system according to Pisa tests (a globally recognized test that measures the quality of education in relation to math, science, and reading):
“The Finnish success is due to the fact that three structures fit together: the family, the school, and the socio-cultural resources (libraries, toy libraries, cinemas…),” explains Melgarejo. The three gears are linked and function coordinately. “Parents have the conviction that they are the first responsible for their children’s education, ahead of the school,” and complement the effort made in school.
“In Finland, 80% of families go to the library on weekends,” adds the Catalan school psychologist, for whom this reading stimulus at home is fundamental. The Finnish social system contributes with numerous official aids to families, which can reconcile their work and the care of their children.” (M. Arrizabalaga, 2013).
However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the gap in access to education and books between urban and rural areas of many countries around the world has increased, as has global learning poverty. According to data from the United Nations Development Programme’s 2020 Human Development Report, the Learning Poverty Report states that:
The simulation results based on the latest available data and evidence indicate that the pandemic has likely caused a sharp increase in global learning poverty, to an estimated 70 percent (Figure 1), and exacerbated inequalities in education. To assess the potential impact of the pandemic in education we simulate possible changes in Learning Poverty. The simulation modeling for this report shows that 7 out of 10 children in low- and middle-income countries could now be suffering from learning poverty. This means that an additional 1 out of every 8 children in low- and middle-income countries is now in learning poverty, and that all of the gains in learning poverty that low- and middle-income countries recorded since 2000 have been lost. The increases in learning poverty have likely been largest in South Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the very long school closures in those regions. In both regions, school closures were long and widespread across the territory, and schools were kept shuttered even after economies started to gradually open and even after vaccines started to be available for large segments of the population. In both regions, lack of connectivity for about half of the population precluded the use of internet for remote learning or to distribute learning material. Use of TV and radio for remote learning expanded quickly in many countries, but that was not enough to provide meaningful learning to most students (Learning poverty report, p. 8-9). Graph 1
Colombia has suffered an internal armed conflict for over fifty years, with forced displacement from rural to urban areas and an increase in annual poverty rates.
However, some progress has been made in closing social and economic gaps in a country that has been heavily impacted by violence and resulting inequality, particularly in rural areas in Colombia. Over the past 30 years, the government has tried to ensure access to reading through a network of public libraries in over 1400 municipalities in Colombia, evidence that public policies can create opportunities for access. We add to the processes that have been developed and strengthened by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia and the National Network of Public Libraries of Colombia through the National Plan for Reading and Writing.
While all of this adds up, according to UNESCO data from 2021, the literacy rate in Colombia is 94.7%, indicating that the majority of the Colombian population can read and write. However, knowing how to read is not enough, reading comprehension is what matters and it is difficult to give an exact figure. According to a 2016 report by the Ministry of Education of Colombia, only 35% of primary and middle school students in the country reached a satisfactory level in reading comprehension tests. This indicates that, although the literacy rate is high in Colombia, there are still challenges in terms of promoting and improving the reading competence of the population. Reading and its respective comprehension is essential to access information and education, a fundamental right. As a way to decrease social and economic gaps and inequality to access greater medium- and long-term opportunities; and to accompany readers’ socio-emotional processes. The use of Literature, and in this case children’s literature, supports the development of soft skills such as empathy and broadens our perspective of the world and others. Additionally, it is an experience that brings the community together, contributing to social fabric and development, which is what Picnic de Palabras seeks to achieve in the Colombian context, as a supporter of access to reading, the bond with books, and a companion to understanding stories.
Reading in Rural Colombia
Given our social and historical context, rural communities have learned to survive and prefer their children to follow in their footsteps rather than go to school. Additionally, when living in a remote area the distance from home to school gets longer, so in many cases, it is the mother who assumes the education of their children at home. This increases the lack of access to quality education for these children, adding to the gap and inequality in which they already find themselves, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Furthermore, according to data from the Ministry of Culture in 2018, only 5.5% of the country’s public libraries were located in rural areas, suggesting that access to books and other cultural resources are limited to children living in these zones. Additionally, the 2019 National Reading Survey, conducted by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), showed that 37.5% of households in Colombia do not have access to books, libraries, or bookstores. The deficient of access to books and educational resources affects negatively the cognitive, emotional, and academic development of children in rural areas, making projects with impact in rural areas crucial. Such as Picnic de Palabras, which has raised awareness among people in large cities about this problem and allows you to contribute to the solution with the purchase of a collection of illustrated books from Editorial Picnic de Palabras. However, it is essential to consider other perspectives when formulating and leading social projects focused on reading. Because in rural areas there are other local practices, meaning we must consider their needs and their view regarding the sense of education. We must understand that we do not own the “truth.” On the contrary, our purpose is to facilitate access to books designed especially for these families, supported by local leaders that understand the problems of each family. Noting that parents could have a basic level of reading, and we want to support them without transgressing their dignity.
Resilience of Picnic de Palabras
Our work is to help solve the problem of low cognitive development in rural Colombian communities. In the medium term, we seek to replicate the best practices learned in Colombia to support this process in other countries with similar contexts in Latam and around the globe.
We have identified some educational challenges in rural areas ascribed to infrastructure, equipment, teaching materials, connectivity, and teaching staff, as they are subject to local and national budgets, which have limited allocations in guaranteeing access to quality education.
In Colombia, there is a substantial difference in the quality of private and public education. The overall experience and training of teachers, the development of new skills, and the lack of reading outside the classroom are all part of a complex problem that can be considered within the framework of systemic thinking. We seek to support the closing of gaps and sensitize educators and families to take action toward designing and implementing meaningful reading and writing experiences where children, in exchange for their time, will receive a collection of high-quality books written and illustrated by famous Colombian and Latin American authors.
At this moment, in the midst of Colombia’s post-conflict, new development opportunities have been created for many communities that were isolated for decades. Based on the reading programs such as the National Reading and Writing Plan in Colombia there is a profound gap in access to reading and reading practices between the urban and rural population, as recognized by the National Reading Survey (2017). This directly affects reading rates with a difference of almost one percentage point between urban and rural readers.
We find ourselves at a moment when it is possible to add other actors and citizens to contribute and support the social transformation of rural areas, and thus support the reduction of gaps with social initiatives such as Picnic de Palabras. Our efforts are now focused on supporting the cognitive development of early childhood, and facilitating access to children’s literature books in rural Colombia and in the medium term in other countries in Latam and the world. For ten years, our work has focused on designing and implementing meaningful reading experiences. Now, our next step is by recognizing our own reading experience and its relevance to the families and children in rural areas to have and grow with their own children’s books library, starting with the Picnic de Palabras collection. Four high-quality and affordable children’s literature books to ensure a sustainable business model and to connect all the people involved in the process with the social impact we are aiming for. The added value of the collection is that it provides tools for families to be inspired and create their own stories and start reading habits from an early age. Studies have shown that reading is the best brain stimulant and the most accessible one. Reading helps develop emotional intelligence, which is essential for a child’s growth and better understanding of the world. As supported by this section of the interview conducted by the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo with Portuguese expert in children’s literature, Adélia Carvalho, (ABC del bebé, 2013):
The fact that this population is in the process of development is significant. Reading from a young age will determine whether a child will have reading habits or not. These habits are incredibly important, as there are already studies confirming that reading is the best brain stimulant we have, and the most accessible. At any time, we can have a book with us, take it anywhere without any effort. Reading helps to develop emotional intelligence, which is essential for the growth of the child and for a better understanding of the world.
We are offering people who support us the opportunity to contribute and be part of the solution by purchasing a collection that will be distributed in rural communities. Our inspiration, TOM’S shoe company economic and social impact model. Where if they buy two collections, one will go to a rural family who will also participate in a reading and writing activity designed to enhance the value of books at home and as symbolic seeds for libraries. We focus on being part of the solution and by achieving the objectives of Picnic de Palabras:
Understanding and learning local knowledge, traditions, and initiatives of rural populations.
Publishing collections of illustrated books that contain quality visual and graphic stories that can adapt to multiple reading contexts.
Consolidating an international community of readers who are involved in the publishing project and have stated the intention of financing and sharing at least one collection destined for a family in rural areas of Colombia, and medium-term for Latam, and long-term for the world.
Inspiring and creating new stories (written and illustrated) from interpretations of this collection of books among the Picnic de Palabras community.
Through the experience and collection of Picnic de Palabras, we provide spaces for families to show them that reading is possible and powerful. Above all, thanks to its simplicity, it is possible for both children and adults to connect so deeply with reading that they have the desire to continue reading and replicate the experience with others.
ABC del bebé (2013) La lectura es el mejor estimulante cerebral. Entrevista a Adélia Carvalho. https://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-12745122
Cámara Colombiana del Libro. (2017) El libro y la lectura en Colombia.
M. Arrizabalaga. (2013). Así consigue Finlandia ser el número 1 en Educación en Europa.
Ministerio de Cultura, Ministerio de Educación. (2021) Plan Nacional de Lectura, Escritura y Oralidad (pnleo) «Leer es mi cuento» 2018-2022
M. Escovar (2020) Picnic de Palabras blog https://picnicdepalabras.wordpress.com/
Red Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas. (2022) Bibliotecas rurales itinerantes: un programa para fortalecer la lectura, la escritura y la oralidad en los territorios colombianos. Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia.
The World Bank et al. (2022). The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022 Update, conference edition, June 23, 2022.