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Cartonera Bookmaking Project Empowers Students in Callao, Peru

Dr. Jesse Gainer and Nancy Valdez Gainer speaking to classroom children

Dr. Jesse Gainer and Nancy Valdez Gainer speak to a classroom of children in Callao, Peru.

Charlcee Cervantez | May 3, 2024

CALLAO, Peru — In a bid to foster literacy, community engagement, and empowerment among students in Callao, Peru, Dr. Jesse Gainer and Nancy Valdez-Gainer, professors in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University, have spearheaded a transformative cartonera bookmaking project. Through their collaboration with Caroll Castro of Ucumari Cartonero, the Gainers have extended their expertise to introduce a novel approach to education in the Callao school district.

Dr. Jesse Gainer and Nancy Valdez Gainer posing with book
Nancy Gainer Reading with Children
Callao Teacher Working on Book
Dr. Jesse Gainer working with students

Driven by a commitment to holistic language and literacy instruction, the Gainers embarked on their cartonera journey in 2019. Drawing inspiration from the democratization of literacy and the amplification of marginalized voices, they saw an opportunity to revolutionize educational spaces through cartonera bookmaking. Their work has spanned continents, from co-authoring books with incarcerated fathers in Argentina to facilitating transnational literacy exchanges.

Their entry into Callao's educational landscape was facilitated by Castro, a dedicated advocate of literacy education through cartonera bookmaking. Together, they aimed to ignite a passion for reading and writing among students and educators. The inaugural cartonera book fair in 2023 laid the foundation for this endeavor, showcasing the creative potential of students across the district. Buoyed by its success, the Gainers are gearing up for the second annual fair in August 2024, with an expanded roster of 18 participating schools.

Central to the project is the ethos of autonomy and self-determination. Rather than prescribing themes or narratives, the Gainers provided students with the freedom to express themselves authentically. The resulting books serve as a testament to community engagement and agency, bridging cultural divides and fostering collective identity.

Children with their books
children posing with their books

Moreover, cartonera bookmaking addresses the pressing issue of limited access to books, particularly in economically disadvantaged communities like Callao. By repurposing cardboard for book covers and encouraging DIY book creation, the project champions sustainability and environmentalism. Themes of environmental conservation and social justice permeate the narratives, empowering students to advocate for change within their communities.

Collaboration has been pivotal to the project's success, with Castro serving as a key partner in navigating logistical challenges. Despite the geographical distance, technology has facilitated seamless communication and collaboration, underscoring the project's adaptability and resilience.

The lasting outcomes of the project are evident in the annual book fair, which has evolved into a cornerstone of community engagement and educational innovation. Plans are underway to expand the project to neighboring districts and to conduct a comparative study of cartonera projects across Peru. Beyond the confines of formal education, the Gainers have extended their reach to a grassroots level, collaborating with Lis Perez and Eddy Ramos at Quijote Para la Vida community center. Through Sancho Cartonero, children from low-income neighborhoods are empowered to share their stories and aspirations, enriching the cultural tapestry of their community.

Dr. Jesse Gainer pose with Callao school teachers
Nancy Gainer working with Callao teacher
Nancy Gainer with Callao teacher

The cartonera bookmaking project in Callao exemplifies the transformative power of education when coupled with creativity, collaboration, and community engagement. As Dr. Jesse Gainer and Nancy Valdez-Gainer continue to champion literacy and empowerment, their legacy resonates far beyond the confines of the classroom, inspiring a new generation of changemakers in Peru and beyond.