Her name is Gema (pronounced Hemma). If you drop the ‘a’ from her name, you have a pretty accurate description of what she’s like. She is indeed a ‘gem’ and a one woman wonder.
Born in Guadalajara, she married Jack, her Canadian husband in 1994. Over her 30 years in teaching, she taught mostly elementary and kindergarten children, although she has also served as a Director in this area. Of these 30 years, several were in rural schools around Guadalajara and 15 were in Ursulo Galvan. She believes in the importance of providing a good sound education in the early years, for if children develop a love of reading at this age, it will continue throughout their lives.
In 2012, she retired from teaching but not from community involvement, and it is through this capacity that we got to know her. Her current adventure is delivering the Libros sobre Ruedas (Books on Wheels) Program, a joint project of the Jaltemba Bay Rotary Club and Los Amigos de Jaltemba. The books were purchased with funds raised at the Las Tres Amigas Wine Tasting event in December of 2012.
She operates the Books on Wheels program out of the trunk of her car, and keeps a schedule that most of us would find exhausting, visiting 11 schools each week. Some of these are in La Peñita and Los Ayala, but she also travels to Chacala, El Divisadero, El Capomo, Lima de Abajo, Puerta de la Lima, El Tonino and La Joya.
We were lucky enough to visit classes in El Capomo and El Divisadero with her recently and witnessed firsthand the enthusiastic reception she gets from both teachers and students. She doesn’t just deliver books to the schools; she also provides some form of literacy instruction geared to the age of the students. For example, at El Capomo she passed out some form of reading material to each student. Everyone got something, whether it was a story book, an informational book, a dictionary, a newspaper or a magazine. Then they played a dice game and identified examples of each type. Talk about enthusiasm! Who ever thought a dictionary could be so exciting? She then calmed things down by reading them a story about a polar bear (in honour of their Canadian visitors?), with lots of interaction between her and the students.
In El Divisadero, the students range in age from 3 to 6 in the kinder, so she changed the activity. Each child was given a picture book, which they then ‘read’ to the other students. Her choice of story at this school was a book about brushing your teeth, which finished with singing a related action song.
At the end of each session, we distributed school supplies which had been gathered in our Christmas Stocking Campaign, amidst exclamations of “Wow,” and “Oooh” and “Gracias”. Gema has helped us with dividing up the items, and distributing them to the schools she visits each week.
A round of applause goes out to all of you who have contributed in any way to this project, either through our Las Tres Amigas events, Rotary fundraisers or Los Amigos de Jaltemba.
Gema’s program is not confined to the classroom. If she is scheduled to visit a school first thing in the morning, she arrives early and opens the trunk of her car. Parents and older brothers and sisters descend on it and select books to read to the younger children before school even starts. The same is true if she is at a school in the late afternoon.
She admits that by the time Friday rolls around, she is a ‘little’ tired. But that doesn’t stop her from promoting literacy in other ways. Every Thursday afternoon, she opens her home to the children of Villa Morelos. In her ‘Sala de Lectura’ (Reading Room) program, she puts out books in three separate areas, one for the very young, one for kindergarten age and one for older children. Parents of the younger children come along and read to them, so family literacy is being promoted too.
Gema is so well known in literacy circles that she was invited last December by CONACULTA (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes – National Council of Culture and Arts) as part of the Salas de Lecturas program to attend FIL, the International Book Fair in Guadalajara. It’s the largest book fair in the world. She attended four conferences, and assisted in the booth operated by CONACULTA. Children of all ages stopped by, where she read to them and helped them select books.
We asked her how she can keep up such a pace, and her answer was straightforward: she picks up energy from the children! As she says, “The Books on Wheels project gives me magical moments and makes me very happy.”
Now you know why we call Gema a ‘Wheely’ nice lady, and a one woman wonder. She spreads happiness and a love of literacy everywhere she goes. It is indeed a privilege to know her.
by Las Tres Amigas