Jose Alberto Gutierrez is a garbage collector in Bogota, Colombia, with no education beyond that of primary school. 20 years ago, he was lucky enough to rescue a discarded copy of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and since then he has been collecting thrown away books with his wife and three children and built a free community library.
The famous ‘book-hoarder’, also referred to as The Lord of the Books, has accumulated an impressive collection of 20,000 plus books. While he worked in wealthier parts of the city, he would take out unwanted books amongst the trash and deliver them to families in poorer regions.
“There was a lack of them in our neighborhood, so we started to help,” said Mr Gutierrez.
With the books he has collected, he converted them into a free library called La Fuerza de las Palabras, which is Spanish for The Strength of the Words. As a heartwarming community dedicated to children in need of help with homework, this library aims to pass on the Gutierrez family’s love of books.
Via The Telegraph
One after another, previously thrown away books have been organized into neat stacks in his home. Although they used to rent out the downstairs to tenants, the room is now fully loaded with books. These well-organized piles climb all the way to the ceiling and there is hardly any room for movement except a narrow passage. As the amassment continues to grow each day, he must take some to more remote regions that do not have access to libraries.
“The more books we give away, the more come to us,” he said.
Furthermore, he has also been contributing parts of his collection to Colombian fighters who are forced to demobilize under the country’s peace process. Before these fighters gain re-entry into civilian life, these books would be an educative source that will help them prepare for day jobs.
“Books transformed me, so I think books are a symbol of hope for those places. They are a symbol of peace,” said Mr. Gutierrez.
Now aged 55, The Lord of the Books wants to study in preparation for his school leaver’s exam, which he did not have the chance to attend during youth. Born into a poverty-stricken family, Mr. Gutierrez was forced to quit school at a very young age. Nevertheless, his childhood was filled with bedtime stories read by his mother. Not only did these nighttime stories become an integral part of his childhood, but they also sparked a passion for reading from the bottom of the young boy’s heart.
“The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids start reading,” he told Al Jazeera.
As an avid reader and a true believer of education, he endeavors to break the cycle of poverty with books. His visionary goal has attracted overseas volunteers from Denmark, Norway, France as well as South Korea. These participants travel all the way to the southern stretch of Colombia’s capital in order to find Mr. Gutierrez at his crowded library.
“Every kid who participated in those sessions has gone on to university, including my daughter.” said him.
Featured Image Courtesy of Al Jazeera