I first heard about Jorge Ospina’s educational initiative, Libros Que Van Y Vienen (Books That Come And Go), from a Colombian friend who had donated some books for his cause.
When I expressed an interest in featuring Jorge’s story on this blog, my friend immediately sprang into action and set up a time for us to visit Jorge on his finca (farm), located in the hills just outside Rionegro, Colombia.
Upon meeting Jorge, I was immediately impressed by the warmth and kindness of spirit that radiated from his genuine smile. After a bit of small talk, I set up my camera and launched into a series of questions probing Jorge’s background and how he came to be known as ‘the bookman of Antioquia.”
Jorge grew up in the small town of Sonsón in the southeastern area of Antioquia, a few hours south of the department capital of Medellín. Historically, the area has suffered from a lack of security, which in turn, deprived the locals of sustainable economic opportunities. During the worst periods, many locals became displaced and lost their homes and land.
In 2000, Jorge immigrated to the USA and started what would become a successful cleaning business on the Gulf coast of Florida. Hard work, determination and an innate sense of pride and self-confidence, enabled Jorge to succeed. Despite the relative prosperity he gained from his own manual labor, Jorge never forgot the friends, family and neighbors he had left behind in northwest Colombia.
As a child, Jorge’s mother had instilled in him a sense of responsibility to help those who were less fortunate. For Jorge, his success meant that he now had the means to give back to his fellow Colombians.
Jorge’s philanthropy began by supplying much-needed medical equipment for communities in rural Antioquia. Each time he would travel from the USA to Colombia, he would bring wheelchairs and portable scooters. Specialty medical equipment such as this must be imported to Colombia and is therefore quite expensive, far out of reach of all but the minority middle and upper classes.
While Jorge’s medical philanthropy was a welcome surprise, I wanted to know about his love affair with books and initiative Libros Que Van Y Vienen.
The idea began to percolate when Jorge saw small lending libraries — book boxes — set up in the neighborhoods of cities in California and British Columbia, Canada. Seeing these easily accessible repositories of knowledge sparked a Eureka moment for Jorge. Such an objective fit neatly into Jorge’s notion that philanthropy shouldn’t simply be a handout to the poor, but instead it should be a way to enrich people’s minds and give them the knowledge and skills they could use to better their lives on their own.
Upon returning to Colombia, Jorge started fulfilling his mission by building and setting up the first of his small lending libraries beside the road in front of his farm. From that small start, he has expanded the initiative to many of the rural sectors that radiate out from the main towns in his native Eastern Antioquia. He works with high schools in these areas to spread the word of each library’s location and encourage more locals to read, as well as providing help with keeping the book boxes clean and orderly.
In a touch which reveals this man’s tender heart, he dedicates each small lending library to the memory of his mother, Fanny Botero de Ospina.
By providing easily accessible educational materials to people who live in rural areas, Libros Que Van Y Vienen hopes to change attitudes and lift spirits one mind at a time.
NOTE: This week I’ll be posting the video interview I did with Jorge entitled “Jorge Ospina: In His Own Words.”