Youngster’s Drive to Fund Library Speaks Volumes

Sofia Flores-Sirolli, 11, has made steady progress in her attempt to raise funds toward the construction of a library in Nicaragua.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Sofia Flores-Sirolli, 11, has made steady progress in her attempt to raise funds toward the construction of a library in Nicaragua.

La Cañada High School 7th-grader Sofia Flores-Sirolli’s dream is to build a library in Nicaragua, and she’s approximately 75% of the way to raising the funds to achieve her goal.
The 11-year-old, a strong believer in the power of literacy whose family has roots in the Central American country, estimates she can come up with all of the resources by next summer. She and her mother visited a rural school in La Reina, Boaco Viejo, during the past summer, and it didn’t have any maps, dictionaries or books at the time.
“I know you might be like ‘She’s exaggerating, it’s hyperbole, obviously they had some books and at least one map in their classroom.’ But no, they didn’t have anything,” Sofia said in a recent interview in which she was joined by her mother, Amalia Sirolli.
The duo had brought some school supplies, about 100 books and maps when they visited, and were taken aback by the response.
“The kids were like ‘Oh, my God,’” Amalia Sirolli said. “They were excited about the books. The teachers were like ‘We won the lottery’ because they had no materials before.”
This was the moment Sofia said she wanted to build a library, she and her mother said.
“I was like ‘Shhhh, the kids are going to hear you,” Sirolli said. “The kids are going to think this is going to happen. How are we going to build the library? Shhh.”
Added Sofia: “But now we are going to build a library.”
The library effort has raised more than $5,390 of its $7,000 goal on a GoFundMe account. Sirolli has already taken steps to engage local builders to construct the facility once the funding objective is met.
Before hatching the library project, Sofia — one of whose teachers described her as empathetic and determined — had more modest goals that began about three years ago, during a Nicaragua jaunt that included a visit to a regional population center, Boaco.
“And there I went to the library because I really love reading books and I wanted to see how theirs was, but there were empty shelves and you could only check out one book a week,” she said. So this kind of touched me and I didn’t like that, because I read.”
Sirolli said her own mother is from Boaco and they have family there. The rural school in La Reina is 24 kilometers from the library in Boaco, Sirolli added.
Sofia said she has become more passionate about literacy as she has become more educated about the issue.
“Now I understand how bad it really is to not have a book,” Sofia said. “And back then I just kind of thought ‘I like reading, it’s kind of sad they can’t read.’ But now I’m like ‘Oh, I like reading, it’s sad they can’t read but they also can’t get a good job later on … and they can’t pay for their food.”
Soon afterward, Sofia started raising money for books written in Spanish. She has raised more than $2,000 and used the funds to send the Boaco library more than 600 books as well as 500 boxes of crayons, hundreds of school supplies and more. She recently earned some 2019 Kids Startup Showcase Winner awards during Glendale Tech Week — a city-led effort to strengthen the local innovation landscape — in late September, including a “Boom! Award for Most Growth.”
Her mother said she has seen her daughter’s dreams grow over time.
“When she first started, her goal was just to fill empty shelves,” Sirolli said. “And now she wants to build a library.”
She added Sofia wants to continue doing this for other rural communities.
“We’ve had a friend … who comes from a poor community in El Salvador and goes to visit her family, and she’s like ‘Oh, you’re doing this. Can I have some stuff that I can take to the rural schools in El Salvador, too?’” Sirolli said. “The dream is now to keep on doing it.”
Resolve appears to be a family trait. Sofia’s great-great aunt built a school around 1954 in a rural community in Nicaragua, Sirolli said.
Sirolli said the woman — her grandmother’s sister — would tell her there were no schools in the community. She sent letters to the president, the ministry of education, the church and people in the community, but no one was responding.
Finally, the then-president of Nicaragua — Anastasio Somoza, a dictator — came to the area, the woman told Sirolli.
“He came over to the town and brought the brick and said this is the first brick for this school, it’s going to happen — and nothing ever happened,” Sirolli said.
The relative however, was able to get the entire community together to build a school in the community.
“My grandmother’s sister was from Boaco, but when she learned they did not have any schools in Boaco Viejo she decided to help organize the community to build the first school in the region and moved there to teach once it was built,” Sirolli said. “It was a poor community” — and remains so — “it was a very modest salary, but the people were very grateful and brought her their crops and eggs and such as their way to say thanks.”
The school was used for about 10-15 years, until the town’s population grew and a new school was built to replace it, Sirolli said.
It has the name of Salvadora Castillo, Sirolli’s grandmother’s sister.
Hilary Gregg taught Sofia in her gifted and talented class from the 4th through 6th grades at Paradise Canyon Elementary School as well as her after-school Math Olympiad class.
During 4th grade, Sofia invited her to the farmers market in Montrose to see the handcrafted gift baskets she was selling so she could purchase Spanish-language books for Nicaraguan children.
“I was impressed with her creative fundraising ideas and her informative and passionate ‘elevator pitch’ for her cause,” Gregg said. “I annually donate to her project and have asked her to make presentations about her plan to her classmates.”
Gregg said she was not surprised to see her former student broaden her goal and start a library. She described her as a voracious reader who is empathetic and compassionate to those less fortunate.
“Behind Sophia’s sweet smile is a feisty young lady,” Gregg said. “She is dedicated, hard-working, optimistic, and won’t stop until she reaches her goal. At that point, she will set an even loftier goal!”
To help or learn more, visit Facebook.com and type in Sofia’s Bookworm Store or gofundme.com/f/sofias-bookworm-store-grows-libraries.
The Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse will have a collection box for donations of books in Spanish, puzzles and educational toys beginning Nov. 30 — Small Business Saturday — and running through the holidays, Sirolli said.

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