About WOVEN: A Peace Corps Adventure Spun with Faith, Laughter, and Love
by Nancy Heil Knor (Belize 1989-1991)
The idea for Woven started back in 1989 when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the K’ekchi Mayan village of San Pedro Columbia in Belize, Central America. As a new teacher-volunteer, I noticed the distinct absence of books in the village.
The few picture books that I had brought with me were read and reread by men, women, and children until their bindings cracked; in the schools, classes were taught in English, but had no books for the students to read; and there was always a waiting list of men wanting to borrow my Peace Corps issued Newsweek Magazine.
Within a few months, my Peace Corps project became clear: I would work alongside the villagers to create the first-ever San Pedro Columbia Library!
The San Pedro Library Committee applied for grants and wrote letters to book agencies while the school children in the village participated in a cultural exchange with an elementary school in New Jersey. All the villagers participated in creating a beautiful building, painting
Mayan figures on the walls, and running the library. And with over 1,000 books, the Se Le Pan Library — The Toucan Library — was a huge success!
There were lines of hundreds of children who waited to borrow books — so many, in fact, that we had to designate certain days for certain ages to borrow books. I was thrilled with the enthusiastic response, but I couldn’t help notice that most of the books we received centered around themes that were irrelevant to the library’s K’ekchi readers. Books about babysitters, skyscrapers, and American “issues,” while greatly appreciated, were just not relatable for the people of San Pedro Columbia. I remember wishing that my K’ekchi friends had literature about themselves to read. I wished they had a book where Mayan characters were the protagonists and where their village was the setting — and this wish never quite left me.
Thanks to a persistent little K’ekchi pen pal, Telesforo Chiac, who faithfully wrote me letters when I returned to the United States, I stayed in touch with my Mayan friends and host family. And, finally, twenty-two years after I left, I had the privilege of going back to the village to visit. Telesforo had grown into an insightful and reflective young man who had a heart for the Mayan people, and a desire to honor and promote his beautiful culture. It was Telesforo’s enthusiasm that rekindled my interest in writing a book.
I knew I would not be able to write a book from the Mayan perspective — that is a job for a Mayan writer — but I knew I could write one from my point of view as a Peace Corps Volunteer. And so, I wrote Woven — a book filled with letters, journal entries, and spiritual reflections (from a Judeo-Christian perspective) from my two years in Belize. This book is not about babysitters or skyscrapers. It takes place in the lovely village of San Pedro Columbia and it is dedicated to my K’ekchi friends — the true heroes of my story.
My dream is to take one hundred copies of Woven to the village of San Pedro Columbia in December of 2019. I want the villagers to know that their story is a story worth telling.
Woven: A Peace Corps Adventure Spun with Faith, Laughter, and Love
Nancy Heil Knor (Belize 1989-1991)
Peace Corps Writers
November 5, 2019