The power of books to transform a life

For quite a few years I have been following some of the excellent stories that are a part of the oral history project called “Storycorps” in the United States. This brilliant project has involved literally thousands of Americans telling their stories about love, hate, death, war, indeed the full human experience.

Today I watched the above video about a young native American migrant worker, Storm Reyes. It shows how the chance of following her curiosity and getting into a travelling Library (called a “Bokbus” in the U.S.A.) would introduce her to the world that exists in books and how that managed to transform her life.

Here is her story: (I have made bold what I consider to be key points in her story)

In the late 1950s, when she was just 8 years old, Storm Reyes began picking fruit as a full-time farm labourer for less than $1 per hour. Storm and her family moved often, living in Native American migrant worker camps without electricity or running water.

With all that moving around, she wasn’t allowed to have books growing up.

“Books are heavy, and when you’re moving a lot you have to keep things just as minimal as possible,” she said.

She remembers a tough childhood in the migrant camps.

“The conditions were pretty terrible. I once told someone that I learned to fight with a knife long before I learned how to ride a bicycle and when you are grinding day after day after day, there is no room in you for hope. There just isn’t. You don’t even know it exists. There’s nothing to aspire to except filling your hungry belly. That’s how I was raised.”

But when she was 12, a bookmobile came to the fields where she and her family worked.

“So when I saw this big vehicle on the side of the road, and it was filled with books, I immediately stepped back,” she said. “Fortunately the staff member saw me, kind of waved me in, and said, ‘These are books, and you can take one home. You have to bring it back in two weeks, but you can take them home and read them.’ ”

The bookmobile librarian asked Storm what she was interested in and sent her home with a couple of books. One was on Volcanoes because one of the tribal elders had told her a scary story about the local volcano blowing up. He said “learn about volcanoes. You don’t fear things that you know about!”.

She said, “I took them home and I devoured them. I didn’t just read them, I devoured them and I came back in two weeks and had more questions. And he gave me more books, and that started it.”

The experience, she said, was life-changing.

That taught me that hope was not just a word. And it gave me the courage to leave the camps. That’s where the books made the difference.

Storm left the camps when she was a teenager and attended night school. She ended up working in the Pierce County Library System as a librarian for more than 30 years.

“By the time I was 15, I knew there was a world outside of the camps,” she said. “I believed I could find a place in it. And I did.”

I found this story inspiring and moving. I have for many years been interested in human potential. I have always had a belief that we are not bound by our genes or by our environment and that there is something or someone that can transform the way we think about ourselves and our own potential.

Storycorps has covered so many stories like Storm’s where people living and working in difficult circumstances have been able to overcome them and achieve great things. If you have the chance I would recommend looking up their excellent site and reading/listening/watching some of the wonderfully inspiring stories that ordinary people tell.

 

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