More than anything, Martín Murillo Roberto Gómez wants to be remembered as being useful to society. A fact that inspired the Colombian street vendor to transform his cart used for selling water and sodas into his project The Literary Cart Leamos.
For the past sixteen years, Murillo has pushed his carreta literaria along the streets of Cartagena to champion reading. “There is no other instrument that is so useful, that brings so many benefits to society than books,” he told BBC. Anyone who comes up to his cart is privy to his vast collection.
It all started back in 2003 when a stranger spotted Murillo reading José Saramago’s novel The Double, and promised to bring him more books. This would later turn into a friendship that would change the course of the street vendor’s life, as the stranger turned out to be Jaime Abello, the director of the García Márquez journalism foundation.
Encouraged by his new friend, Murillo began attending festivals and events that spurred his literary curiosity and sparked his desire to spread the word about reading.
By 2007, he decided to collect a pile of 120 books from his own room and take them around the city for anyone who wanted to stop and read for awhile. “In a book you find all the applications that a man needs to learn, to pry, to entertain yourself, to investigate,” he explained.
Later that year, Murillo found a patron who gave him the funds to continue promoting his literacy project. Since then, he has been able to operate in rural and urban areas alike with the help of sponsors for the past twelve years. This has also allowed him to attend Latin American book fairs across places like Argentina, Mexico, and Bogota.
As of today, the mobile librarian travels to different schools and colleges in underprivileged neighborhoods to provide read-aloud literature workshops for kids of all ages. Around 80 of the 200 books in his cart are children’s books, with historical fiction and poetry mixed in as well. “I get satisfaction out of knowing that through this tool I can cheer up a child, I can help a teacher to improve the quality of life of a lot of people,” Murillo said.