• Lua Oliveira created a community library for impoverished children in her community in Brazil.
  • She receives 1,500 books per week, which she plans to distribute across the country.
  • The 12-year-old girl has become an activist on other community issues, like sewage in Rio's favelas.

At a book fair in Sao Paulo six months ago, 12-year-old Lua Oliveira noticed something that disturbed her: a mother telling her daughter she couldn't afford to buy a book that cost three reals, around 60 US cents.

“I have to do something,” she thought, as she retells her story to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

That moment at the book fair kicked off a viral project that would transform the 12-year-old girl into the founder of a one-of-a-kind community library. It would also turn her into a local leader inspiring other young people like her in neighboring cities.

Getting started

Using her grandmother's phone, Lua posted a video on Facebook explaining an idea for a library and requesting book donations. The cheerful video went viral and she began receiving countless boxes of books, as well as invitations to appear on TV.

As books poured in, Lua needed a place to house them. Pretending to be her grandmother, she sent a WhatsApp message to the vice president of her local residents association, asking for such a space. (They knew it was Lua, but they still agreed to the plan.)

Soon her new library was up and running with 18,000 books squeezed into the shelves of a small tin-roofed room in her local community center.

12-years-old Lua Oliveira rests as she takes care of the public library Mundo da Lua
Starting and looking after your own public library is tiring. Lua takes a rest on some cushions.
Image: REUTERS/Pilar Olivares - RC2KEF9LPAL2

Inspiring new readers and new leaders

The books have kept on rolling in. Since she posted her video, Lua has continued to receive about 1,500 books per week. She explains that her plan is to donate these books to libraries across Brazil. She has specifically set aside 500 books for a boy who was inspired by Lua to create his own library project in a neighboring community.

Meanwhile, children in Lua’s community regularly visit her library.

"I love coming here. I come almost every day. It gives me something to do when I'm not at school," 10-year-old Daniel Nascimento told AFP. "I used to just spend my time playing football and video games."

Such spaces are often out of reach for many young people in Brazil's impoverished favelas. In fact, nearly one in 10 residents age 15 and over are illiterate in Brazilian slums, double the rate in “asphaltos” or urban centers.

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Each month, we announce a new book on our social media channels. We then publish an extract and begin a chapter-by-chapter discussion with group members. Selected comments and questions are sent to the author, who in return sends us a video response.

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Finding her voice

Since discovering her newfound voice, Lua has been raising awareness about other issues plaguing her community. Earlier this year, she called out Rio’s mayor, Marcelo Crivella, for neglecting to solve the sewage problem. “At the age of 12, I have done more for my community than you did throughout your entire term”, she commented in Extra, one of Brazil's most-circulated daily newspapers based in Rio de Janeiro.

The criticism was met favorably, and Crivella sent a car to meet with Lua and discuss the matter in person. He has since agreed to make the necessary fixes to the plumbing and water systems in her favela.

12-years-old Lua Oliveira, who created a public library Mundo da Lua (World of the Moon) for poor children, calling for attention through social media to get donated books, plays with her dog at her home at the Tabajaras slum in Rio de Janeiro, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares - RC2LEF9R6X06
A lover of animals, Lua plays with her dog at her home in the Tabajaras slum of Rio de Janeiro
Image: REUTERS/Pilar Olivares - RC2LEF9R6X06

Long-term, Lua says she’s not interested in politics and is keeping her career options open. She has considered becoming either an actress or a veterinarian and is even considering opening a shelter for stray dogs and cats. Judging from the library’s success, that shelter is sure to be a hit.