MEXICO CITY – In the middle of a crime-ridden neighborhood in Mexico City sits an airplane that hosts a library, conceived of as a way to promote learning and reduce violence.
“Volando a la Utopia” (Flying to Utopia) was inaugurated earlier this month with the opening of the Boeing 737-200 in the capital borough of Iztapalapa.
Painted in colorful floral motifs, the plane is stocked with 25 computers, 2,000 online books and 230 printed books to serve the young people of Alvaro Obregon, a neighborhood where many children don’t attend school and few households are connected to the Internet.
The aim of Volando a la Utopia, coordinator Diana Itzel Gonzalez tells EFE, is to promote reading and enable vulnerable communities to participate in cultural, artistic and scientific activities.
Area resident Odilon Cortes is visiting the library for the first time, accompanied by his wife and their three children, ages 10, 8 and 4.
The family doesn’t have the Internet at home and the 10-year-old sits down at one of the library computers to work on a homework assignment.
“The place is excellent and beautiful. My children like being in a place like this where they can learn, since we have been living in a conflictive area,” he said, adding that he and his family will certainly return to the library.
Cortes, who serves in the Mexican army, says he wants to make sure that his kids don’t go astray, noting that a lot of young people in the neighborhood become involved in crime.
Itzel, who lived in Alvaro Obregon during her student days, says that the library project has transformed a space that used to be a no-go area known for menacing drunks, muggings and drug deals.
Manufactured in 1986, the Boeing was used by airlines in New Zealand and Mexico until 2009, when it was relegated to a cemetery for airplanes at the Mexico City Airport.
The work of turning the jetliner into a library was done by employees of now-defunct airline Mexicana de Aviacion, who removed the rows of seats to make room for desks and computers.
“This plane is lucky because after flying for so long and being left abandoned, it was restored by a project with a beautiful purpose ... to encourage children to read,” said Marcos Gerardo Lopez, a retired aviation mechanic and deputy coordinator of the library.
Gerardo is in charge of the flight simulator installed in the rear cabin of the Boeing. Time in the simulator is offered as a reward for kids who regularly visit the library.
Iztapalapa’s top official, Clara Brugada, says she would like to see at least five library airplanes installed in the borough as part of an initiative to reclaim public spaces through the provision of free, inclusive amenities.
The library staff jokes with the idea of turning the presidential plane into a library after president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he is considering a raffle to get rid of it.
The staff at the Alvaro Obregon library plane joke about transforming the Mexican presidential aircraft - up for sale since January 2019 - into a library, picking up on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s recent mention of the possibility of offering the Boeing 787 Dreamliner as the prize in a national raffle.
And some suggest that given the plane’s size and luxurious fittings, what used to be the Mexican Air Force One could house an entire university.