ERIZE - In the 1950s, the town had a thousand residents. Now it's down to 17 souls. Among them are a group of women who have some ideas about how to stop the town of Erize, located in the eastern part of the Buenos Aires province, from disappearing from the map altogether. Earlier this month, they took the first step towards that goal, with the opening of a public library in an abandoned house located next to the town chapel.

The group of women’s main support comes from the Association for the Protection of Local Shops. Through a donation campaign held from August through November, the Argentine association got enough books so that if they were stacked like bricks, they could act as a wall against the tsunami of oblivion advancing against the town.

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[Map of Erize, Argentina - Source: Googlemaps]

The only way to get to Erize is by a very poorly maintained dirt road. The train stopped running in the 1990s, and there are no buses. There aren’t businesses, or telephones, and a while ago the hotels and local stores that gave the place life closed as well.

"The town is inaccessible and isolated, not only in a physical sense but also institutionally, since it has been asking the government for help for years and hasn’t gotten any," says Leandro Vesco, president of the Association for the Protection of Local Shops, a non-profit that has been working to revitalize towns of under 1,500 people in the province of Buenos Aires since 2007.

"We got in touch with the women who want to save Erize from oblivion and launched a national campaign for book donations, so that we could attain something the town never had – a public library." The operation was a success, and in four months they had around 2,000 books. "At the beginning, we will bring 500 books so that the library can start working." The books won’t be all by themselves, though. They will be accompanied by three computers, one copy machine, book shelves and 80 liters of paint needed to fix up the library’s new building. Everything was donated.

A truck was even donated to bring the books to Erize and there are volunteers who are working for free to fix up the building and put the library together. "The idea is to have a public cultural space that will be open for most of the day and will be used by residents to think about ideas related to the development of the town," Vesco says.

Reviving the social club

Erize’s new library is also complimented by the delivery of new learning materials for the 12 students in the local school, from both Erize and other small towns. "The school is only held for four hours a day during the school year, and now the kids can take the initiative to learn during the summers, as well," Vesco says.

One of the group’s other missions is to revitalize Erize’s social club, which was the center of the town’s life in happier times. "It used to unite everyone in the town and people from surrounding towns, too. The club’s closure was the last nail in the coffin for the town," Vesco explains, adding that he was working with the provincial government to bring actors and artists to Erize.

The association is trying to resuscitate the clubs, local shops and libraries in the hopes of saving hundreds of small towns from become ghost towns. Train stations and general stores, abandoned or on their way towards extinction, are also among the non-profit’s goals. It shares its successes and struggles on its blog and on Facebook, where it has 10,000 followers. "Small towns should not and can not disappear," is the organization’s motto.