Gardens of Learning
Eva Muchtar, WEEKENDER | Thu, 04/26/2012 1:07 PM |
One woman is making a difference by bringing books to remote communities in Eastern Indonesia.
Books! Books! Books!
“Oh, my kind of kids!” I said ardently, referring to the bunch of children standing on the dock screaming those words as we came onshore at Rinca Island, East Nusa Tenggara, about two hours by boat from Labuan Bajo, Flores.
Truth be told, I hadn’t heard such enthusiasm from children over books for years.You couldn’t help but smile and feel a few goosebumps in the face of such pure, innocent delight.
The children were pointing at Nila Tanzil, my friend and travel companion, during our recent trip to Flores. More than three years ago, Nila set up the Rainbow Reading Gardens, a cluster of simple, independent community libraries for children in Nusa Tenggara. Her efforts started with just one reading garden, but now there are 23 across Nusa Tenggara. We visited several of them on our trip.
For those children and the local communities, Nila has become synonymous with children’s books. Her visits mean new books for them – something that they have learned to adore and look forward to.
Rinca hosts the second reading garden we visited. Before that, we went to a village called Kampung Roe, 1.5 hours by car from Labuan Bajo. And if you think first impressions matter, how’s this: Imagine more than 60 village children of various ages sitting on the floor of a simple house, absorbed in their storybooks. They came despite a downpour. They did not chat much. Nor were they running about. They simply sat and read.
Yes, that was what I thought as well.
I had known about Nila’s initiative for some time. But I had neverfully appreciated the wonder and magnitude of the impact it has for the local children until I saw it with my own two eyes.
It was truly one of the best trips I have ever been a part of. What made it so worthwhile were those children’s happy, hopeful faces and their enthusiasm for the books – or whatever the books represent to them.
For some of us who live in Internet-savvy, media-exposed megalopolises such as Jakarta, those children’s situation might be unthinkable.We have so many options for sources of entertainment and information, and, chances are, we have traveled to so many places that it would never even occur to us to ponder a what-if: What if we are deprived of those facilities? What would our world and our view of the world be like had we not been showered with such luxuries?
But those children know. It is all they have ever known, since birth. Their schools are basic, if they go at all. In many villages, they must travel to the nearest city or Labuan Bajo for secondary school and then to Denpasar if they want to pursue a higher education.
They have sparse access to books, let alone non-compulsory children’s storybooks. Many have never even left their village, not even to go to Labuan Bajo, the regency capital, let alone the neighboring province. And I suspect they are not the only ones.
Yet their eyes speak very clearly: their dreams and hopes are very much alive. They don’t need to be taught how to dream. They already know. As for all children, imagination comes naturally to them. Their eyes glitter and their ears prick at the slightest opportunity to learn something new.
You should have seen their priceless expressions when another friend of mine on the trip, Metta, shared some stories about being kind to nature, something that they are close to in their everyday life.
As Metta played a short film on the topic, the children sat in awe, absorbing every single morsel offered to them. Their thirst for more was obvious.
So who are we to deprive them of that?
Those children recognize the true value of books. Having access to books has shown them a portal to a world much larger than one they may ever experience through their own senses. Books open their eyes, helping them to create a life that is different from – and hopefully better than –what they are familiar with, and to realize their true potential. Reading is the simplest form of self-education.
I know our country’s education system and its supporting facilities are far from perfect. We can choose to point fingers and bicker about it for days on end, or we can choose to do something about it – something to help.
A select few might actually have the power to change the system on a larger scale. But for most of us, me included, let’s just do what we can, however simple it may be.
As simple as giving away second-hand books, setting up community libraries or informal places where children can learn and play, or volunteering some of our time to help existing facilities.
I speak as a life-long lover of books. I have been fortunate enough – as I am sure many of you have – to enjoy a generous stream of books ever since I could read.
That recent trip to Flores reminded me that it is high time to give back and to share that same, joyful gift with children throughout the country, throughout the world.
It has made me realize that,actually, we can contribute, however insignificant we think the contribution might be. What is small to us might mean the world to them.
All we need to do is say “yes” to whatever opportunity has been presented to us, without overthinking it and without any doubt. Just say “yes” and life will take care of the rest.
Nila’s Rainbow Reading Garden is a small yet precious example of this. She noticed how reading could really benefit those children. She simply bought some children’s books and she and a friend opened one reading garden in Flores. It snowballed from there – and now look what has happened.
So let’s start doing something. Anything.