I used to think that we were just opening child-friendly libraries …

[Bahasa Indonesia]

PSX_20180218_180619Hard to digest that it has been more than eight years since I started accompanying the Rainbow Reading Gardens (Taman Bacaan Pelangi, TBP) in its journey. Each year, I set aside time to visit our* libraries. For me, personally, those visits are crucial. They serve as a reminder of why I am doing all these.

That was also case last week when I went to the city of Ende in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. It was the second time I came as TBP representative that inaugurated our new child-friendly libraries. But this time, I (and the team) were opening 18 libraries in the span on one short week.

You can sense the excitements surrounding the events by viewing the photos we posted on our instagram account @pelangibook. You can also look forward to stories of the opening posted by our Ende-based team. They know this inside out – much better than I do.

Still, there are neither pictures nor stories that can truly depict the hard work and dedication that everyone has put behind the stage – the school principals, the librarians, the teachers, the parents, the children, the government partners, and certainly the Ende-based TBP team.

I too was carried away by the happiness and was deeply touched. Often when I witnessed the seemingly over the top welcome and celebration that the local communities have prepared for us, I felt overwhelmed. Once I whispered to a friend, “We’re ‘just’ opening a library, right? Why so much fuss?”

The question which I first thought was rethorical then offered its own responses throughout my recent Ende trip – like beautiful flowers that bloomed unhurriedly.

“Over the top” because this is more than just opening libraries

As always, before the event, I prepared what I would like to say during my speech. The flow of the speech was more or less the same for every event. Greetings. Happy to be here. Why we do this. A bit of background on TBP. The process we have gone through until that day. Appreciation to all. Hopes.

I repeated it over and over again. Until one morning, I had a chat with the videographer who recorded our events last week while we were having breakfast. It was his first time in Ende, and first time visiting TBP libraries.

Our conversation just flowed. I shared various things about TBP, what we do, and why we are doing it. What seemed to be a light conversation left a strong impression and stayed with me. It became the core of my speech throughout the remaining inauguration events in Ende.

PSX_20180219_133259At a glance, it may seem that we are opening physical child-friendly libraries. We conduct school selection process; we support the procurement of books and furnitures; we help renovate the library rooms; we facilitate workshops for librarians and teachers; and support the preparation and early-implementation processes.

In reality, however, our intention is so much deeper and vast than that. The establishment of libraries is but its physical appearance; a manifestation of something more fundamental. I told our videographer friend that what TBP does is to help our younger brothers and sisters, our children – the children of the eastern region of Indonesia – make their dreams come true.

We all want to see our younger brothers and sisters, our children, live a life that is better than ours. Like a friend of mine once said to her students, “You can sell tofus like your parents do, but why not go further and have a tofu production plant with a brand that is famous throughout Indonesia? You can keep working in motorcycle-taxi (ojek) business, but why not have a motorcycle service station, or several bikes for rent, or even cars for rent?”

Our way at TBP to support these dreams is by opening child-friendly libraries. Libraries that are equipped with attractive, fun, and imaginative books. Libraries that are coloured by fun, joyful, and creative activities. Libraries that always make children feel safe and at ease, that allow children to be themselves – the beautiful souls that they already are.

Because we are convinced that through increased interest and more developed habit in reading, children can better understand their school materials and life lessons. Through reading, children can open up their horizon. They can dare to dream – and dream bigger. They can be more confident in taking steps towards realising their dreams.

So, yes, we at TBP move to – or rather, are being moved by – the realisation of dreams among the next generations in the eastern region in Indonesia.

Not due to lack of interest, but poor access; Not because of weaknesses, but potentials

PSX_20180219_133341Responses to the rethorical question of “We’re ‘just’ opening a library, right? Why so much fuss?” did not stop there. It kept coming up for me. Answers that further iluminate why we are doing what we do at TBP; and clarify some existing misconceptions.

Interest in reaing is low not because the children are lazy, but because there is lack of access to quality books. Perhaps you have heard of statistics which stated how low the interest in reading among Indonesian children are. I beg to differ. It is as if it is innate in them that they are reluctant to read and are lazy.

If you have the opportunity to visit TBP libraries, you would see the exact opposite. Children are so enthusiastic about reading their books – they read by themselves, in pair, or in groups; They read out loud or quietly; They draw illustrations based on the books they have just read.

Hence, I am certain that it is not the interest in reading per se that is low. Rather, it is their access to quality books that is lacking. Like the saying, “Everyone is a reader. Some just have not found the right book yet.”

TBP exist in the eastern region of Indonesia not because we see weaknesses. We exist because we see potentials. That is, the potentials of the children in the eastern region of Indonesia — for last week in particular, the potentials of the children in the Ende district, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara.

PSX_20180219_132847No one is more sensitive to this than the parents and the teachers of those children. Often when we open a library, we see teachers and parents shed a tear seeing how the children gather in the library, immersed in their reading. And we shed ours with them.

These parents and teachers understand what they have successfully provided to their chidren – something that they would not and could not imagine. Perhaps they even have an inkling as to how far their children can grow – beyond what you and I can accomplish in our life time.

The opening of the libraries is not a culmination; it is a start. One school principal said that the opening of the library was the culmination of what we have worked so hard for in the last six months. That is true. There is happiness and relief after months of hard work collaborating to prepare many things.

At the same time, we need to realise that the opening of the libraries is not the culmination. In fact, it is but a start. Because the true hard work starts when we inaugurate these libraries. When we start opening the door of the libraries to quench the children’s thirst of various stories can expand their horizons, increase their confidence, and build their dreams.

One child read a poem during one of the openings and said that the library is a dream come true. Yes, it is one dream came true, but it is not all dreams. The opening of the libraries is the start of their dreams manifesting. The libraries are like the ingredient and tool to help these children build the foundation of their dreams.

The children have dreams, like we at TBP have ours. Step by step, we allow our dreams to unfold, along with theirs.

We cannot move by ourselves

I will be the first to admit that TBP would not be able to do what we do without the support and cooperation of all parties. Allow me to restate what I said towards the end of my speech during the last library opening last week:

Praise and gratitude be to God for all His blessings. Gratitude as well to all parties involved – the parents, the school principals, the librarians, the teachers, the children, the government partners, the community leaders the donors, the volunteers, and the TBP team – from the bottom of my heart – for their hard work and love.

And to my adik-adik in the TBP team – who gladly live in various remote areas of the eastern region of Indonesia and relentlessly give their 110% efforts with all their heart and soul to realising our dreams and help the children of the eastern region of Indonesia realise theirs – my utmost respect and love to you.


This article was written initially for Taman Bacaan Pelangi’s blog.

*I refer to the libraries as our libraries or TBP libraries for convenience in sharing this story. When really, everyone ‘owns’ these libraries. The donors provide the fund. The library model is based on our experience and inputs from partners. Permission and blessing come from the governments and local communities. The need comes from the children’s thirst of quality storybooks. The renovation of the library rooms is done by parents, librarians, teachers, and children themselves. The opening ceremonies are of own-effort by the school – the teachers, parents, and children. The daily management of the libraries are done by the schools (especially the librarians with direction from the school principals); and teachers who teach the children to read and encourage them to regularly visit the libraries).

A true case of “It takes a village to raise a child.”

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