One Library at a Time
Story by Fyllis Hockman
t age 52, Tulasi Shrestha, whose parents wouldnt let her attend
school because she was a girl, is finally learning to read. Shikha Gauchan,
after receiving training on a computer, has vastly increased her business
to foreign trekkers by promoting her guesthouse on Facebook. Children
who once couldnt pass the entrance exams to further their education
have so excelled that the community built a secondary-level school to
READ-trained librarian. Photo
courtesy of Victor Block
All of this is thanks to READ (Rural Education and Development)
Global, which is transforming the lives of villagers throughout Nepal.
READ is an independent 501(c)3 created in 1991 by the tour company Myths
and Mountains. Although Myths and Mountains conducts tours to as many
as 17 different countries, visiting the READ libraries of Nepal adds
a whole new dimension to traditional sightseeing itineraries.
I early on recognized that the term library
was a misnomer; community resource center is a much more
accurate description. Yes, there are books - numbering from 900
in the smaller centers to 8000 and growing, in Nepalese, English and
Hindi, in the larger ones - but the list of services offered,
which vary according to the specific needs of the village, include literacy
classes, computer training, early childhood education and day care,
womens empowerment programs, micro-financing and credit services,
health, nutrition and AIDS-awareness information and more.
Women studying recipes in
Photo courtesy of READ Global
But first, some background. Dr. Antonia (Toni) Neubauer,
president of Myths and Mountains, first visited Nepal in 1983, and started
her tour company five years later. During a trek to the Everest region
that same year, knowing she wanted to give something back to the country
she had come to love, she asked her guide, Domi Lama Sherpa, What
is it your village needs most? His reply: a library.
She started collecting money herself and then through
Myths and Mountains. As a result, 8 porters carried 900 books over a
12,000 foot pass into the remote village of Junbesi, and READ's first
Community Library and Resource Center opened in Domis hometown
in 1991. He moved to New York shortly thereafter and does not know that
he has since become a national hero.
Furniture factory supporting
library. Photo courtesy of READ Global
Early on, Toni learned of other well-meaning efforts
in many countries which ultimately failed because they had been started
and abandoned without becoming economically viable. A local headmaster
told her, Westerners build us clinics, build us schools and then
leave and expect us to take care of them, but we are just poor farmers.
And she realized that although we had the best of intentions,
we were just creating liabilities for a village rather than funding
an asset. From the beginning she knew that if the library (read
Community Resource Center) was not self-sustaining, it would not work;
it had to be an economic asset as well as a social and educational one.
Jhuwani Ambulance. Photo
courtesy of READ Global
Thus, the village of Tukche has a furniture factory;
Jhuwani operates an ambulance service; Jomsom rents out storefronts
which sell crafts, produce and other necessities, and the Laxmi Library
in Syangia built a radio station that galvanized the whole community
and is now supporting a staff of 33 people enabling the library to pay
off all its loans and become financially secure. The more successful
the underlying financial enterprise, the more successful the community
And the centers impact on the villages is life-altering.
Many are in remote areas in which children did not attend school, women
could not read, and men could not support their families. Now, teachers
and librarians trained by READ are providing education for young children
throughout Nepal. Women are gathering together in village after village
to not only learn to read but become economically self-sufficient while
finding strength through numbers to resist the domestic violence that
is often so pervasive among families in poverty. According to READ,
the return rate on investment of micro-financing projects for women
is 99%. And men and women are working together to create financially
successful projects to support and sustain the libraries.
A weaver working at one of the store-front sustainability
Photo courtesy of READ Global
Everywhere we traveled, community leaders paid homage
to Toni through some variation of the sentiments expressed by the president
of the Jhuwani Library: She removed a cloud of ignorance and illiteracy
from our village, and replaced it with education, self-respect and prosperity.
And her response was always one of gratefulness to the villagers who,
in creating their own dream, made her vision possible.
Because there is ongoing political turmoil in Nepal,
all libraries and the different factions within the communities have
to agree in writing to be Zones of Peace - non-political, non-religious,
non-governmental. And recently, libraries across the country have formed
a coalition - the Nepal Community Library Association -
and are now trading ideas and success stories and are themselves lobbying
the government for even more support in building in rural areas.
According to Toni, this is a crucial development: The
idea of Nepalese having a sense of their own power in furthering the
libraries is still in its infancy but has tremendous potential for future
And her efforts have not gone unrecognized domestically.
In 2006, READ Nepal received the Bill and Melissa Gates $1 million Access
to Learning Award, which allowed READ to pursue similar efforts in India
and Bhutan. And at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting held
in September 2010, Bill Clinton announced READs commitment to
empower 16,000 women and adolescent girls in rural Bhutan, India and
Nepal during the next four years by building 20 womens centers
within new READ Library and Community Resource Centers.
Library classroom. Photo courtesy
of Victor Block
Traveling from library to library, hearing
story after story of how the centers have brought hope and prosperity
beyond imagination, affected me in ways no monument, scenic byway or
sightseeing tour ever could. The excitement, so emotionally heartfelt,
among all the people there was infectious. I left each library filled
with awe and respect for what all these people - young and old,
men and women, READ staffers and community volunteers - have accomplished,
and though admittedly misplaced, even a sense of personal pride on Tonis
Computer class. Photo courtesy of
So yes, we visited temples, shrines and monasteries
galore. We trekked the Annapurna Circuit for hours. We rode elephants
in the Chitwan Jungle. And learned of the Buddhist and Hindu cultures.
In that sense it was a tour like any other. But seeing the country through
the eyes of READ Global was an enlightening and inspirational experience
that no ordinary tour can equal. For more information about Myths and
Mountains, visit mythsandmountains.com;
for READ Global, contact readglobal.org.