Indonesia's Reading Gardens

May 21, 2010

Children of rural villages in Indonesia have long been deprived of learning that comes from books. Nila Tanzil wheels libraries into places where children run barefoot.


In November 2009, I visited Nampar Mancing (Pusut), Roe and Melo villages in West Flores, Indonesia, to search for locations for our Mobile Reading Gardens.

It took Andy and I two hours from Labuan Bajo to Nampar Mancing village by motorbike. For most of the journey, the ride was smooth and it was very nice to breathe the crisp and fresh air from the mountains. As we neared the village, however, the road began to get worse – there were a series of potholes in the asphalt. It was not a pleasant ride, but I've experienced worse, so this was all right. When we finally arrived, we were so surprised to find the students of SDK Pusut (Pusut Elementary School) already waiting for us! The teacher came to greet us, and then, almost simultaneously, the students formed two straight rows, faced each other, and made a little space like an alley for Andy and I to walk in between them. I felt truly special! This was even better than the red carpet at the Oscars!

In a field nearby, Andy and I watched the students play football and volleyball games. They played very well and with a lot of enthusiasm. It was amazing to see them running around and chasing the ball barefooted on such a hot and humid day! I couldn't imagine having to run barefoot on a school's yard. Bear in mind the children were not playing on a proper soccer field. It was basically an empty plot of land, covered with small rocks and some grass here and there. I imagine that it must be very painful for them. But perhaps they are used to it.

We sat down to have a chat with the school's staff, and I began to share the idea of setting up a Reading Garden in the village. The headmaster and teachers loved the idea. They were eager to support it as much as they could and until it became a reality. We discussed transforming the school yard, a large area lined with lots of trees into our concept of a Reading Garden. Everyone shared our excitement. I left the school with a big smile on my face. One task complete!


624 For many children in rural Flores, the Mobile Reading Garden is their first and only access to books.


From Nampar Mancing, Andy and I went on to the next village: Roe Village. It's a quaint village with a pink house and a nice yard. As soon as I saw it, I decided that that would be the perfect location for our Reading Garden! It got even better when I approached the owner of the house to pitch my idea. He fell in love with the concept and said, "Of course you can use this yard for the Reading Garden. Being a teacher myself, it's been my dream to have one, too! I have discussed this idea with several NGOs here, but none of them bought the idea. So, I'm so happy to hear about your plan!". Once again, I couldn't help smiling. It was so generous of him to share his garden with the village kids. I found out later that both he and his wife were teachers, and that they were former headmasters of SDK Roe (Roe Elementary School).


625 The rain could not stop the children at Roe Village from making their way to the Mobile Reading Garden.


By December, the Rainbow Reading Garden, as it is now known in Roe Village, had 220 children books, consisting of comics, science comics, disney encyclopedia for children, Indonesian folktales, themed books for children – series about predators, etc, story books for children – Cinderella, Snow White, Barbie series, etc. Some of the collections are my long-time favorite, such as Tintin, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooch. Also Doraemon, Monika and Friends, and many many more! The rain didn't stop the kids from making their way to the pink house, where the Rainbow Reading Garden is located. They walked with their umbrellas in their hands, rushing to the location, not wanting to be late as they were informed that the Reading Garden would start at 2pm. As soon as the kids arrived and spotted the books, they started to "attack" the bookshelf! The books had barely been placed on the shelf for a minute!

We have plans to establish another Reading Garden in a neighbouring village called Melo. The owner is the head of a local arts community in Melo. I love his family, as they always treat me as if I'm one of their family members, which is very lovely. I've met the school headmaster, too. At first, he wanted the Reading Garden to be located in the school. But, after explaining to him that it's actually better to have the Reading Garden outside school to give a different scene and experience for the kids, he agreed.


626 The Mobile Reading Garden at Roe village has 220 children books, consisting of comics, encyclopedias, and folktales themed books for children.


Now I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that all the plans run smoothly! I'm so eager to have these kids travel the world through books that they will read in these Reading Gardens!


Photos by Nila Tanzil


Nila Tanzil also blogs at Life is Beautiful