What happens when a teacher couple conceives the novel idea of spreading joy of reading among children belonging to a politically volatile and sensitive area in a Garo Hills town? A story that is worth telling.
The 100 Story House in Tura town is not a kind of structure that one would call a library but the bamboo and cane thatched house has the warmth and comfort that a child reader needs. The couple, Jemimah Marak and James Nokseng G Momin, says in the age of mobile phones, X-boxes and DTH, children have no dearth of entertainment.
“The detachment from story books is common among children these days and it is sad. Technology lures them more than the fictitious world of stories from around the world. Also, there is hardly any place to play. What about letting your imaginations fly,” says Jemimah as she explains the objective behind starting the story house in 2016 with the help of a few friends and well-wishers.
Jemimah, who returned to Tura from Pune in 2000, says the primary reason behind building the structure was that the couple needed space for tuition and career counselling.
“However, the deficit of a proper library in Tura was constantly nagging us. As an English teacher, I would recommend books to my students outside the syllabus. But most of the books were unavailable in the market. What you get is only children’s books with poor printing and Tinkle’s comics. School libraries too do not have many books,” says the 34-year-old teacher and career counsellor.
The collection of books at 100 Story consists of classics, encyclopedias, dictionaries, comics, general fiction etc. Publication houses Pratham Books and Scholastic have contributed to the collection. “It is also great that Amazon delivers books to Tura,” Jemimah says excitedly.
On insurgency in the Garo Hills region, the couple says though Tura is not badly affected parents are sceptical about sending their children too far from home for sports. In the process, their childhood is lost amid mobile phone games and TV channels. The books at 100 Story give wings to the children’s imagination and take them beyond the regimented life.
There are occasional book fairs in the town where 50-60 per cent children would buy activity books. “Most of the children lack reading habit. I grew up with books that helped me improve my English. The district library here, about which we were excited initially, has old books with tattered yellowish pages. These are unattractive to children. The library does not update its collection because the authority says there are no readers. So we decided to set up a personal library. But later decided to open it to the public, especially children,” says Jemimah.
Momin too rues about the children’s lack of interest in books. “I had mentioned about the library in my school a few times. But none of the students seemed interested. However, two of my colleagues brought their children and they often come,” says the 39-year-old science teacher and adds that the brain behind the concept is his wife’s and he supports the endeavour.
The library, which has a collection of more than 800 books donated by friends and well-wishers, comes to life with the 10-15 regular readers, both young and adult, sifting through books, playing board games, taking part in storytelling sessions and loads of other fun-filled activities.
Besides children’s story books, there are books on philosophy and for serious reading. Children and adults (there are three adult members) registered with 100 Story are allowed to borrow books at a nominal registration fee.
The library is brimming with love and affection and one is welcomed by the intoxicating smell of books and the couple’s pet dogs — Bandit, Nani, Fashion and a family of cats.
About membership, Jemimah says initially around 40 children would come every day. But with time, the number dwindled as many parents say they get little time on weekends to bring their wards.
But the duo is optimistic and says that many children are eager to come and some of them visit the library “just for the love of the animals”.
“At times, I have to run after the children who would go out and play with the dogs,” Jemimah laughs.
The couple also gives tuition at the library.
Financing the project is a tough task but the duo says they have generous friends who bring in donations, both cash and kind.
Jemimah quit her teaching job to nurture and expand the library. Asked whether that puts pressure on the budget, the teacher says she has a part-time job as a career consultant and “things are not that bad either”.
“It was a leap of faith. Also, teaching is my passion and through the library I could give so much to them. My commitment to the library and the school was torn into pieces. I would dream about developing the library and finally I thought that there would be many teachers to substitute me but there was no children’s library and I needed to contribute to its development,” says Jemimah with a subtle determination in her voice. Her words ooze confidence so much so that she refuses to be daunted by militancy and nonchalantly talks about facing such adversities with ease and honesty.
“We cannot live in fear all our life. I will make an effort to take the project to rural areas and if we meet any militant on our way, we can explain them our mission and who knows, perhaps they might also help,” she says.
Reading books and storytelling are considered powerful activities in the learning and exchanging of ideas. Books broaden the horizons of children’s imagination and they grow into individuals who lead social change, she says.
Another attraction is the animals that laze around in the library as the children read. Jemimah says her pets are gentle and so she allows them to move around. “Some children have fear of dogs and the pets around help them overcome that. Unknowingly I have introduced animal therapy,” Jemimah chuckles.
Library on wheels
The couple is also planning a library on wheels that will take the books to the doorstep of children.
“Many parents told us that they will happily send their children if there is a pick-up and drop option. So we planned to buy a van, even if it is second hand. This way we can ferry the children who are slowly getting into the habit of reading but are facing constraints,” says Jemimah.
The 100 Story has a few happy
stories to share. Jemimah informs some of the parents have noticed significant progress in their children’s grades when they spend time in the library.
The English teacher on a mission says a man from the remote coal belt area in South Garo Hills wants to set up a library in his village and has sought the couple’s help. Jemimah was ecstatic while talking about the first enthusiast that she met on her journey.
“We will be more than happy to help. Only we want people to show some interest,” she says.
(The couple can be reached at 9402171147 for contributions)