Nirmala and Bhirmala
Arjun's grocery shop
Pooja and Shristi choosing books
Sonu, the medical student
Sakchi in her bed reading
“Are all these story books for us to read?” asked 12-year-old wide-eyed Nirmala when we entered the children’s section of the AWON back in 2007. The library, a few minutes walk from our apartment, was started by a handful of American women over 40 years ago. Among other things, it has the largest selection of children’s books in English in Nepal, including many Sydnor books donated in 1987 when we left Nepal.
Nirmala’s mother works as a cleaner at the office of Radio Sagarmatha, right across the street from where we lived at the time. Seeing Nirmala and her sister, Bhirmala, often walking on the road to their mom’s work place, I quickly became their friend.
One day I took them to the AWON Library. Their eyes glistened with joy, full of happiness at what a library offered. Eagerly they joined the library, with me as their sponsor, and started their journey of reading more than just their schoolbooks. Now, five years later, Nirmala is an English Literature major in her first two years of college, equivalent to the last two year of high school in the US.
Now that we once again live in Kathmandu and near to where we used to live, I returned to buying daily groceries from Arjun’s small shop. His daughters, now 10 and 8, were happy to see me back. In talking with them, I again discovered two more sisters interested in reading English language books. So I thought I would see if they could visit the library with me and possibly take out a membership. At first, their parents were unsupportive; they kept saying that their daughters know how to read and they were hesitant to work out a time when I could take their daughters to the library.
But, after many efforts, I finally got their parents to let them go, just once. That was all it took. Seeing their daughters’ joy after that first visit, they have become very cooperative in arranging a time for me to take their daughters, Shristi and Pooja, to the library.
As with Nirmala and Bhirmala, this is all new to Shristi and Pooja. So I do need to help them find books they will enjoy. Getting them to be able to choose books on their own is going to be a long-term project. Their mother isn’t interested in going with them; indeed, it may be embarrassing that they can read these books, while she cannot.
These two young readers are actually the third set of sisters I’ve introduced to the AWON Library. As you may have guessed, years ago the first girls I sponsored to join the library were Gopini’s two daughters, Sonu, who is now in medical school in China, and Sakchi, now in 5th grade. As with the others, when they first started to go to the library, I had to go with them to help them find books they’d like to read. Sakchi, like Shristi, is 10 years old. But Sakchi, with her years of experience of going to the library, now goes regularly by herself and chooses her own books: Baby-Sitter’s Club, Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton books are now among her favorites. Gopini tells me that from Sakchi’s waking moment to when she falls asleep she has a book in her hand!
Reading a book is something I took for granted when I was young. But here in Nepal, it is different for young children. If their parents don’t read English or Nepali, or if they read very poorly, they do not know the value of reading, much less appreciate it.
It has been one of the joys of living here that I have been able to help change the world of a few young Nepali girls who crossed my path, one book at a time.