#38 – The Roadside Library – Ngurang Meena

When was the last time you read? No, not this blog. But a book, a magazine or even an e-book?

Now, think about the amount of time you spend on social media, gaming or watching videos. Android can even tell you in its ‘Digital Wellbeing’ section, how much time you spend on different apps.

What if you could carve out one hour from all that time to spend on reading?

Yet, it’s not all that simple. One, these apps are insidious habits we’ve gotten used to. Reading, meanwhile, is a habit you need to be (re)build. And that means creating an environment suitable for it.

That’s one of the problems Ngurang Meena from Nirjuli, Arunachal Pradesh is trying to solve by setting up a roadside library for all age groups near her village.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“We as a state have the second-lowest literacy rate after Bihar. And this has become worse after the advent of the mobile phone as the youth simply doesn’t want to read. During the pandemic, I find them hooked on to games and videos. My heart aches on seeing this,” she says.

The 30-year-old works at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi University Secondary School, teaching social science and English to classes IX and X.

In 2014, she founded the Ngurang Learning Institute, an adult literacy centre after seeing her mother struggle with handling basic documentation.

In 2016, her sister, Reena, and her husband started helping her in uplifting the tribal women of her society.

A wooden shelf containing Sudha Murty’s Three Thousand Stitches sharing space with I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (co-written with Christina Lamb) and Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father is all set up in the roadside library.

She is excited about her venture and desires and is receiving support in means of books to add to the collection and donations. She has spent over ₹20,000 of her own money to set it up, buying some books and using some from her collection.

Her inspiration is from a 2017 initiative in Aizawl’s New Market area and MZU Park by a librarian, Lallaisangzuali Sailo. “I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a mention and I wondered why this has never been done in Arunachal,” says Meena. The library is meant for all age groups and contains around 80-100 books across genres, including textbooks, biographies, and motivational books.

Books ignited her mind when she was young, as her late father—Ngurang Pinch introduced her to books and adventure novels. Thanks to her father, who passed away in 2017, she was the first girl in the family to complete her education. Today, she wants to pass on the joy of reading to others. All she wants from her street-side library is for people to read for at least 15 minutes–even if they don’t borrow the books and take them home to read further.

On the other hand, Meena and her family are also finalizing courses at her adult education centre to create “employable skills” for tribal women and help them empower themselves through education. 

Both initiatives have been funded by the family. When started in 2014, it barely got 10-20 students; now that number has gone up to 100.

Until recently, husbands would threaten her for teaching “bad things” to their wives. “We were telling the women how to take care of their documentation and grooming them. The husbands felt very insecure on seeing their wives feel empowered,” says Meena. 

All the courses at the centre are free of charge.

Source: Live Mint

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