This blog was written by Joy Vardy – Reading Program 2017 – who coordinated a large shipment of books to Lobesa.
I have to share this little anecdote. It illustrates how precious books are in Bhutan.
I had donated a 4000 book library to Lobesa school in central Phunakha and shipped it to Bhutan from Australia. I was back in the country for a month to set it up. Children had been sent from class throughout the day to help me in the library. They arrive in hoard proportions at lunch break and after school. When the room suddenly grows dark I know there is a new gang of children outside the window and door craning in.
The kids here show amazing initiative. They pick up the task at hand instantly and quickly organise new comers or younger students to do what needs to be done. They display great responsibility. I’ve had them fixing spine labels, alphabetically ordering by author surname, matching printed borrowing cards to books among a dozen other jobs. They are so keen!
One young girl – she is perhaps 11 years of age, helped me all afternoon in the library. She was a fast worker and learned quickly. She deftly organised new comers to tasks. At lunch she wanted to stay on but before I shooed her out to eat she picked up a book I had put aside. I was going to remove it from the collection; it was a girlie princess cartoon book. She was the last child to leave. It obviously appealed so I said she could have it.
Her face was ecstatic. ‘Really? I can have this? For me? ‘
“Yes, but Shh !,” I said winking, finger to my lips. “Have you many books at home?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I have an old reader and a book of stories.” The reader once belonged to her adult sister and she knew the text of the story book by heart.
The princess cartoon book stayed on her lap all afternoon. When she moved around the library it went with her. I wish now that I had given her a decent piece of literature instead of a trashy cartoon novel; such a simple thing, to double her library with the giving of a reject book.
I would cull much of the existing collection in Lobesa. The books are tattered, dated – often with torn pages and missing front covers. I would let the kids take these books home. For many that book may become one of 3 or 4 titles they own and read until it is known by heart. For them, it would be gold.
I was finishing up for the day at 4:00pm with Phunstho, the Library assigned teacher when 20 or so kids turned up at the door offering to help. These were ‘town kids’ who lived locally and did not face a bus ride or a long walk home to a farm. They finished their after school chores in the classroom and came up to help in library.
“Can we come back before school tomorrow?” they ask. “That would be wonderful!”
By the time we begin library classes next week these kids will already be skilled in alphabetical order, know the difference between all the sections of a library as well as recognise the first three letters of an author’s name. Most importantly, they will know that books are placed on a shelf vertically, with the spine facing out, replacing the current habit of tossing a book onto a haphazard stack on a shelf.
I will not have been able to organise the library without the help of these children and when it is set up will be a gift of quality literature they and their teachers have never seen before in their lives. For this one young girl, the gift of a single book is a third of a library and it is probably memorised already.