25-31 January 2013 #640

Educating Nepal

Shiksha Nepal is spreading the joy of reading by bringing books closer to children
Bhrikuti Rai
Pics: Shiksha Nepal
HAPPY READING: Students of Shree Balmandir Primary School in Dunai, Dolpa.

As buildings are torn down and bulldozers fight for legroom with motorcycles, micro-buses, and pedestrians, the Shankhamul-Baneswor stretch looks like a warzone. A modest five storied house at Shankhamul is among the few roadside buildings that were saved from the Bhattarai government’s road rage. On the fourth floor is a large room where 24-year-old Prem Bohara is busy rummaging through heaps of books scattered across the green patchy carpet. This is the office of Shiksha Nepal, an organisation spreading the joy of reading by bringing books closer to children throughout Nepal.

Few schools in Nepal have libraries and reading books other than what is required by the curriculum is still a luxury for many. Started by Prem Bohara and Megha Pradhananga Malla in 2012,Shiksha Nepal believes that reading stories and poetry in Nepali and English will help children improve their comprehension, expose them to diverse cultures and lifestyles, and make them well-rounded citizens.

“It’s not just remote villages, many schools in big towns don’t have libraries either. So Nepali children don’t develop a habit of reading outside of class. Sadly even those who like to read, can’t find books,” explains Prem who caught the reading bug late in life (see box).

Prem, Megha, and their team are currently busy trying to collect 100,000 books for the Euta Kitab Literacy Campaign 2015 so that every child in Nepal has a book. Three thousand books have already made their way to the Shankhamul office mostly through individual donations. And in June last year the organisation gifted 1,000 books to students in five schools around Dolpa, Prem’s home district, as part of the pilot project for Euta Kitab.

Benefactors are asked to donate children’s books instead of adult novels because they aren’t very useful for students in remote Nepal. And to make giving easier, specially for those living abroad, Shiksha Nepal accepts monetary gifts. “Many people don’t know what books are suitable for young children in public schools in Nepal, so we also encourage our supporters to give us money which we then use to buy age-appropriate books,” explains Megha.

Shree Shahid Shukra Primary in Lahana, Dolpa with their new books donated by Shiksha Nepal.

Seeing the success of the pilot project in Dolpa, schools in Butwal, Bhairawa, and even Bhaktapur are keen to partner with Shiksha Nepal. Some are offering to send their own staff to Kathmandu so that Prem and his team don’t have to make the journey half way across the country.

However, schools must meet certain criterias before Shiksha Nepal agrees to hand over the books. The team goes around the country from school to school to determine how sincere administrators are about continuing the project in the long run and whether they can build a basic library for their students.

“Dumping books and leaving is not going to help the children, that’s why we have to make sure our partner schools are committed and equipped to keep the project running,” informs Megha, “the library does not have to be fancy, just a room with furniture and book shelves.”

Once a school is approved, Shiksha Nepal provides basic training to teachers and community members so they know how to effectively run a library, circulate books, and encourage children to read.

“We don’t want to see the books locked behind glass cupboards like decoration pieces, that defeats the whole purpose,” says Prem.

Shiksha Nepal will begin distributing books as soon as it has a big enough collection for five to six schools. It is currently trying to partner with airline companies in Kathmandu and asking them to help ship books to parts of the country that are not linked by road networks yet.

As he sorts through the maze of books at his office, Prem says, “The joy of seeing little hands holding these books is what keeps us going.”


Let's bring a book at school campaign

Drivenby books

Swami Vivekananda’s autobiography is the only book Prem Bohara remembers reading during 13 years of schooling in Dolpa. “We read one of the chapters from his autobiography in our Nepali class in grade 10,” recalls Prem. He was 18 when he first visited a library, the one in his college in Pokhara. Since then he has been bitten by the book bug and spends hours reading in the library.

With his new found hobby, Prem began collecting books and taking them back to his village in Majhphal, Dolpa whenever he could find time and would give them to the local children. Within a year, his friends were donating so many books that the 24-year-old journalism graduate did not know what to do with them. So he started Shiksha Nepal in 2012 with his friend Megha to make it easier to manage the books and reach out to more children.

What began as a holiday project is now a full-time job for Prem and he says the response from donors as well as the children who are reading books has been overwhelming. Through the Euta Kitab campaign, he hopes to help children across Nepal develop a love for reading from a young age, something he did not get to do as a boy. Says Prem: “Books locked behind glass cupboards used to scare me. But now I want to see those books in the hands of Nepali children.”

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