Posted by Ngurang Meena, Arunachal Pradesh
I am Miss Ngurang Meena the oldest of five siblings, a graduate from Bangalore’s Mount Carmel College and a master’s in economics from Rajiv Gandhi University, Doimukh, Arunachal Pradesh. Later I enrolled in an M. Phil program too in Tribal Studies for a few months but eventually dropped out, as it didn’t serve my purpose of travelling to the interiors and serving the underprivileged. The year I quit M. Phil, I started my NGO Ngurang Learning Institute to help empower the deprived tribal women on the ground level, who were a victim of our society’s social evils like child marriage and forced marriage. My intention was to educate them in the form of adult education program. The inspiration came from my mother, who herself was sold off by her parents when she was barely 10 years old, depriving her of her childhood innocence and basic education.
The institute was named to continue my father’s legacy as he was a social worker and a politician but unfortunately, he is no more today. In order to imprint his name forever in the history of Arunachal, we have taken up the initiative to build free street libraries, to empower children and poor students to learn and read books of great personalities. The intention was also to inspire them to read novels and magazines to improve their vocabulary and diction that will elevate their academic performances as Arunachal has a very low literacy rate, to be precise, second to last in India.
The idea of street library was borrowed from Mizoram state as I was scrolling my Facebook feeds one fine day and stumbled upon an article about a librarian, who had made small library boxes on the streets of Aizawl offering free books to read. It amazed me to see the wonder of it, as children were enjoying it and passersby on their motorcycles were stopping to read for a while.
It all happened during the lockdown, when my institute crumbled down as it was set up on a rental apartment. We could not bear the monthly rent of 75k and a heavy loan of 8 lakhs, just through my teaching job salary. Therefore, the library which we had built in our private institute (NGO) had to be dismantled and thrown away, as it was too big to fit in our new rental place, which was very small and cheap (14k) compared to the previous one.
The article stuck to me. Subsequently, the idea popped up to better use the dismantled library for some good purpose rather than throwing it away. Hence, work started to build libraries, with the help of my students from school. We bought tin sheets, some colour paints and tools to build and brand new books worth 10k to attract the young readers.
The first library was successful and it’s still functional today as we monitor it ourselves. But the problem is the books keep going missing and readers don’t return them, once taken. Refilling books has been one of the greatest challenges. We depend on organisations and well-wishers to donate us books because the government has been reluctant to fund our initiative till today. Many kind people have come forward to aid us financially in amounts like 5k , 10k , 2k and 20k even from Dubai and London. Whenever we get funds, we further our movement. So far, we have built 9 such street libraries at free service, even in the interior towns like Kiloriang in Kurung Kumey district, the most backward in Arunachal Pradesh.
The funds were never enough to sustain our movement, but this mission has become a part of my life now. I try to use my own salary and personal savings to buy books as I really want Arunachal to be a progressive society. People are generally laid back and there is lack of work culture. We are significantly lagging behind in every field. My heart pours out for the poor kids in the interior villages and towns, where there is still no road connectivity and proper schools.
Our mission is to outnumber the wine shops in Arunachal with free books and libraries.
Although PM Modi had praised our work during his Mann ki Baat program last year. But no aids or schemes had been granted to sustain our library movement. We tried fund raising on Ketto, a crowd funding website but it didn’t work out. Our mission seems too vague and insignificant to people here. We are trying another crowd funding right now in Millap.org and it too is ineffective.
Further seeing the carelessness of our people with books and their attitude towards our street libraries, we had decided to build home libraries for households who can pay for the library boxes and offer free books to poor families. Currently we have set up two such home libraries here in Nirjuli and Doimukh towns. Slowly, we are planning to start a workshop to teach volunteers to make these library boxes.
Lately, we checked on our existing free street libraries and the conditions are pathetic. Rumours are that the books are being sold at half prices on Instagram etc. The people are dumping textbooks at our libraries, which are of very little use to the readers. No one takes care of them, even the school management teams. We had built most of them in school premises so they could be taken care of.
Yes, despite all the hurdles and setbacks, the good part is, young people are now coming up to volunteer to take care of the street libraries in different places. They message me on Facebook and Insta on how they donated books and cleaned the boxes. Some even said, they will voluntarily collect books from donors and refill them whenever needed and some said, they will repair the boxes worn down, due to harsh weather.
Mindsets are changing slowly. It’s a tremendous feat because this has never happened before in Arunachal. For now, we are focusing on one day at a time. And if the youth are already engaging with us that means they can make their parents and families aware.
As our society is moving forward with good governance, we hope, very soon, in the coming years, people will start embracing our mission and support us wholeheartedly. This is just the beginning and moreover, where there are no obstacles, there are no stories to motivate and share.
A library is the gateway to civilisation and that’s what we propagate every day and live by!!
Cover Image: Author
Story Images: Author
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