The Bookworm’s Journey
Nila Tanzil give light to children in rural areas by establishing local libraries...
From creating libraries in remote areas to launching her latest book titled “Lembar Lembar Pelangi”, Nila Tanzil (NT) is positively contributing to children’s education in Indonesia. She chatted with Bali & Beyond (BB) about her journey.
BB: Congratulations on your book launching! Can you describe your relationship with books?
NT: Since I was a kid, I loved reading books. After school I would spend hours reading children’s storybooks and magazines. And this habit continues until now. I love writing, too. I was a junior journalist for one of the newspapers in elementary school. Back then I mainly wrote about my holiday experiences and my interviews with famous people, including the former Indonesian President Soeharto. I also kept daily journals to write about my feelings and views on life. Books have shaped me to be who I am today.
BB: What made you decide to open Taman Bacaan Pelangi?
NT: Back in 2009 I worked as a Communications Consultant for The Nature Conservancy and was based in Labuan Bajo in Flores, so I began to explore the remote villages of Flores. The journey opened my eyes as I found out how limited the infrastructure was, both in education and public facilities. I also saw the poor quality of education in those remote villages. Living in Flores allowed me to connect with the locals directly and understand their culture and lifestyle as well as their challenges in education. There were so many challenges and I realized that the education gap was so huge compared to that of big cities like Jakarta. For instance, they did not have access to any books at all! So I decided to set up a small library in Roe Village, about one hour from Labuan Bajo by car. I started with only 200 children’s storybooks. Now after almost seven years, Taman Bacaan Pelangi has established 39 children’s libraries in 15 islands in the eastern part of Indonesia, giving more than 12,000 children access to more than 85,000 books. Each library has a collection of 1,000 to 3,000 books. All of them are children’s story books, not text books, because the objective is to instill the love of reading, make reading a habit and providing books for the children in the remote areas of eastern Indonesia.
BB: What is the hardest challenge in creating and maintaining Taman Bacaan Pelangi?
NT: To accept that people are different and not everyone has the same concern for education. When I started the initiative I asked some of my friends to join in volunteering at the library every Saturday, or help me to input the data of the books, or donate books or funds for us to purchase more books for the libraries. But not all of them responded. It was very hard for me to accept the fact that not everyone has the same passion or concerns over education.
However, other friends were very supportive. Their support came in many forms, from spreading the news of Taman Bacaan Pelangi to their networks to setting up fundraising campaigns. All of these things made the journey worthwhile. I have learned so much about myself as well as about people and patience. Another hard challenge is finding local champions who are willing to go the extra mile to nurture the children’s interest in reading. Working in remote areas in eastern Indonesia is a challenge on its own. And to make Taman Bacaan Pelangi sustainable, we have to work together with the local people. This is also challenging because not many people in remote areas understand the importance of reading. Thus we work closely with schools by establishing libraries in local elementary schools. We train the teachers, so they have more skills and knowledge, especially in library management and conducting fun reading activities. We also advocate to the Head of the Education Office in each district for the “Library Period”, which will be embedded in the school’s curriculum. So every class has to go to the library for one hour per week. And during this “Library Period”, the teacher has to conduct reading activities. Taman Bacaan Pelangi has a sustainable system because it becomes a part of the school’s curriculum. We empower the local people – school principals, teachers and parents as well.
BB: What is your favorite part of the journey in developing Taman Bacaan Pelangi?
NT: Seeing the smiles of the kids and witnessing the sparks in their eyes when they flip the pages of the books in our libraries. It is priceless!
BB: What is your message to the people who want to do something similar like Taman Bacaan Pelangi?
NT: Start small. Stop overthinking and just do it! Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to evolve, because we all need to improve our organizations and ourselves.
By Suhartina Sindukusumo
Magazine issue > Profile&Potrait