Binding borders with books
A unique initiative that brings together children from either side of the Indo-Myanmar border to help develop the habit of reading books and making friendships.
Ratna Bharali Talukdar
Physical borders between countries have interesting stories to tell, particularly when it involves trans-border human relationships. In Dan Village too, under Pangsha area of Tuensang District in Nagaland -- bordering India and Myanmar, such a human story is unfolding. The reason why it is worth writing home about is because the story has an exciting innovative side to it. It is an attempt to create a bridge between the children living on either side of the border between the two countries through the mediumof books.
These children living in areas bordering India and Myanmar belong to poor families and do not have access to most modern-day luxuries such as televisions. And herein comes the innovative thinking and action of Border Libraries Project – Dan Chapter. The initiative has been gathering children of Dan and neighbouring villages of Pangsha on the Indian side along with those of Mon and Naga villages in Myanmar in a school in Dan to read books and interact with each other. The books become a medium for these children of the remote areas to connect with the outside world.
The Project, started in January this year, is the brainchild of a clasp of three effervescent youths –Zhoto Tunyi, Muletolu Vero and Zhoku Rhakho, who are admittedly “desperate to create reading habits among the children living alongside the borders without any exposure to the modern world.”
States Zhoto, “We are going to build a library for Straightway Mission School in Dan Village (International Trade Centre). The school, founded by Dr. Aotemshi in 2005 with 50 children, now has 231 students as per its 2014 enrollment list. The library is open to children living in the villages on either side of the border.”
A look at the 2011 Census data throws up how backward is Dan. This last Indian village on the Myanmar border has 122 families with a population of 636, of which 371 are males and 265 females. There are 186 children in the age group of 0-6. Its human index is far lower the rest of Nagaland. The average sex ratio in Dan is 714 against the State average of 931. Child sex ratio is 777, much lower than the State’s average of 943. The literacy rate too is the same -- 53.20 compared to 79.55 per cent in Nagaland. The male literacy rate is 53.73 per cent and that of female is 52.43 per cent.
In such a scenario, Zhoto says a library for children can do wonders. He highlights that they thought of involving the school to set up the library because both libraries and schools have the common aim of augmenting the process of learning. “Our objective is to give each child the power of reading irrespective of where they come from. Because we believe that every student deserves better access to education and libraries,” he adds.
The major chunk of books in the library are donated from across India and outside, which also include pre-owned books in good condition and suitable to children in the age group of four to 18. So far, he says, the Project has received overwhelming responses with a number of book donors comprising both individuals and institutions coming forward to help. He names some donors too, “For example, the Art and Culture Department of Nagaland has donated a good collection of books on Naga History, Anthropology and the Church History of the State. Donors also include international bodies such as the Association for Borderlands Studies, Finland, and Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi.”
Zhoto says the trio has set up collection points in various cities and towns across India to help people donate books for the library. A Facebook page on the initiative has helped them spread the word across the country.
He says they have prepared a subject-wise list of books that they want to keep in the library. “These include fictions spanning historical, fantasy, science fiction, children’s novels, comics, magazines or children’s classics, etc. Also, informational books that have facts on people, places and nature and reference books like atlas, almanac, dictionary, encyclopedia and world Languages. The list also includes on-fictions that can support the school curriculum plus picture books on fairy tales, nursery rhymes, folk-tales/folklores, poetry and drama and alphabets.He says the library is also interested in stocking books on do-it-yourself illustrations using water colours, sketching, line drawings and colour pencils besides having a section on indoor games.
Zhoto says the initiative has not only received books but also monetary help from various donors. Excited about the response so far, he says they are now planning to start similar libraries in schools along other international borders of the north-eastern States.