I recently spent a week visiting school libraries and meeting young female scholars in the Tanahun and Kaski districts of Nepal. Traveling with Cain Harrelson, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, we visited libraries established by the San Francisco-based NGO, Room to Read. Just a handful out of the more than 10,000 established by Room to Read in nine countries, the libraries were stocked with colorful children's books in Nepali and English. Children sat around low tables, some reading with intense seriousness, others laughing with glee as they turned the pages.
The scene was one I couldn't have even imagined when I worked in one of the very same schools as a Peace Corps teacher of math and science 30 years ago. Then, the only books available in the entire village of Ghandrung were official textbooks, and the ones we had were old and tattered. The only English language book in the village at one point was a well-read copy of The Story of Bruce Lee, by his wife, Linda. Children's books were non-existent. Children were taught by rote memorization, and my efforts to introduce more student-centered learning and hands-on activities were met by parental threats to remove their children from school unless I began helping them memorize the textbooks.
Room to Read has brought not only libraries and books to schools; they also provide the teacher and librarian training essential to ensuring that the books are actually used and that learning is fun and interactive. The local teachers and librarians appreciate the the support they are receiving from the Department of State. Before leaving Ghandrung for our six-hour, downhill trek to begin our journey home, Shree Meshram Baraha Secondary School's librarian leaned over to Cain and provided these words of encouragement: "When the Americans come to Ghandrung, good things happen for our children."
We also had a chance to meet with local girls benefiting from Room to Read's scholarship program, which supports girls in completing their secondary education through the provision of uniforms, school supplies, tuition and fees, and a life skills program that includes tutoring and mentorship. The girls Cain and I met, fairly glowing with pride and sitting in the dark tea house where one of their fathers worked, said that they hoped to finish high school and become doctors one day. Again, a scene virtually unimaginable to me in my Peace Corps days when the furthest a girl had ever studied was the sixth grade and where I was the first female teacher in the school.
The Bureau of Central and South Asian Affairs is making a difference in the lives of thousands of children throughout South Asia by supporting Room to Read to dramatically scale up their programs in children's book publishing in both local languages and English, to establish school libraries, and support girls to complete high school. This partnership will continue as the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu explores ways to partner with Room to Read in advancing its many public diplomacy and education-focused goals. Part of a broader strategy to promote education in the region, the Room to Read initiative complements other efforts focused on higher education by helping ensure children have the foundation they need to succeed later in life.
Editor's Note: In describing the photograph accompanying this entry, Dr. Teas shared with us: "I made a small book to leave at the school library with photos of my time as a science and math teacher there from 1979-1982. The man standing to my right, an ex-Gurkha, burst into tears when he saw one of the photos in the book was of his mother. She had died a few years ago, and he told me that he dreamed the previous night that he would see her the next day. Because of the cost and the long walk up to the village, very few people have photographs of their own."