When my three brothers and I were kids, our mother would religiously take us to the local library once a week during the summer. A quick 10 minute walk from our house, the remainder of the day after our visit was normally taken up by exploring our newly discovered reads. It wasn’t until high school that I really started to realize how important those library visits had been. Not only the vocabulary we developed from continuously being exposed to books, but also something I took for granted, the ability to speak with confidence. Being exposed to books at a young age, and carrying that into adulthood has influenced my ability to converse with others and contributed to a knowledge of the world beyond the small town in which I was raised. That knowledge, has largely been the reason I’ve gone beyond the small town I was raised.
During my time as an English teacher in Indonesia, that importance of reading as a child was largely missing. In a county with the greatest amount of daily screen time in the world, and a culture where reading books is often associated with anti-social behavior, getting youth to take an interest in books can be a struggle. Community libraries are largely non-existent and school ones are often just a place to store text-books. But in a coastal community outside of Lhokseumawe in the Indonesian province of Aceh things are different. Where boys normally grow up to work on fishing boats, and girls as housewives, local support and examples of individuals who have gone out into the world with credit to education has helped pushed kids through the doors of Rumoh Baca Hasan-Savvas. Completely volunteer run, it’s doors are always open providing programs for local schools and a place for kids to explore it’s collection of books which range from encyclopedias to children’s books all in a variety of languages. Whatever these children go on to become, they’ll be able to do so having been exposed to what can offer an abundant source of knowledge and the ability to pass that on to future generations.
Books have been said to be many things, but my favorite are always what they have to offer us. They can bring diversity to our thinking that might otherwise be absent in the physical world around us, help us learn from the mistakes of others, peer at a world beyond our own, but most importantly, books and the knowledge they provide are a gateway. A gateway to an open mind, a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to go out into the world. Rumoh Baca, just a stone’s throw from the ocean, where cows roam the beaches, and fishing boats are always in sight, isn’t just a local library, it’s an example of a community investing in it’s future.