Last Tuesday, October 29, we (COMMITTED) inaugurated yet another library financed by Sieun “Alice” Park and her family. Alice is a superwoman–a volunteer/fundraiser/donor all rolled into one! But before I talk about her…
Having been a bookworm most of my school days in Nepal, libraries occupy a special place in my heart. From when I was in primary school, I loved books.
After being really lucky to have made it to a private boarding school in Kathmandu, I was luckier still to have attended a school with a library.
My first memories of reading novels is of competitions with classmates, like Jayjeev my colleague at COMMITTED, when we were in grade 5, to see who would be the first to fill out our library book check-out card with check-out stamps. Some other friends and myself were drawn into the world of Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys series while others got into Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
At the time, as there were 52 in the Hardy Boys series, we had yet another challenge: to finish them in a year. Some of us, so eager to do so, would have our book open inside our desk, while pretending to be working on the notebooks open on top of the desk. We would steal every minute our teacher wasn’t paying attention to raise the cover of the desk and continue reading!
I don’t remember if I ever did read all the books in the series, but, after completing primary school, I progressed on to the Nancy Drew series. I was also drawn into the worlds woven by writers such as Agatha Christie, Alistair Mclean, Ken Follet, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Foresyth etc. I loved detective stories and thrillers.
During my last couple of years of school in Nepal, I would read a novel or two a week. At times I would be working through more than one, at the same time! My parents, so worried that I was “studying” (the word for studying also implying reading in our language) too much, would discuss this concern of theirs with their friends. Having no formal education, they couldn’t in any way relate to this obsession of mine.
But, while my own really-lucky childhood was filled with books and the fantastic worlds they created, libraries then were a rare luxury, even at private schools. The rest of a vast majority of students didn’t even have textbooks, forget libraries where they could get books for leisure reading. They are still rare luxuries in government schools.
Returning to COMMITTED’s library projects and Sieun “Alice” Park…we have been extremely lucky to have had her take on a personal mission to finance libraries in the schools we serve.
In 2011 Alice first sought to build a children’s library at Raithane School. To finance it, she collected funds from her own family and dug into her own wallet. Books were collected from numerous countries. Alice and COMMITTED built the first of the libraries and named it “Kim Children’s Library,” after Alice’s mother.
Alice followed that up with another visit to the region in 2012, with her mother in tow this time. During their stay, the mother-daughter duo visited the other schools in the area. Seeing the popularity of the Raithane School library, they were convinced libraries would be very good investments. The Park family left with the determination to finance libraries in the remaining three schools in the area.
Once back home, the Park family decided on a creative approach to financing the libraries they had envisioned. At the wedding of Alice’s sister, the family requested the wedding guests to donate money towards the cause, rather than shower gifts on the newly weds. Following the wedding in early 2013, the Park family provided COMMITTED with another US$10,000 towards libraries in the other three schools.
In the mean time, COMMITTED had successfully secured funds from the Bank of Kathmandu for a library in another school in the Village Development Committee (VDC). COMMITTED, with funds from the two sources, went on to set up two more libraries in the VDC–Chilaune School and Taltuleswory School. A third one was set up at Kumveshwori School in Gunshakot VDC, and a fourth one in Shanti Nikunj School, a government school in Kathmandu.
Dedicated volunteers from Nepal, U.K., the United States, New Zealand, China, and South Korea helped set them up, including the wonderful wall artwork. Asia Foundation donated most of the books.
While the first library was named after Alice’s mother, the one at Chilaune was named “Books from BOK” (BOK referring to Bank of Kathmandu), and the other three KKUMNAMU (meaning ‘Dream Tree’ in Korean) I, II, and III, respectively.
COMMITED has reached a milestone with the establishment of these libraries: all four schools within the legal boundaries of Thangpalkot VDC now have one!!
Tuesday’s inauguration was that of the fifth and last of the libraries that Alice had initiated– KKUMNAMU III. One of our classmates, and industrialist, Hemant, and Baikhuntha Manandhar, the legendary marathon runner and probably one of the first international athletes produced by the country, kindly attended the inauguration. Hemant very generously took time off to attend the ceremony for which we are very grateful!
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Of all the academic work I did as a driven and motivated student in Nepal, reading made the biggest difference in my life. Pretty much all of my academic success I credit to my reading habit. Having gotten where I am today mainly as a result of my voracious appetite for books, I cannot stress enough how important libraries and reading are to young students! That is partly why I allocated some of the “Education is Freedom-Nepal” funds to upgrading Raithane School library.
My own hope and dream is that the children at these schools will benefit from the libraries just as I did. If not, I am certain that, at the very least, some students will discover the incredible joys of reading.
Whatever the outcome, we have Alice, her family, Bank of Kathmandu, Asia Foundation and many volunteers to thank for that!