New Year for most of us is a time to reflect on the changes we want, for Jemimah Marak and her husband James Nokseng G Momin, it was to open a children’s library. Jemimah is a school counsellor and teacher in Aeroville Secondary School, Tura, Meghalaya and her husband James is a mathematics and science teacher. In March this year, their dream finally saw the light of day. Nestled in the quaint hill town of Tura, in a locality called Araimile, there now exists a children’s reading room called ‘The 100 Story House’. Of late, the only news to come out of Garo Hills has been about insurgency groups wreaking havoc in the form of killings, extortions, kidnappings, so this project comes as a whiff of fresh air and hope for a better future.
Little Seed of Hope
The couple started out by sharing their idea on social media and were overwhelmed with the response. Friends and family members, even an old classmate all the way from Dubai, donated old and new books. The library is housed inside a bamboo structure. The idea was to keep it simple and organic. Being firm believers of dignity in labour, they hired local workers to help them construct the library and in almost four months time, the humble bamboo hut was born.
One big hall constitutes the rustic children’s library where shelves are decked with a variety of books. It is a spacious room with designated corners for reading, story-telling, and counselling. Separate counselling sessions will be held not only for students but also for parents if needed. At the end of the hall, there is a 7ft picnic table set up for activities such as drawing and writing. On weekdays, this fun picnic table is used for conducting tuitions.
Best of Garo Culture
The walls will soon be festooned with old musical instruments, picture frames, artefacts, shields and other items showcasing Garo culture. Through this display, Jemimah and Nokseng hope to teach the children about their cultural roots. ‘In an age where technology has taken over, children are too engrossed in the internet. We want the young to understand that there is more to life. Through reading, they will gain entry into a world hitherto unexplored. Also, we believe that when people are aware of their land and its rich history, they are less tempted to give into violence,’ shares the couple.
Opening day was celebrated on April 23rd. It turned out to be a grand success, and about a 100 people were present to mark the occasion. There was a story-telling session hosted by three Songsarek elders and Brucelline G Momin, a well-known local story teller. Songsarek faith is an age-old Garo faith. The stories were told in the form of authentic Songsarek Ajia and Durua, the original storytelling style of the Garos and in the musical form of Bangsi Sika. Madam Brucelline included the names of different birds, animals, instruments, Garo cultural items and pictures in her vibrant story and it was translated in English by an equally animated translator, Miss Euphelia G Momin. Bikramjit, a local artist, also displayed his collection of artefacts and culturally valuable items, which included a shield from the 1700s and a blanket made from the bark of a tree.
Since there are children in Tura who belong to different tribes and speak different languages, for every session in the Garo language, there will be a translation in English as well so that everyone gets an equal opportunity to understand and enjoy the stories. Stories in other languages like Bodo or Hindi are also encouraged at the library.
Jemimah’s dream is to not only inculcate the love for reading but also teach the art of gardening, different forms of storytelling and such other activities. She wants each child to share and inspire others with learning the age-old way. They also plan to publish illustrated story books in Garo. They are hoping to arrest children’s attention by coming out with a book on Garo folktales with lots of beautiful pictures. In due time, the library shall be made bigger and better to accommodate more participants. Here’s hoping more such positive stories come out from the beautiful Garo Hills.
(This story appeared in June 2016 issue of Eclectic Northeast)