Jemimah Marak – The 100 Story House – Meghalaya
100 Story House is a small library in the Garo Hills, set up by a Jemimah Marak, and her husband, James Nokseng G Momin. As the region is insurgency-prone, the couple set up this library to create a space for young children to nurture the habit of reading.
First,can you please tell us about yourself?
Well, my husband James Momin and I are educators. My husband is a teacher and I am a consultant career counsellor.
What can parents do to raise selfless children? What made a difference to you being the daughter of teachers?
I am not an authority on how parents should raise their children but I believe in the adage “Charity begins at home” like all other values. Love and respect for others was something my parents taught us by example. We grew up sharing our home, our parents and our table with strangers, drunkards, construction workers or even police officers posted in our place. What I am is what I learned from my parents.
Your education is done in Pune and Tamilnadu. What made you go back to your roots? Have you ever faced any criticism being from northeast India?
As family, we moved to Garo Hills for good in 2000. We were in Pune at that time and we were planning to move to the States at that time but my parents decided to move back here to contribute our education and experiences to better our home state, since this is home and there was so much political unrest and a sense of hopelessness was in the air. I was tempted to leave and pursue a career outside but I felt guilty and decided to stay and work here. As a family who has lived in multicultural communities, we adjusted well everywhere. Being from the NE did not really make any difference to people we grew up with. In fact, we had more adjustment issues here at home because of language and cultural barriers.
You were already a teacher and career counsellor, what brought about the transition from being a regular teacher to setting up a library, particularly for underprivileged children?
I guess my own upbringing also influenced my decision. I grew up with books and it helped me to master English. Being an English teacher, I was frustrated trying to teach basic English to students and recommending books was also frustrating as there were no good books available in the market and limited options in the under-stocked school library.
Why did you make it as your Mission? Did the family support you in your decision?
I decided to take a leap of faith of quitting my job as a teacher to develop the library because I felt that there will be more teachers after me to teach children but there are no libraries and I felt the need to start one for the children. My husband was supportive and agreed to take care of us while I spent my resources to develop the library.
Most of the Parents think that regular schooling is sufficient for a child. Was it tough to convince the parents that reading is vital in a child’s growing years?
It still is! Some parents brought their children here, not exactly because they wanted their children to develop reading habits but because there was no other place for their children to spend time outside their house. Sadly once they felt they could not afford the extra effort or time to drop or pick up children from here, the number of children dropped slowly. We hope that the minivan will be a relief for the busy parents and that they will eventually see that reading helps their children improve in many areas. They will be happy to invest in their improving their children’s lives.
Other than encouraging the children to read, what are the other activities that 100 Story House indulges in?
Other activities include storytelling, art and craft, recycling, recreational and educational games, kitchen gardening, etc.
I’m sure you must be having discussion sessions with the older children on various topics. Do you discuss about the insurgency too? How do you give them the hope?
We don’t discuss the insurgency so much but we talk about their studies, their family relationships, their friendships, etc. If we do talk about the insurgency, we talk about how we must not judge them for their actions but rather try and understand their reasons for choosing this unfortunate path. We also talk about respect for people from other cultural or religious communities since we have communal tension every now and then.
Have you encountered any obstacles along the way?
Well, we face the usual challenges faced by any new start ups but I think our biggest challenge is trying to convince the community to appreciate and participate in our efforts to develop the love of reading among children. More parents need to realize that their time is a small but very essential investment in their children’s future. It will be very sad if they make their busy lives an excuse for not being able to do something good for their children, even if it is as small as bringing them to the library regularly.
Tell us about some accomplishments or successes you’ve had since the starting of the 100 Story House.
One mother told us about how her shy son started to open up more and developed the love for reading which lead to less time on the mobile phone and even improvement in his school. He even brought us his test papers to show his good marks. We are so proud of him. Another parent carried his young daughter in the pouring rain because she wanted to read and spend time in the library. Yet another grandfather told us how his granddaughter was writing her own stories based on the story books she was reading here at the library. Some parents mentioned that their children were counting the number of books they had finished so that they can see who had read the most number of books among their friends.
What made you approach ketto.org for crowd funding? How will you utilize the funds?
A dear schoolmate of mine told us about Ketto when I shared with her the desire to own a vehicle to ferry the kids to and from the library. We had initially set the target at Rs. 2,00,000 since the secondhand van we had inquired about would cost about that much, including all paperwork and servicing etc. We raised the amount to Rs. 50,000 more to include roof repairs as we noticed a few places where the thatch had become loose and was leaking during heavy rains.
I read somewhere that publishing a children’s literature series is your dream? Did you start working on that?
Yes, this is one of our future plans. We have a lot of folk tales with nice moral lessons in the Garo culture. These stories are slowly being forgotten and the books available are not attractive to young readers. We want to revive an interest in cultural stories in the form of illustrated children’s book of folk tales. We have talked to retired teachers who are well known storytellers and artists who will be willing to help us put this project together. We have not yet had a formal meeting together since we have to find a common free time.
The inequalities of education are even more glaring in the remote places of India.Do you plan to take your 100 Story House to the villages too in Meghalaya?
Yes, as a consultant career counsellor for this ADB project, I get to travel to remote schools and villages and see the struggles first hand. We do plan to replicate the library in those places also. We are looking for committed passionate people from there who will be willing to take the initiative and of course, we will help set it up. We are in talks with the folks of a far-flung village to start a library there.
This the digital age. Any plans of implementing digital learning in the near future?
Yes, we are aware that we will have to implement digital learning as well and so we hope to buy a computer and some reading devices like Kindle to help the children continue to develop the reading habit across all medium.
I think this is a wonderful program and I will be sure to follow its progress. Is there anything you want to say to our readers?
Yes, I want to quote Chef Gusteau from the animated movie, Ratatouille: “You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from.” We often think we are not good enough or smart enough or qualified enough to make a difference in society but the truth is all those who changed history because of their work were ordinary folks like you and me. What makes us extraordinary is that little extra. If you see the need for something to be done, don’t wait for somebody to do it. Be that somebody. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – M. K. Gandhi
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Support the cause and donate:
The 100 Story House,
Opp. St. Mary’s School,
Araimile, New Tura – 794101.
West Garo Hills, Meghalaya.