Self-Help roadside library by Ngurang Meena

Born and brought up in the pristine state of Arunachal Pradesh, Ngurang Meena recently made headlines with her initiative of setting up a self-help library. The idea of roadside library dawned upon her when she strived to do something for the society whilst, reviving the lost habit of reading books amongst the people of her state. At a time when access to wine shop was more convenient than bookstores, it was then she took it to herself to construct a roadside library. Apart from the library, Meena has also worked on empowering women who often fall prey to societal norms. Having witnessed the odds in the society she stood to the cause and embarked on a journey to make a change. Mumeninaz Zaman gets in touch with the Changemaker.

A humble blue coloured shelf welcomes the passersby of a colony in Nirjuli, a town in the Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh to immerse in the neatly kept books of various genres. A first of its kind initiative in the state, the brainchild behind this noble initiative of spreading knowledge to one and all is Ngurang Meena, an educator and a social activist based in Arunachal Pradesh.

The roadside self-help library consists of a shelf loaded with books and a couple of wooden benches for the readers by the road. It has a plastic sheet to cover it from the rain and sun and was recently made functional for the common people, who can come, pick any book and read.

“The library was started on August 30this year. From the first day itself, we could see small kids coming in but I had to lure them with chocolates sometimes. But for elders, it was a bit difficult as they were reluctant to adapt to the new concept. To that I thought that lending facilities should be done,” says Meena.

The library consists of many fictions, non-fictions and even academic books, informs Meena, who aspires to spread the wings of knowledge to other parts of the state. “We are open 24×7, people come, read and refer the books on a daily basis, which is a good sign, but we really need to work hard on this because this is just one colony and my dream is to spread it everywhere in Arunachal,” adds Meena.

She has spent Rs.10,000 to procure the books and another Rs.10,000 to create the library shelves which she constructed with the help of her students. Few of the procured books are shelved in the library and the rest are currently stored in her home.

Meena, who is a teacher by profession in a Government School laments that due to dearth of libraries people don’t have access to good books. She also feels that it is necessary to instill the habit of reading books amongst the students.

She states, “Being a teacher, I have seen that the performance of students is very bad and it is because of poor reading and writing skills. The students those who come from government schools could hardly construct a sentence. Moreover, not everybody could afford private schools and even most parents are illiterate, so it hampers the growth of a child. If we could inculcate the habit of reading I think it will be a boon for the children. They could at least frame sentences, learn new words, and improve their vocabulary.”

The idea of setting up the library germinated in her mind when she learned about the roadside libraries of  Mizoram through Facebook. She was awestruck to see kids and elders stopping by and thronging the small shelf- reading and replacing books. “It was fascinating and encouraging to see the people in Mizoram read books with such enthusiasm. I thought even I could do something like this in Arunachal. Considering the backwardness of the state, it was high time that we do such things in our state as the youth has to be empowered and proper channelizing is very necessary,” asserted Meena.

She says the library has been a blessing for the colony people. “People find it fascinating to see the library, however, the grown ups, they don’t come. It’s very difficult to change the mindset, and it will take time,” adds Meena.

Meena has closely observed the odds in the society. Having witnessed, polygamy, child marriage and rampant corruption in the state she grew up with an ideology to revolt against the system.

She started this initiative of self-help library, under her NGO name Ngurang Learning Institute, that was established in the year 2014, in the memory of her late father, Ngurang Pinch an ex MLA who was killed by rival politicians.

Her parents had a considerable influence on her life for what she is today. Speaking about her institute Meena said, “The institute was solely set up to support the women in our society, the deprived and the destitute women or those oppressed by our societal norms like polygamy, child marriage, forced marriage and patriarchy.”

She started various projects on women empowerment through her NGO. Apart from educating the women folks with reading, writing and speaking skills she also provided skill development courses through her Institute. “I believe women hold a special position in the society, to give light to the real situation in Arunachal women should come forward, hence we are empowering them. Moreover, to change their mindset I also focus on personality development and grooming activities.”

The reason behind this institution was her mother’s own saga of struggle that she had gone through because of child marriage. “My mother could never go to school or get any adult life she was married off at 13 and she never enjoyed her youth or teenage years. She started her family at an early age and her life was pathetic. So that piqued me to do something for the women in our society,” stated Meena.

Being the oldest one in the family Meena has worked closely with her father who was a politician, and whom she admired for his spirit and passion. “His resilient attitude made him an excellent orator and social worker. He was always inclined towards reading and polishing his skills. It was because of him that I have developed the urge to do something for the society,” said Meena. Her father always inspired to read books and that created a profound impact on her and helped to shape her political views.

Having done her graduation from Mount Caramel College, Bangalore she also got an opportunity to study abroad. However, she choose to come back and assist her father in politics. This also gave her an opportunity to understand the loopholes in the society.

“We got statehood in 1987, but our mindsets are still primitive compared to other states. Reading books, learning and writing is still a distant dream for many. Even though we have libraries here, hardly people go, only for research purpose people go to the libraries, we don’t have that concept of reading here in our state. Moreover, at a time when access to wine shop is more convenient than bookstores, it triggered an urge within to stand up for the cause,” affirms Meena.

After coming back from Bangalore, Meena was astounded to see the developments here in the state. “….and when I came back in Arunachal in 2010 after my graduation things took a different shape because prior to that I was a very carefree girl. What I witnessed here was rampant corruption and poor infrastructure, the condition of the road in the state was pathetic. Till today we don’t have a proper highway in the capital itself, what to talk about the interiors.”

This made her opt for an unconventional life and she became a social activist, “A normal routine would be like getting a job, a family and then settledown. But I never aspired to follow the conventional path.  Even my father used to inspire and encourage me to bring a change in the system. So I choose that path and after coming back soon I started my institute.”

Talking about the digital media encompassing the art of reading books, Meena says, “With the advent of the digital age, the charm of reading has lost somewhere. Not only children but also adults remain glued to the screen which is hampering our mental and physical health. Hence reading books is necessary to relax one’s mind.  Reading boosts our cognitive skills, it helps us in our decision making ability, analyzing and planning habit, and emotional intelligence is connected to it. Our mind has become dull with the constant use of technology. As such reading is a very good exercise for the brain as well as for the body.”

The Self-Help Library has gained a lot of praise and people from far and wide have volunteered to donate books.  “It is very encouraging and motivating for me as with my first such project we are getting global attention so I am very blessed,” says Meena who hopes that such initiative has to be chained out by organisations and activists from the Northeast so that the region could be at par with other states of the country.

If you want to show some love to the noble initiative undertaken by Nguranga Meena, and are willing to donate to her cause, please call on 9862496171.


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