READ Nepal Country Director Sanjana Shrestha reflects on an important milestone for local philanthropy in Nepal.
Nearly two thousand Nepalis came together in the historic village of Panauti this past August, walking through rain-flooded streets lined with flower-filled copper vessels, passing oil lamps laid ready with their wicks, and children in traditional Newari dress. They were there to celebrate their pride and passion for something that had never been done before: a community library had been opened in their village – the first to be entirely funded by local Nepalis.
The Gyan Bikas Community Library is the 50th community library and resource center (READ Center) to be established in Nepal, and is especially significant because every rupee spent to facilitate this project was raised locally.
There was no input from foreign donors. In total, 8,061,359 Nepali Rupees ($83,972 USD) was raised by local donors to make this library a reality, including 256 local residents, some 1,800 students from 24 schools, 70 local organizations, 4 national organizations, and more – all contributing to what is our most rewarding and satisfying campaign to date, and proving how important community libraries are to Nepali people.
The Nepali le Sakchaun (“Nepalis Can Do It”, or “Nepalis Can”) Campaign is the first of its kind, an initiative developed by the organization I am proud to lead as Country Director – READ Nepal – in recognition of our twenty years of service working towards rural education and development in the country.
The focus of the campaign was clear: to show the nation what is possible, that we as Nepalis are capable of creating our own opportunities and working towards our own development.
Nepal is not a country known for local philanthropy. In 2010, Nepal ranked 100 out of 153 countries in the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index for the likelihood of locals to give to philanthropic causes or to volunteer. Data collected by John Hopkins University’s Center for Civil Society Studies suggests that as a ‘Developing and Transitional’ economy, just 1.9% of Nepal’s working population is involved in an organization committed to civil society and/or charitable works.
In a nation where citizens lack even basic services like healthcare and education, and where safe roads, potable water and reliable electricity don’t exist, it’s no wonder that people don’t normally prioritize philanthropy when it comes to spending.
When a government struggles to form consensus and when corruption and a lack of accountability are endemic, it is no surprise that people are cautious of where their money goes.
In the past 23 years, READ Nepal has been able to establish a total of 56 community libraries across 39 of Nepal’s 75 districts, surviving through decades of political unrest and strife, and thriving despite the challenges we’ve faced around fundraising. But for every one of those successes, we also received a hundred more proposals from other communities who want a community library, which we unfortunately have had to turn away. Like any non-profit organization, our resources are limited and dependent on fundraising, and so we must learn to build local capacity.
Driving a fundraising campaign in this climate was a challenge. Led by the locally-elected Library Management Committee in Panauti and supported by READ Staff, the campaign involved many strategies.
We went door-to-door to reach out individually to community members, and we set up a raffle ticket lottery. We approached local businesses to ask for donations, and asked community groups for sponsorship. We coordinated festival performances such as ‘Deusi Bhailo’, and organized a musical concert to raise funds. We also organized a Piggy-Bank Campaign with 24 local schools, for which students were encouraged to save 1 rupee per day for 100 days in piggy banks they made from clay and painted.
Community members didn’t just donate rupees, they also volunteered their time, their land, and their expertise – from community mobilization to architectural know-how.
We are proud that we were able to preserve the cultural and architectural integrity of the historic site of Panauti through this project. The library was built in traditional Nepali design – a part of our history that is unfortunately fading – complete with designated women’s and children’s sections, an audio-visual and information technology hub, a meeting space and of course, our reading room. The original, antiquated library building in the community was restored and converted into a souvenir shop, a ‘sustaining enterprise’ that will generate income to support the library’s ongoing operating costs.
Just weeks after opening the Center, children and adults from the community are lining up each day to use the computers and read the books in the library.
But this campaign was about more than building a library; it has ultimately helped to bring together the community around a central source of pride, and to awaken a culture of giving here in Nepal.
At READ, we always feel we have succeeded in our work the moment a community takes ownership of the project. It’s at this stage that our Centers become so much more than a library, a simple collection of books and resources. It becomes a Center of development, serving the men, women, and children of Nepal, and making them responsible for building their own futures.
This is what continues to give us new energy, to start new projects, to build new libraries across the country.
In the wake of this success, we have newly launched a “Community Library Lovers Campaign” to continue our work with the people of Nepal in establishing libraries to serve the needs of some of the most remote and unreached communities.
Launched on National Library Day in Nepal, the campaign continues the call for a national culture of giving, reducing our countries’ reliance on foreign aid and creating a community culture conducive to self-improvement and development.
Citizens of Nepal are invited to join our campaign by becoming members. All funds received will go into the construction of a new community library, creating new opportunities for the people of Nepal, helping them to ‘build their own futures’. To get involved, please contact us at email@example.com.
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About the author:
Sanjana Shrestha, READ Nepal Country Director
Sanjana joined READ Nepal in 2004 and has served as Country Director since January 2009. Under Sanjana’s leadership, READ has been the driving force behind the strengthening of the Nepal Community Library Association (NCLA), which helps libraries advocate and lobby for rights. Sanjana’s expertise and facilitation skills have been critical in expanding the READ model to India and Bhutan. Sanjana recently received a Nomura Centre CONFINTEA scholarship from the UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning (UIL) to conduct empirical research showing the impact of sustainable community libraries.