Most of the time, when you donate a book to charity, you think you’ll never see it again. You’ve parted ways, said your goodbyes, sent it on its way in hopes it might bring someone else the same joy it once brought you.
But sometimes, it goes another way. That’s what happened when I went to Flores in East Nusa Tenggara.
Travelers who have never been there often picture Flores as hot and arid with dry grass and few trees. That’s far from reality: Flores is home to rich vegetation and a mild breeze.
The point of a holiday in Flores is never luxury. Instead, travelers head there to experience and learn. What my trip taught me was to expect the unexpected. On my way to a region called Ruteng, I stopped at Bena village, one of a few traditional villages remaining in Flores, and was offered a one-of-a-kind experience I never dreamed of.
My eyes were eager to take in all of Bena, with its traditional houses and culture. It wasn’t long until I spotted a small, wooden cottage, with a welcoming keeper sitting on the front porch under a banner I recognized at once.
Against all odds, it was right there that I found a project site for Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Gardens), a charitable organization that establishes small libraries for children in remote villages in eastern Indonesia.
Taman Bacaan Pelangi, with locations across the islands of Flores, Sumbawa, Timor, Sulawesi and Lombok, encourages learning through children’s stories. They supplement the dry textbooks the kids get at school and promote reading as an enjoyable pastime.
My visit was a fortunate coincidence, since no one in my family, with whom I was traveling, knew the exact locations of the project sites for Taman Bacaan Pelangi, to which we had donated children’s books last year.
It took me a while to realize what we had stumbled upon. The cottage was simple, like the other traditional houses in Bena. Since the village lacks electricity, the inside was a bit dark.
I learned that children in Bena love to read. An 8-year-old girl living nearby told me that Taman Bacaan Pelangi had boosted her reading frenzy.
I leafed through a few of the books in the library. They were neatly arranged and seemed well-cared for, even if they were a bit dusty. Looking through the stacks of books, I discovered another surprise — a book from my childhood that I had donated.
I couldn’t believe it. It was a book I still read from time to time before I gave it to the reading garden. It was one of my favorite books, and I hadn’t expected to see it again. It was like a late birthday present from the island to me. What an astonishing coincidence.
How did I know it was my book? I remembered doodling in it as a child and sure enough, when I opened the book and flipped through the first pages, there were my doodles!
That encounter made my day and opened a new window in my life. Before, I felt like volunteering was like receiving crumbs on your birthday when instead you wanted a big slice of cake. After that day, I became compelled to donate and participate in volunteering even more than I had before, because what started from a breadcrumb has grown into a giant towering birthday cake.
If seeing is believing, then I saw true happiness in the faces of the children in Flores, simply because they were given access to books and the same chances we all deserve: to read, to imagine and to dream big.
# Written by Kirana Dewayani, a 17-year-old student at St. Laurensia High School in Tangerang, who has been a loyal volunteer and supporter of Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Gardens) #