PHOTO ESSAY: Beyond Books – How READ Global Libraries are Transforming Communities

Kathryn Svobodny is an MBAs Without Border Advisor currently on assignment in Nepal. Over the next 5 months, Kathryn will travel to Nepal, India, and Bhutan to support READ Global, an organization that builds libraries and community centers in South Asia. Here, Kathryn shares photos from recent site visits to READ Libraries in the Chitwan district of Nepal.  

During my first week in Nepal, I conducted a number of site visits in the Chitwan district, a lowland area famous for its tigers, national park, and sweltering heat.  This was my first opportunity to see firsthand the work of READ Nepal.

When people first asked me about the work that READ Nepal does, I would tell them that the organization builds libraries in rural villages in South Asia.  It wasn’t until I visited the Chitwan district that I realized that the libraries were just the beginning of how READ Nepal transforms communities.

When I think of a library, I think of a place to check out books and DVDs, browse magazines and use the internet.  The same services are available in READ libraries, but they also provide a community space.  In many villages, the library is the only indoor space where a large number of people can gather.  It is also a place where community members can find answers to questions relating to health, sanitation, and agriculture. Many of the libraries also provide literacy and computer courses.

READ Nepal encourages all of its libraries to develop sustainable enterprises that generate revenue not only to cover the READ center’s costs, but to increase incomes for individuals in the community as well. This allows libraries to thrive with little outside support, while also providing additional value to the community. Some of these revenue-generating activities include renting out guest rooms, operating gift shops, or leasing sound systems and AV equipment to local organizations. One library in the village of Deurali operates a turmeric farm where every person in the small village volunteers about four hours of time per week growing, producing and selling turmeric. All future proceeds from the farm will support the library and its programs.

READ Nepal libraries also facilitate trainings for individuals who would like to learn new skills, in agriculture, embroidery, sewing, and honey production.  READ Nepal works to connect trainers to potential micro entrepreneurs and provides a space and  materials for the trainings.  Some people attend trainings to increase their personal knowledge or to just  stay informed about what is happening in the community.  For others, the trainings at READ libraries can inspire a new business venture.

Chitwan is well known for its high quality honey—about 60% of the honey in Nepal comes from this region.  In the village of Jhuwani, there are 14 entrepreneurs who received training at the Jhuwani Community Library and are now producing honey.  Although there is no formal production group or cooperative, the producers often work together to share resources and information.  Previously, some of the honey-makers would sell their product to a large, multinational company that sources some of its ingredients from the area.  This company, however, would only pay below market rate for the raw honey and would only pay for purchases six months after the transaction.

Now, the honey-makers have the resources and ability to explore alternative market opportunities.  Currently, I am working toward connecting some of these micro entrepreneurs with bigger markets in tourist areas of Nepal. In Chitwan, each day the honey business grows, the READ center becomes more sustainable, and life for the community is a little bit sweeter.

Click here to see more photos of READ Global. 

Kathryn Svobodny

Kathryn Svobodny is an MBAs Without Borders Advisor working with READ Global Prior in Nepal, India, and Bhutan. Prior to joining MBAs Without Borders, Kathryn worked in community and economic development in the San Francisco Bay Area and received an MBA from the University of San Francisco and a BA in International Studies from the University of Oregon. She is passionate about small business development, microfinance, and volunteerism.

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