How a chance encounter with a group of villagers

led to rethinking the meaning of a Library.

HANDS Learning Centers by Jan Sprague, HANDS Director

  A few years ago, villagers meet me and my Board Member, Heidi Lewin Miller, as we descended a rocky dirt road on foot, on our way down from Astam to Pokhara. They had heard HANDS in Nepal was in the area and intercepted us with a plea: Could we please build them a community center, a building where they could hold meetings and workshops for all villagers? 

  Our mission statement at HANDS is: “…to support education in remote, rural areas of Nepal.”  We sat and drank tea with the villagers in a small building where they currently hold all community activities. It was a little bigger than a cow shed.

   Although in the past, we have focused on schools as a priority for our building, lately, we have seen more of a need for villagers to have a central meeting place where educational services can be held for the betterment of all village members. As we talked to more of our Nepali friends, we learned that in the remote, rural areas we frequent, women in particular are trying to find ways to be self-sufficient and do work that can either lead to an income or help themselves and their families. Projects such as learning to sew on a machine, so clothes can be mended and learning how to make their own hygienic supplies, were told to us to be a big priority for village women.

   Libraries have been a desired village asset since we introduced our first one in a remote, Himalayan village in the Dhading area of Ganesh Himal. Our vision was a place where a library would be the central part of the “Learning Center” but there would be a space as well for workshops on sewing, hygiene and teacher training.

   Since that initial meeting two years ago, we have built one Learning Center in the Astam area-yes, in the village where the local people intercepted our hike down the hill. This was our “prototype” building, complete with public toilet and passive solar roof. It was engineered to earthquake specifications, took about 4 months to build, and cost $8,000. 

   We had enough money left over from our budget to buy sewing machines for the Learning Center, and will be bringing books this next trip.

    Already, our Nepal liaison has planned village workshops in the building. Children as well have a place to read during rainy monsoon-and the villagers have a roof over their heads for community meetings.

   I like to think of it as how we use our libraries in the States. It is a house that holds books used for furthering education, but it also is a place where community members can meet, learn and make plans for the future of their “village”.

  Thank you for your donations! Every rupee helps make these Learning Centers, and the books and sewing machines that go to them, a reality! Namaste!