Community Stories: Taniya Benedict, International Day of the Girl
Today, our team at Library For All celebrates International Day of the Girl. We have a mission to make knowledge accessible to all, equally, and we believe that empowering girls with educational materials will help break the cycle of poverty.
Books were always a huge part of my life. As a young girl growing up in the outer suburbs of southeast Melbourne, I had dreamed of being many things: an astronaut, a scientist, a journalist, a professional basketball star, an actress, Princess Jasmine. I was a bright child with an inquisitive mind, and an imagination that could catapult even the most serious personalities into a world of make-believe. Looking back, I believe that it was my love of books that propelled my mind into such artistry.
Reading was my passion. There was nothing I loved more than to become intertwined within pages and pages of fictional books. Reading to me was more than a hobby – it was my retreat. My comfort. A place where I could safely lose myself without fear of judgment or reparation. Within the pages of my books, I was the proud owner of champagne colored unicorns and a Persian warrior princess. I was Anne of Green Gables, and attended school at Sweet Valley High. My books allowed me to dream. Inside their pages, I was anyone or anything I wanted to be.
My colleagues and I at Library For All, are sincerely passionate about empowering children around the world with the tools they need to dream, aspire, and to be who they want to be. Nothing has been more inspiring than seeing girls like me experiencing Library For All’s digital library on the ground. As Programs Manager, I am so fortunate to have been able to travel to two of our five program countries in the last year: Cambodia and Haiti.
During my visit to Cambodia in March 2016, I recall walking through the gates of Aknuwat School in Kampong Cham, not knowing what to expect. My heart was filled with both curiosity and apprehension at how I would see Library For All’s digital platform being used. Just a few months earlier, we had deployed our digital library in 5 Cambodian Schools and 2 mobile libraries in partnership with The Asia Foundation via a campaign called “Let’s Read!”
Walking inside the Library room at Aknuwat school, the first thing I noticed was a line of young girls at the Librarian’s desk. They were dressed in white cotton shirts and ankle length A-line skirts - the standard uniform worn by all school aged girls in Cambodia. As I wondered in silence about what they were waiting so patiently for, I was informed by a teacher that the girls were waiting to be assigned a tablet containing our digital library. I was delighted to hear this! I felt a sense of satisfaction that these children were sacrificing their play time to read.
As the children filed into the Library’s general reading section with their tablets, they seemed both excited and eager to commence reading. I watched in awe as they sat on the carpeted floor, logged in and began reading Khmer books out loud. They seemed at ease with our platform, and it was clear that they used the tablets frequently. The children knew exactly how to navigate through the digital library, to download new stories, and to return to the catalogue section once they had completed a book.
I heard nothing but positive responses about our platform after speaking to both teachers and students at Aknuwat School. In fact, the only major cause of concern was that the children had completed reading most books in our Library and wanted more local language content! Every single teacher, including the Librarian and School Director, commented that they hoped our digital library would be scaled throughout Cambodia so all Khmer children; irrespective of social status or location, could use our platform and have access to reading materials in their mother-tongue. This warmed my heart, as it was re-confirmation that our work was worthwhile.
Every day we receive affirmation that Library For All is empowering young girls around the world to learn and grow. To demonstrate this, I would like to leave you with the story of a young girl, Kim*; a student at one of our Cambodian schools. Experiences like Kim*’s are why I am so passionate about what I do. My colleagues and I are excited about continuing to collect user-stories in Cambodia and our other program countries, as these testimonies demonstrate Library For All's impact.
"Kim* is 12 years old, a grade 5 student at Char Primary School in Svay Rieng. She is the only child in her family. Both her mother and father work in a factory in Phnom Penh, so she lives with her grandparents. She studies hard at both school and at home. Normally she spends 5-6 hours a week reading books. She reads books at home, during free time, at night, at school, at library, at break time, and even gets up early to read in the morning before she goes to school.
At school, she likes reading ebooks on the Library For All app a lot, especially storybooks, adventure, and environmental books in Khmer. She said the digital library has many good books with good pictures. The storybooks in particular are so attractive. Many of the books educate people to do good, love the forests and wildlife, and create a vision for the future. Examples of those books are The Forest, Your Life, Our House Our Village, The Five Different Wastes and The Bamboo Stem. She said one tablet can keep hundreds of books.
Looking to the future, it is encouraging to know that she wants more books added to our digital library! "Storybooks, history, literacy, science, sociology, mapping, books with good pictures, Khmer books for grade 5, and books with audio in English and Khmer."
* Name has been changed to protect identity of the child.