Last month, our communications manager, Reena Luke, visited Sri Lanka and met this wonderful family who taught their two daughters to develop a passion for reading and books; their passion was significantly fueled when Room to Read opened a library at the local primary school. Just two weeks ago, we sadly learned that the family has since been involved in a tragic moped accident which killed the father and put these two young girls in critical condition in the hospital. Our hearts go out to this family and in tribute to this wonderful father on Father’s Day (also celebrated in Sri Lanka), we wanted to post this story with our thoughts, prayers and deep appreciation for teaching his children how to find their passion. The two girls are now recovering at home and we wish them a quick recovery and send the entire family our condolences on their loss.
I met Paboda first when I walked into a Grade 3 classroom in Sri Lanka. She greeted me but was in the middle of reading a story to her class. Impressed with her reading skills, we struck up a conversation about the book she was reading.
“My sister read out that story to me last night so I had heard it before,” Paboda said.
Mrs. Rohini Fernando, the school librarian explained, “Paboda’s elder sister, Sandeepa, was a student here two years ago. When Room to Read began supporting us with books, Sandeepa was in Grade 5 and she had never read a story book.”
Mrs. Fernando continued, “Almost overnight, the child became a bookaholic! I still remember her excitement after she finished one book and within a week she got hooked to reading like no other child in this school. Each day she would take a new book home and it is a habit that she still continues even though she is no longer our student.”
When Sandeepa passed 5th grade, she started attending a senior school a few kilometers away where her father is a music teacher but since that school does not have a library, each morning she sends a “wish list” to Mrs. Fernando via Paboda with the names of books she wants her sister to bring home.
“I send back at least three books,” Mrs. Fernando says. “The best part is that over the last two years, Sandeepa has never defaulted in returning these books and it is such a pleasure to indulge her.”
Sandeepa’s passion for reading has encouraged her kid sister Paboda to follow in her footsteps.
“I take books for my akki [elder sister in Sinhala] as well as for myself,” explains Paboda. “Earlier my grandmum or my mother used to read out the story to me, but now I can read on my own. But I enjoy the story best when my akki reads it out to me because she also acts out the story. But I have now made a pact with her: I will get books from my library only on the condition that she reads out one story to me each day!” says Paboda with a big smile.
Continues Paboda in all eagerness, “But it is not that simple because akki too has some conditions: She will read me a story only after I finish my home work and also after I have read aloud one story.”
I get to hear three stories each day,” explains Paboda. “I read one story, my akki reads out another story and my grandmum reads out a story to me at bedtime. Now I know the most of the stories in my class and I am the one my class teacher picks when she wants the class to hear a story.”
At Paboda and Sandeepa’s house, I met the proud grandmother who is an “O level” graduate. “I used to get my granddaughters books instead of giving the girls sweets or clothes every time I met them. I used to also read out the stories to them to fire their interest and hoped to get them into the habit of reading. Fortunately my efforts were complemented with Room to Read’s library in the girl’s school and so today these girls are book worms!”
Tracking down Sandeepa, we meet her and her father, Aruna, getting ready to leave for their home.
Said her father “Now that Sandeepa is in her teens, her mother monitors what she is reading. My passion is music and but I have realized that it is not music but books that excite my kids. We are happy that Room to Read helped their school with books because we cannot afford to buy new books every month.”
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