Recently, on a trip to visit our programs in Sri Lanka, our team had a chance encounter with Nelka, a young waitress who, as it turns out, knows a thing or two about Room to Read. Reena Luke, our communications manager for Asia, shares her impressions of the team’s meeting with Nelka in a guest post from the field.
The A-9 highway is a busy truck route in Sri Lanka connecting Mannar in the northwest to the capital, Colombo. On most days, traffic is heavy and a sense of urgency abounds. Police stop vehicles at frequent intervals—checking papers and asking questions—reminding travelers that they are close to the “war zone” where scars are still fresh from dark days past.
Standing in stark contrast to the somber police checkpoints are lush green fields dotted with children on bicycles headed off to school.
Just past the 100 mile marker, our team spots a small hotel that seems the perfect place to stop for a cup of tea and a bite to eat.
Once inside, we are greeted by a young woman named Nelka, who rattles off the breakfast menu with impressive speed.
“We’re here for work," shares one member of our group. “We help set up libraries in some of the schools here.”
“Well, you are not the first to do that here,” she counters without skipping a beat. “My school had a library built by an organization called Room to Read.”
At that, we point towards to the parking lot, where our van sits adorned with a Room to Read logo. Nelka squeals with delight, and immediately launches into the story of how she spent hours reading in the library at her school, and as a result, had become proficient in Sri Lanka’s three most prominent languages—Sinhala, Tamil and English. She spoke of the “tri-lingual” books she had enjoyed and the “need to read” they had helped to cultivate within her.
“I passed my A-levels a year ago with good marks,” she shares, adding that her voracious appetite for reading has only grown since graduation, thanks to weekly trips to her community's public library.
When the time comes to rejoin the traffic on the A-9 highway once again, we say goodbye to Nelka, but I can still see her in my rearview mirror as we pull away, waving vigorously. In that moment it occurrs to me that the traffic, the checkpoints and the long journey are all worth it, so long as more children like Nelka in this part of Sri Lanka that have seen such hard times, have a place to go where they can learn and play safely.
Don't forget to help us spread the word this month about our campaigns for literacy!
Join our tweet campaign! Each RT will donate $1 to our literacy programs in Asia and Africa (up to $30,000) thanks to Random House, Inc. Click to Tweet!
Throughout September, all donations to our library programs will be matched up to $40,000 thanks to our partner, Better World Books. Click to donate.