Ellen Blanchard, a junior at Kenyon College in Ohio, spent a semester abroad in India participating in an internship program. She discovered how connected the world can be, especially if you happen to have a ukulele in hand.
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Have ukulele, will travel. This seemingly frivolous carry-on to India was the most important tool to have with me during my field experience at a local NGO in the state of Rajasthan in India. I chose to do my internship with the Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti, a weaving cooperative and sponsor of various Indian development programs, including Room to Read. I had heard all about the Room to Read organization this summer from my mentor. It was so exciting to see the local work Room to Read does and to meet all the librarians from Urmul.
After staying in Phalodi at the Urmul foundation office, I moved to the village of Bhojesar and lived with a family for sixteen days. Coincidentally, one of my host brothers, Hukuma Ramji, was one of the librarians I had previously met in Phalodi! I was excited to have the opportunity to go with him to the schools in the neighboring villages and see the Room to Read libraries. The libraries were the biggest and most vibrant rooms in the school building—the walls covered in posters and shelves filled with books. At my visit to a school in Moriya, I brought along my ukulele and played my first concert in a Room to Read library. After my performance, the students shared poems and songs with me. Then everybody went outside to play a Hindi version of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Hukama Ramji facilitated the game and I got to join in and play!
The ukulele was a big hit in Rajasthan. During my visit to a school in the village of Khitchan, which coincided with the official opening of their Room to Read library, I was the special guest from America with a ridiculous little instrument that wasn’t a familiar tandura (a local 5-stringed instrument). I practiced saying “ukulele” with the students after writing the Hindi pronunciation on the board. Then it was time for my second Room to Read library concert and my largest audience ever!
The students wanted me to read to them, but since I couldn’t read their local language, and they couldn’t understand my English, I resorted to using the illustrations and some silly character voices to entertain a very captive audience. After that, it was Library Time! In small groups, the students returned last week’s books and perused the shelves to pick new ones. They had to present their choice to Hukama Ramji, identify the book title and number and then sign their name on the book register. Every step of this process is an agent for empowerment: individual freedom to pick a book, the ability to sign their name, teaching responsibility and accountability and all the while interacting with a superb library teacher.
I took my ukulele on my semester abroad and had no idea the impact it would have on my interning experience. I only spent a short time in Room to Read libraries and I can’t stop thinking about what other new things the students are discovering in their libraries.