100 Story House is a small library in the Garo Hills, set up by a Jemimah Marak, and her husband, James Nokseng G Momin. As the region is insurgency-prone, the couple set up this library to create a space for young children to nurture the habit of reading.
In far-flung Garo Hills of Tura in Meghalaya, a rustic library made of bamboo and thatch comes to life with children and young adults reading books, playing board games, taking part in storytelling sessions and loads of other fun-filled activities.
The 100 Story House is a labour of love of a couple: Jemimah Marak and her husband James Nokseng G Momin, who set up the cosy library in 2016 with the help of a few friends and well-wishers. The duo, both teachers, noted that the society is slowly losing their beautiful cultural value. Hence, books became their tools to not only revive the lost traditions but also to open a window to the world of a child’s imagination.
The Garo Hills are 'insurgency-declared' areas. There are shadows of fear, uncertainty and violence in the air and lives of people. The unstable political conditions force the inhabitants to lead restricted lives. Parents fear to send their children out and they end up becoming addicted to mobile phones or television. This becomes a hindrance for the children to enjoy their childhood.
A lot of things led to the creation of the library actually. We needed space for tuitions, counselling, and also there are no libraries for children in the region to access good books. The one district library in town is not well-maintained, and the children’s section has not seen new books for many years now, maybe a couple of decades even. Only a couple of good schools have libraries for their students but the majority of children here have no access to any decent books. Even the markets do not have good story books for children. As an English teacher, it was frustrating for me to recommend books for my students because they just weren’t available anywhere, Jemimah says.
Libraries help create a better society. Through 100 Story House Jemimah and her husband dream of a peaceful future for Meghalaya. Reading books and storytelling are considered powerful activities in the learning and exchanging of ideas. Books broaden the horizons of children’s imagination and they grow into individuals who lead social change.
Apart from creating a reading space the couple also provides career counselling and tutor the children. Thirty-four-year-old Jemimah quit her teaching job to nurture and expand the library. Currently, they are running the library with help from friends and well-wishers and income earned by James. Parents drop and pick up their children from the library, as sending them on their own is worrisome in the region fraught with tension. Due to these circumstances, the couple wants to make the library accessible to all the children of the region by setting up a library on wheels. They are currently crowdfunding to acquire a van to create a mobile library and add more books to the 100 Story House.
In its one year of existence, the library has become a favourite place for the children and young adults of Garo Hills. The children would never way to miss a day at the library as they battle the heavy rainy days to visit the library. Some days, the parents carry the children to the library with their colourful umbrellas and rain coats. Some of the parents have noticed significant progress in their children's grades when they spend time in the library. Jemimah says,
We feel that we have lost sight of the beautiful values in our culture and we need to revive these values to bring peace and stability. We can teach values through storytelling, reading and productive activities, which we try to do in the library. We believe it is a platform of possibilities. Children are our future and how we bring them up now affects our hope for the kind of future we dream of for our children, our people and, in the bigger picture, our society as a whole.
The library has collection of over 800 books, including classics, encyclopedias, dictionaries, comics, general fiction etc. Publication houses Pratham Books and Scholastic have contributed to the collection. Children are allowed to borrow books at a nominal registration fees. Along with the tantalising smell of the books and the magical world they contain, the library is always brimming with warm love and affection of Jemimah’s pet dogs Bandit, Nani, Fashion, and a family of cats.