The Magic Yeti Libraries are about to become a reality, thanks to the benefit of having time on our hands while in Nepal, many books (which are still in transit), Phoebe Coburn as our tireless partner on the ground in the States, and some funding from our friends, colleagues, and family.
Pete (Athans), my husband, the kids (Finn (3) and Cleo (1) and I have just returned to Kathmandu from 3 weeks in Khumbu, living in the village of Kunde (12,600 ft) while searching for the perfect place for the first Magic Yeti Library. Hands down, the best existing space is at the Khumjung School, established by Sir Edmund Hillary, for the Sherpas of Khumbu, in 1963. Khumjung/Kunde is home to the largest Sherpa population in Khumbu, and where a once top-notch school is now struggling to attract Sherpa kids for enrollment, as many families are now sending their children to school in Kathmandu. The headmaster, Mahendra Kathet, has an uphill battle maintaining the high standards of the original Khumjung School as the school is now government funded and resources for the kids are quite slim.
We met with Mahendra on a cold and windy day in Khumbu, all the teachers in down jackets, kids wrapped in scarves while studying in freezer-like classrooms. Even with a space heater, the cinder-block walls seem to suck the heat out of the room.
Mahendra has been headmaster of the school for 9 years and a teacher there for 30 years. I was surprised to learn this, as Mahendra looks quite young. According to 2006 records, the school has 374 students, 95% Sherpa and 5% from other ethnic groups (mostly Rai and Tamang). I explained our mission to Mahendra, to find a library space for English and Nepali children’s books that would be available not only to the students, but to the whole community, and Mahendra immediately understood what we were looking for. He said, “ We need books, mostly for teaching in the classroom, and have few books that the students are interested in in our library.” I was intrigued to see what books kids might NOT be interested in.
The next day, we returned to see inside the library. Mahendra let us into the locked building and we found it to be simply a room with shelves on the wall: 1960s textbooks were mixed in with modern-day board books for pre-schoolers. Nepali and English texts were commingled in places like one big twisted alphabet soup combined with years of dirt, dust, and benign neglect. This library has books, but many of them are the school's own publication that they use to sell to trekkers interested in supporting the school. I saw Dr. Seuss books with spines ripped loose, adult English dime store romances along with non-fiction informational manuals. If I were a kid entering this library, I'd be overwhelmed, confused, and disinterested in books as a result.
The good news is that the Khumjung School’s library is in a newly constructed building (unheated and without electricity). There are shelves there, even some sky lights, and with a little effort, we can turn the space into a bona-fide library, combining the school's existing collection (minus the 60's textbooks – there was even a complete set of the 1962 World Book Encyclopedia ) with
ours, getting some present-day magazines committed (hey, that would be a nice contribution, a subscription to several great magazines). We'll need about 5 days of gutting, cleaning, painting, ordering some benches and tables to be
made, a heater to be purchased and carried up by porter, and then an opening
celebration for the community to learn what the library can do for them. Mahendra promises that the library would be available to the entire community and open during school hours.
Our work is cut out for us, as we need to catalogue all of Mahendra's books and ours, color code each into our 4 color system geared toward reading levels, and then decorate practically. So, it seems the Magic Yeti Library may actually come into being and our hope is that we can do this in other high Himalayan communities, setting up Children's libraries while working in conjunction with schools and communities. The hitch is that the community must have the space available for our books and funding.
Many thanks to Room to Read, of Nepal, for donating English-Nepali Children’s books, and for their offer to train a librarian in library science skills.
Our target date for the work party will be mid April, at which point we hope most of our books have arrived by post, and then porter or yak, up to the school. Anyone interested in helping us, hands-on, with the library work should contact me at: email@example.com