BOOK Reach, a great way to promote reading

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Many foreigners come to Nepal and fall in love with the place but few could match Doreen Johnstone’s passion for the place.

An educationalist by background with a British passport but the global outlook of someone who spent most of her life around the world, a second world war refugee born in Malaysia and then forced to flee due to the Japanese invasion in South East Asia, Doreen made teaching not only her life profession but her true life call.  

The first time she came to Nepal was in 1998 to prepare her master thesis in education with Bath University and then again she was back from 2007 to 2010 to serve with VSO as educational advisor the Makwanpur District Educational Office in Heutada.

It was there where Doreen forged incredible relationships with local schools. Once her volunteering time was over, she decided to head back to Malaysia to help establish an international school in Sabah and it was then that she came up with the idea of Book Reach.

Seeing a big potential in the local community schools with whom she had worked, Doreen realized that there was a lack of reading books, a major impediment for an enriching and joyful learning experience.

Thanks to her passion for education and love for Nepal and thanks to skillful relationship buildings, Doreen started approaching private schools in Malaysia and Singapore to support her idea to collect and ship reading books and general library books, which could then be sent to selected schools in Hetauda.

What started in 2013 just as a desire to continue the work with local schools in Nepal, soon became a full time pro bono commitment with the registration in 2015 of Book Reach as a

charity in Malaysia.

Doreen, talking about the project, says“Book Reach offers an extended educational experience as the books provide an additional bank of knowledge and they become an integral part of the children’s learning beyond the national curriculum”

Since then Doreen has been visiting Nepal at least once or twice every year, providing 39,000 books to over 12000 children belonging to seventeen primary and secondary schools in Hetauda and surrounding areas.  Eleven of these schools now have a fully equipped library thanks to Book Reach.

This incredible result was only possible thanks to two important Ps: the first one stands for Doreen’s passion for education and children and the second for partnerships.

Doreen built the program with full cooperation of the Department of Education in SanoThimi and the personnel of the District Education Office in Hetauda.

Doreen always believed in collaboration and joint ventures: she always understood that successful experience in schools come from these two essential approaches. Extremely cost effective and sustainable reading programs in partnership with local schools and few private schools have been set-up.

Various senior officers from the Government of Nepal have been enthusiastically supporting the initiative, especially Narayan Shrestha, Under Secretary at the Ministry of Education, MahendraPaudyal currently spokesperson at the Ministry of Youth and Sports and former Education Ministry Secretary, Dr. Lava Awasthi.

Before starting with Book Reach, Doreen reached out also several not-for-profit organisations, including Room to Read, one of the pioneers in setting up school libraries in the country where Co-Founder Dinesh Shrestha strongly advised her to provide a substantial number of nepali language books, fiction and non- fiction as well.

The RatoBangala Foundation and her director Shanta Dixit also offered important ideas and insights to Doreen during her brainstorming phase.

This is really important: no matter how much experience you have, how much confortable you are with an idea, it is imperative to reach out to as many as possible stakeholders in order to garner their views and advice.

Book Reach has been particularly successful in what we could call a public-not-for profit partnership: on the one hand the Ministry of Education and the local District Office and, on the other hand, private schools in Malaysia and Singapore partnering with local schools owned by the communities.

The project is sustainable because it is owned by the local schools as teachers and head masters are not simply supportive but they truly embraced it.

Without their full engagement, Book Reach would not live up to its goals of making reading a natural habit for thousands of children and youths in Hetauda.

Locals are giving their time volunteering to make Book Reach successful: for example Krishna GopalShrestha, Senior Master at Adhunik School is the Project Coordinator with the full support of Rishi Ram UpadhyayPokharel, the Head Master of the same school.

The duo together with other colleagues are truly making the project possible, overseeing the work of the librarians and monitoring the number of students using the facilities.

Doreen has always been trying to forge a true partnership between the local schools here in Nepal and the five donor schools in Malaysia and the five donor schools in Singapore.

In 2016 a teacher from The Garden School in Kuala Lumpur visited Nepal to share some of her experience with some of our libraries. According to Doreen, “These visits create a bond between donor schools and local schools. It is always important to see the hidden efforts that are undertaken to classify, box and send all books to Nepal”.

Moreover Book Reach is also beginning to encourage the local schools to be in touch by, organizing collaborative initiatives like poetry reading and story writing.

Doreen, currently in Nepal, is working very hard to extend the program’s outreach and very soon six new secondary schools with primary sections will join the program, getting new fully equipped libraries and thousands of books donated by Singapore American School, Chatsworth, UWCSEA (East), St. Joseph,Tangin, from Singapore and by the British School, Nexus International, American School of KL, Alice Smith and The Garden, all located in Kuala Lumpur.

The Book Reach team is now also exploring new partnerships and collaborations.

Perhaps the Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia initiative with its own track record in books distribution in Nepal could provide additional books or perhaps simpler procedures can be agreed to streamline the shipment of books from the Custom Office to the beneficiary schools.

Perhaps local students would love to join the Book Reach team as reading volunteers, reading stories for the younger students.

There are many ways to build collaboration and support the efforts of Doreen and her team. Maybe you will be inspired to replicate her work in other parts of the country.

You can contact Doreen at doreenjohnstone03@gmail.com or you can call her at 982-37-57-503. You can also visit http://www.bookreach.org/

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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