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Photos: Sian Cain/The Guardian
Where libraries are scarce, Indonesians have risen to the challenge. Sutino ‘Kinong’ Hadi, above, runs the Bemo mobile library in a Jakarta suburb.

Books are important for children, but there are many places around the world where books are scarce. Caring adults do what they can to fill in the gaps, sometimes even going without food in order to buy more books.

Sian Cain writes at the Guardian, “With a great heave, a young man pushes the ancient, three-wheeled rickshaw down a ramp and it splutters to a start. The driver, Sutino ‘Kinong’ Hadi, laughs as he putters his tiny Bemo in a loop outside a preschool in Tanah Abang, in central Jakarta. It’s all the signal the children need; around 20 flood out to envelope the car, pulling at hangings, clambering into the front seat. It’s an exciting time: their library has arrived.

“Kinong is one of thousands of Indonesians who have opened their own library in their own communities. Estimates suggest there are thousands of such libraries in Indonesia, started by ordinary people with great initiative to address the lack of books in their area and funded by occasional donations.

“There is the Perahu Pustaka, a library boat that sails around West Sulawesi. There are libraries on the back of vegetable carts, shelves lugged around by horses in Serang and in West Papua. Across Banten, a 200-strong motorbike gang called the Komunitas Motor Literasi (Moli), brings books to homes from a box attached to their vehicles, delivered with the ease of a takeaway. …

“The persistent myth that Indonesians aren’t interested in reading still pervades; last September, Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan, told the Jakarta Post: ‘We are challenged to improve our reading interest, particularly in an era where people are far more interested in reading WhatsApp [chats] than in reading books … People nowadays prefer to skim rather than read.’

“But civilians argue that interest isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of infrastructure. ‘Reading appetite isn’t low in Indonesia, it’s just hard to get books,’ says Laura Prinsloo, a publisher … ‘A lot of the people operating these libraries don’t have an education, which makes it hard in a place where it’s about who you know. So if you don’t know anyone, you just do it yourself.’

“Like Andri Gunawan, a wiry young man who heads up the Komunitas Motor Literasi. He never had a library in any of his schools and only became a voracious reader as an adult. ‘Contrary to what a lot of people say, it’s not that there is no interest in reading, it is that there are no books,’ he says. …

“Or Kiswanti, a 52-year-old woman who started out delivering books door-to-door for free on her bicycle. Now, her library and school Warabal, found in Parung, Java, is 21 years old and houses 15,000 books, looked after by 25 volunteers for 1,700 members. …

“ ‘My father apologised as he couldn’t send me on to further education’ she says. ‘But he told me, if I wanted to be smarter, I had to read.’ …

“When Kiswanti opened Warabal in 1997, she even began fasting 10 days each month to buy more.

‘I needed 3,000 rupiah (16p) to eat a day,’ she explains. ‘If I didn’t eat, I can save 30,000 (£1.66) in 10 days – so I could take our best students by taking them to bookshops and buy them any book they want.’ …

“ ‘Reading transports me and introduces me to new worlds – I want to give children that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. For similar stories on seat-of-the-pants libraries around the world, search the blog on the word “library.”

This mobile library has been running since 2013. The children are eager for books, but Hadi has found it’s not advisable to let the books go home if  he wants them back.

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nottage-sweat6-otu

Photo: Roger Mastroianni
Audiences in depressed regions nationwide identify with characters who lose their jobs in Lynn Nottage’s award-winning play
Sweat.

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater in New York City, has done a service to struggling communities around the country where his Mobile Unit has performed a play about factory closings.

Although I myself usually like a little something upbeat at the end of a play, I totally get the relief and catharsis of a bleak story that replicates an audience member’s bleak situation. Being heard, being recognized, can be the beginning of moving forward.

Elizabeth Pochoda explains how the show that did one tour of the country and hopes to get funding for more is helping people move beyond the devastation of communitywide job loss.

“Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, may be best known for commissioning Angels in America,” Pochoda writes, “but his most radical move is a recent one: sending the theater’s Mobile Unit on its recent five-state, 18-city tour through the heartland to perform Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Sweat, a traditional theater piece about race and class in Reading, Pennsylvania, as a metal-tubing plant closes and lives are fractured. Most of the action takes place in a local bar as friends experience the loss of every certainty that work bestows, including that of friendship. …

“The Mobile Unit has done far more than drop in for an evening of theater. Along with community organizations, public libraries, Rotary clubs, humanities councils, and whoever else is interested, it has encouraged lectures, discussion groups, story circles, and art pieces in the weeks before and after staging a free performance of Sweat. …

“I met [Chiara Klein, the Mobile Unit’s national project leader,] in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Sweat played at the local headquarters of the United Auto Workers, the once-powerful union that ruled the city until American Motors and Daimler-Chrysler closed all but one of their plants in 1988, putting 5,300 people out of work and blighting the cityscape for years to come.

“The union-hall venue might seem too obvious for a play about a city where labor is flat on its back, but Sweat has also played to receptive crowds in Minnesota towns with no history of manufacturing and in places as tiny as Hayward, Wisconsin, a town in the rural north where 150 people, both tribal and non-tribal, were as receptive as the audience in Erie, Pennsylvania. That doesn’t surprise Lynn Nottage, who has visited five of the tour cities; people who feel invisible and unheard, she tells me, whether they are black, white, old, young, rural or urban recognize themselves in her play….

“By performing in high-school gyms, a Masonic temple, a cafeteria, and a food pantry — places that don’t announce the evening as an exclusionary arts event, the Public’s Mobile unit has attracted the people it wants to reach.

“Some 200 of them entered the union hall on October 16 and not all of them were white and over 50. A number of older African Americans and some young people of both races were there as well. The Mobile Unit frames the evening to create an atmosphere of mutual regard and goodwill deliberately at odds with that in the play. …

“There is a stage here, but the players will not use it. Instead, they will perform in a small space hemmed in by our chairs. It works well for the barroom scenes where friendships are frayed and no one has anywhere to turn. We are in on the action. …

“At the play’s end, its uneasy note of hope fades away and the audience is given time to reflect by filling out a questionnaire asking them their ZIP Code, ethnicity, gender, emotional response to the play, its relevance to their community, and even what media outlets they turn to for news. … This interlude may be responsible for the candor of the ensuing conversation led by Klein. …

“An African-American woman described it this way: ‘It’s a feeling of being overpowered. A job goes away, a family has to find its way in a new place; then the drugs.’ A 21-year-old white man said he saw himself in the characters and cried that he too had no future. Several people responded to the decibel level of anger in the play and saw it as emblematic of how quickly everything now turns to shouting.”

Read the article at the Nation, here. The play itself is grim, but with the release of emotions some in the audience may feel strengthened in their efforts to build a future on top of the ruins.

 

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Street art is not just for stationary walls any more. According to Kate Essig at WNYC radio, some pretty amazing specimens are now on the move.

“Art in Spain got a sweet new set of wheels thanks to the Truck Art Project,” she writes. “In this collaboration between a transport company and the local art community,  street art takes the form of stunning mobile murals on  — you guessed it —  trucks.

“The project works with popular urban artists like Javier Arce, Suso33, and Marina Vargas to take their works off the wall and put them in motion. …

“The goal of the project is to make contemporary artwork accessible to all, even if it’s just a surprise sighting at a stoplight — so those in Spain who aren’t frequent gallery go-ers can still glimpse this art on the go.” An inspiring array of truck-art photos can be seen here.

And be sure to check out the project website, which reads in part, “Truck Art Project is an original art patronage project launched by the entrepreneur and collector Jaime Colsa, and curated by Fer Francés in contemporary art and Óscar Sanz in urban art. …

“The trucks working with the project will be the gigantic backdrops for the artworks. The initiative thereby becomes a living display of the most current tendencies in the country’s painting, drawing, and urban art (although the ambitious program intends to be even more multidisciplinary, involving other art forms such as photography, music, or cinema), away from the confines of a museum and aimed at non-traditional spectators and contexts that don’t usually lend themselves to contemporary art.”

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A US student studying in Hungary was stunned by the refugee crisis at his doorstep and felt compelled to do something.

David Karas wrote in early November at the Christian Science Monitor, “Among those struck by the extreme hardships confronting the refugees is a graduate student from Mobile, Ala., who had been traveling in Europe. Motivated to find a way to help, he used his background in information technology and software to help provide something in high demand but extremely scarce: information.

“David Altmayer has launched the Refugee Help Map – an interactive mapping platform using Google tools that provides details on where refugees are traveling and what needs they have – to assist volunteers in best providing aid.

“ ‘At the beginning, it was just to get more information out there,’ Mr. Altmayer says. ‘I started helping in the first place because I couldn’t just sit by and not help. And then I just tried to find ways that I could best use my skill set to help.’

“Altmayer had worked in Seattle on IT and software projects, and is currently pursuing an MBA and master’s degree in global management through the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management and the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In order to finish his degree, he had to select a couple of courses that would be held abroad. …

“ ‘I live about one kilometer [0.6 miles] from the main railway station here in Budapest,’ he says, By mid-August, migrants had begun to flock to the station to take shelter. ‘Every day there were more and more people basically living there – camping, setting up tents, sleeping on cardboard,’ he says.

“Some of Altmayer’s friends had been providing support to refugees, mainly by bringing them meals. Altmayer noticed other volunteer groups were providing assistance. Wanting to learn more, he began to explore online – only to discover a need that he and his computer-literate colleagues could help to address.

“ ‘More and more people had been asking where they could get information in English,’ he says. Most efforts to provide information were in Hungarian. Before he knew it, he had become part of a group that launched an English website, making details about locations and needs accessible to English-speaking refugees and volunteers. …

“In the first six weeks the map was online, it received more than 80,000 views. It is constantly updated with markers indicating the location and urgency of needs, as well as comments about conditions facing refugees.

“ ‘There are so many people using it and counting on it,’ Altmayer says.”

More here. I do love stories about people working to solve a problem by offering the skills they have.

Photo: Andrea Giuliano
US college student David Altmayer created the online Refugee Help Map while living in Budapest, Hungary. Here he is shopping for supplies to help  migrants in Serbia.

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