Sopris Sun

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Small gifts and empty bookshelves

By Heidi Ahrens

As we walked the streets in Java in the late evening, we were invited into homes for cups of coffee on a nightly basis.  Two scoops of instant coffee, three scoops of sugar — just right!
In India, during the currency crisis, everyone went out of their way to make us comfortable. Free meals, free hotel stays, rides in cars and even extra cash were handed to us to make sure our daughters, age ten and seven, could eat the next day.
Mangos handed to you through a barbed wire fence by a machine gun-toting security guard tastes so much more special in the Ugandan heat. In return, all they wanted was an appreciation of their presence, for their smile.
Time and time again we were asked about when we would return and what we would tell others about our trip. Returning to our regular Western life, it has been a challenge to figure out how to integrate all these life lessons and to share with others the stories we reaped.  A friend humbly advised me that I should not struggle on how to give back.
I do feel like we need to do a bit more work towards supporting the people that opened their lives to us. Not for the specific people but rather for their communities, their work, and peace. Time and time again people wanted us to tell others about their countries but had strange notions on how the West operated. Their connection to the world was through Facebook, texting, and movies. Books are almost nonexistent (even in schools), and bookshelves are mostly empty, and knowledge on best practices for being hygienic, geography, and reasons for wars was murky.
Because of this, we have decided we would offer books to the people who are hungry to know more. So we are asking you to support us in sending books to those empty bookshelves we encountered.  
Three of these bookshelves are in Indonesia. The first one is in a small fishing village called Demak on the island of Java. It is in a school with hundreds of literary hungry children. Split in the middle between boys and girls this K-8 school caters to Muslims who line up to check out the few books they have. The other two bookshelves are on the island of Flores in Magepanda, a cashew growing village, and  Mao’lo, a fishing village. The village chief has bookshelves with old school notebooks and children gather under one light bulb to look at the work of students who now have grown up.
The next bookshelf is in a small community outside of Jinja, Uganda, where the homes or made out of mud, tin and discarded plastic and found materials. The kids gather around their mentor Neto and listen to crazy loud music and cheer for their local men’s soccer team in hopes they will win this year’s goat so that everyone can share in eating meat.
Lastly, in a beautiful library in Kigali, books are missing middle readers and for science, math and medical student textbooks. A young man asked me if I could find a way to get him a recent textbook so he could pass a test in chemistry and physics that he needed to better his chances at understanding the material in medical school.
For our family, I realized that supporting literacy through books is a way to promote peace in the world.  The idea of just communing, sharing and listening to spread peace and understanding first came to us through the work of the Friends Peace Team in Pati, Indonesia. But we first realized that through the sharing of current, quality knowledge children can grow up to have a better understanding of the world in which they live. In some of the villages we visited it was clear that religious fundamentalism was present, but through being present, supporting each other, teachers, community leaders and friends were trying to make sure that everyone knew how to greet a stranger and understand that everyone has a melting heart.
We created this globalized mess, and now we need to make sure that the ones most affected by it, have the words to understand these inequalities better and have access to the tools to be active with their knowledge.
The Carbondale Branch Library has graciously offered to provide books and training to the people who will be distributing the books. The organization Library for All, an international digital library non-for profit, is excited about the work we are doing and will extend their moral support. They will be in Kigali for two months bringing more books in the local language to girls and other patrons of the library.
We invite you to come and listen to our stories and to help us raise money to send books. Join us at “A year of living as a family around the world- a perspective on traveling peacefully”  Saturday, Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. at the Carbondale Branch Library. Donations can also be sent to Heidi Ahrens 1493 County Road 106 Carbondale, Colorado 81623. Subject: empty bookshelves Finally, I would be happy to bring a group of willing, hard-working volunteers to Kigali, to Indonesia,  or to work with refugees in Northern France, providing food, water, and shelter to hundreds of people hiding in forests; email heidiahrens@me.com.