‘Literacy Heroes’ amid the Pandemic

During the Covid-19 pandemic, home-based learning activities have become commonplace. Teachers in schools across regions have endeavoured to continue organising classes in spite of their limitations. In areas where telecommunications networks are limited, the challenges can be even more severe. For online learning, it is very difficult to coordinate with parents. Teachers also have to visit student homes directly to teach. Teachers, however, are not the only ones who facilitate learning during HBL. In West Sumba District, a librarian named Heronima Lende also visits student homes to do her duty as a librarian. Her longing for the days when children gather in the library to read is what inspired this woman whom people call Hero.

Heronima Lende is a librarian at Kalelapa Catholic Elementary School. Her career as a librarian is fairly recent, that is, when she started accompanying children in the library in July 2019. Before her, the library did not have any staff and, as a result, there was nobody to manage the library. Students did not visit the library, and if anyone ever did, it was on a rare occasion when a teacher asks them to look for reference for their assignments.

“Teachers would once in a while tell students to go to the library to find references, and only then the kids would go there. But that would be rare.” says Beatriks M. E. Kurnianingsih, the Head of Kalelepa Catholic Elementary School. She added that most of the books in the library were textbooks. “Well, there are some story books, but because the building was damaged, we stored (the books).”

Ningsih, how she is usually called, said that parts of the roof were leaking so when it rains the water would get into the room.

After getting facilitation for Child-friendly Library program, part of INOVASI collaboration with Taman Bacaan Pelangi (TBP), the building was renovated. The library was turned into a reading place that is pleasant and child friendly. The walls were decorated with children drawings. The books are displayed neatly on the shelves. There are tables and pillows to sit on and read. More than 1,000 copies of storybooks of various levels are now available for students to read.

Beside free visiting times, every class also has mandatory library visits. On every visit, students would engage in different reading activities.

There are four types of reading activities in the library, namely, reading aloud, reading together, reading in pairs, and reading alone. The excitement of these reading activities is of particular delight to Hero.

“I am happy when children read joyfully. Especially knowing how some of them could not yet read well, and now they do, waaaa.. it is a blessing!” she says, misty-eyed.

However, when the Covid-19 pandemic spread since early March, Hero is saddened. Since the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) issued its Home-based Learning policy in an effort to prevent the wider spread of the virus, she could no longer enjoy the happy moments of children reading in the library. For days since the policy was put into effect, she only stayed home, finding ways to bring joy back on her face.

Encouraging students to read while at home

Knowing how teachers were instructed to continue teaching even though not in school, Hero became encouraged. Although she knows there is no obligation for her to visit homes as teachers were told, that did not discourage her from contributing to HBL.

So she sought permission from Ningsih as the headmistress to allow her to organise reading activities that would normally be done in the library to be done at students’ homes. Certainly the headmistress allowed her while reminding her to follow the health protocols.

Her first visit was in April 2020. She brought a number of levelled storybooks from the library to a hamlet. Walking, she went to a house where seven students were already waiting for her. She did not realise that apparently all of the books she brought were from the same level, whereas the seven students had different reading abilities.

That experience served as a lesson for her. On the next visits, she would already have prepared the books from different levels. For one reason and another, she can only do two visits per week, usually at the week’s start and end. To date, she had visited houses in nine hamlets. Often, when going to a hamlet, she would encounter the students playing on the road. Right away the road turns into a reading place for the students. “I would talk to them and invite them to read storybooks,” she says.

When reading, Hero and the students would do it together. Hero would start off by reading a book, and afterwards she would hand the same book to the students to read. Before reading together, Hero would give the opportunity to the kids if they want to read on their own. When they are done, Hero would then invite them to join in and read together.

Creative ways to allow students to borrow books

Besides reading during visits, the books that Hero brings are also borrowed by the students. To return, all Hero needs to do is stop by the students’ houses on her way home or on her way to other hamlets. Sometimes she would ask a friend or family member to get the books. “If a friend or family happen to pass by the house of the kid that borrowed the book, I’d just ask them to help (get the books),” says Hero.

Hero does not expect any reward from what she is doing. For her, the appreciation and gratefulness of students and their parents, and being able to hear the students’ laughter again, is priceless. She hopes that this situation gets better so that she can perform her duties again without being limited by days.

‘Literacy Heroes’ amid the Pandemic