An Indonesian Mom is on a Book Mission
It’s not like Vera Makki didn’t have her hands full already. The 35-year-old works in public relations, is a lecturer at the University of Indonesia and, most important, is a wife and the mother of an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son.
But Vera still found time to start her own foundation, Taman Bacaan Anak Lebah (Bee Children Reading Garden) in 2009. The foundation offers underprivileged children in eastern Indonesia reading material to help instill the habit and joy of reading at an early age.
Vera has loved books and been an avid reader since she was young, so the foundation’s mission was a natural fit.
“It started with my dream to have a small library at home where anyone could read books at any time,” she said. “As a mom, I’m grateful that my children’s school provides the students with lots of books and a big library. They encourage the students to read, and have a regular storytelling session.
“That was really inspiring for me, until something started to bother me: What about children who are less fortunate? How I can help and make a significant impact on the underprivileged?”
After some research and several discussions with friends, Vera eventually decided to set up TBAL, whose main mission is to instill the love of reading.
“I believe that people who read more books will have better communication skills and a wider perspective than those who don’t,” Vera explained. “Books are a window on the world. They help increase the curiosity of children and build logical thinking, creativity and self-confidence.”
Vera decided to focus on the eastern parts of Indonesia, the country’s most neglected region. But eastern Indonesia’s remoteness adds to the logistical difficulties of providing services there.
“Another challenge was that there are not many children’s storybooks available. Some of them are quite expensive,” Vera said. “But I look at this challenge as an opportunity to take a small step toward making a big impact by providing free access to children’s books that are appropriate for their age.”
Vera regularly travels to remote areas in the eastern provinces, where she collaborates with local schools to get books into the hands of children.
“Those early childhood schools are mostly self-funded by the community,” she said. “The tutors work on a volunteer basis; mostly they are mothers from the villages. Classes are held on the terraces of homes or in people’s living rooms, or next to a paddy field.”
While the schools adopt the curriculum from the National Education Ministry, reading books is not high on the list.
“So we have an agreement,” Vera said. “I’m responsible for donating storybooks twice a year, and the schools are responsible for setting up a small library in return. The schools must also include reading [time] as part of curriculum.”
So far, TBAL has partner-schools in nine villages, six of them located in east and central Lombok, one in Southeast Sulawesi, one in Ambon and another on Seram Island, in Maluku. These schools cater to around 300 children in all.
But Vera does more than just encourage reading.
“To build a reading habit among children, we have to empower the tutors, the parents and the head of each school,” she said. “Besides donating books, we also set up capacity-building programs for the tutors and create parenting workshops focusing on education and nutrition, parenting style and financial planning.”
In addition to books, TBAL also supplies the schools with stationery, bookshelves and teaching materials.
TBAL has grown steadily since its inception and Vera realizes that she soon will not be able to handle the foundation’s activities on her own. The majority of TBAL’s operations fall on her shoulders, with the help of a few volunteers and contributions by close friends. But Vera is looking for a partner who shares her vision to share the responsibility.
Vera is, of course, grateful for every book that she and the foundation are able to donate. But that doesn’t mean quantity is more important than quality.
“I filter the books,” she said, “and if I think they’re not good for my kids, then they won’t be good for the Lebah [TBAL] children either.”
Vera said she looked for books that were colorful, had plenty of pictures and told stories that reflected good morals.
So far, she is amazed by how her project has turned out.
“A close friend said that I have a different vibe and energy, that my eyes sparkle whenever I talk about book donations and the children,” Vera said.
“I have confidence, and believe that our younger generations will have a better future if we take the right action as early as possible.”
To make a book or monetary donation to Taman Bacaan Anak Lebah, or for more information, visit the foundation’s website at www.tamanbacaananaklebah.com