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taman bacaan pelangi

Claudiaexpat introduces us to Taman Bacaan Pelangi, a beautiful Indonesian project. About books, of course.


In Indonesia’s main language, Bahasa, Taman Bacaan Pelangi means “Rainbow Reading Parks”. Nila Tanzil, founder of this wonderful project, told us where the idea came from and how she brought it to fruition. She also talked about the challenges and joys she meets on a daily basis in this venture, which has become pivotal in her life: a project for which so many Indonesian children and their families are grateful.

I, too, thank her from the bottom of my heart. My children were lucky enough to be surrounded by lovely books, new books, books here, there and everywhere. In a family which valued reading, and with a mother who never tired of reading aloud to them every evening, they were exposed to adventures, discoveries and knowledge from the day they first opened their eyes. They grew up to be avid readers, attracted by the world of books, aware, and passionate about stories from around the world.

In Indonesia, where I currently live, things for most children are very different: four provinces in Eastern Indonesia hold the record for illiteracy in the country. These are Papua (36,1%), West Nusa Tenggara (16.48%), West Sulawesi (10.33%) and East Nusa Tenggara (10.13%). Moreover, while is the western part of the country children are able to read 75 words a minute, in the east they can barely manage 20.



This situation came to the attention of Nila, who is a communications expert working with a number of multinational organisations in Indonesia and Singapore, and with a few NGOs in Indonesia.

Nila holds a degree in International Relations from the University of Parahyangan (Bandung) a Masters in European Communication Studies from the University of Amsterdam. During her trips to the islands in Eastern Indonesia, she quickly became aware that the situation there was catastrophic for children who were growing up with absolutely no reading stimuli.

When she started some serious research in order to better understand what was happening, she was shocked: many children neither owned a marker, nor knew what one was. Some even thought they were living in Malaysia. Nila immediately understood what was needed: she had to create opportunities for these young people, so that they could start reading, learn to use their creativity, and open their minds to the world of words and stories.

This is how Taman Bacaan Pelangi was born. It was the fruit of Nila’s determination and her indefatigable involvement with local people. From its foundation in 2009, the NGO has set up 29 libraries on 14 islands, including Flores, Komodo, Rinca, Messah, Lombok, Sumbawa, Timor, Alor, Sulawesi, Banda Islands, South Halmahera e Papua. It has provided these libraries with over 50,000 children’s books, and has touched the lives of over 6,000 children.

…the children have no idea about professions: they don’t realise they could choose to be a doctor, teacher, cook or pilot.

Nila told us that the libraries are usually opened in local houses, which have large gardens. Not to open libraries in schools was a deliberate choice: the library must be an independent unit, separate from the school structure. The involvement of local people is fundamental: they provide the venue and act as a reference point. Their voluntary work makes it possible to organise recreational activities around reading.

Much of the library’s activity centres on storytelling: the main objective is to teach children to read in a creative way, and to be involved in the process in an active and participatory way. To this end Taman Bacaan Pelangi organises artistic and recreational activities, writing and drawing workshops, and much more. The basic idea is to make these libraries happy places, where children will feel at ease, and as a result, find space to develop their curiosity.

Many volunteers, mostly German (each library has at least two local and/or foreign volunteers) teach English in the mornings and promote creative activities in the afternoons.

One amazing thing, Nila says, is that the children have no idea about professions: they don’t realise they could choose to be a doctor, teacher, cook or pilot. Taman Bacaan Pelangi’s mission is also to raise awareness in children, and help them reach their full potential, to learn, dream, and dare.

The project’s greatest challenge lies in transporting the books, which are changed in every library twice a year. Transport links between the different islands is not easy, and the books are heavy and cumbersome. But enthusiasm helps to overcome hurdles, and up until now, everything has been running smoothly.


Friends of the project visit a library on Rinca Island, Flores

Friends of the project visit a library on Rinca Island, Flores


Enthusiasm and passion are the qualities that spurred Nila on to found Travel Sparks, an agency that organises trips based on contact with local culture and the provision of education for the children. People using the agency can experience wonderful places while at the same time coming into contact with local people. They can work as volunteers in the project for one or more days. An Australian woman told us how moving and enlightening it had been to arrive on a remote island and find crowds of local people expecting her. She and a friend had brought books, and sat down to read them with the children.

Most of the books are in Bahasa, which isn’t in the least bit difficult to read for us Italians even if we don’t speak it.

Travel Sparks is one of the ways the project is financed. But funding also comes from donations and from partner organisations. Anyone in Indonesia who wishes to donate books can contact Taman Bacaan Pelangi. If you are outside Indonesia and want to make a donation, you can do so via the organisation’s Paypal account which you will find on their website.

Jakarta, Indonesia
June 2015
Photos ©Giulia Scala
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