Nila Tanzil, the founder of Taman Bacaan Pelangi, or Rainbow Reading Gardens, may have been born and raised in Jakarta, but her passion for life has taken her around the globe. Last year, she began working as a communications consultant with the Nature Conservancy in Labuan Bajo, and fell in love with Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. She has now turned that love into nine thriving reading gardens. Nila tells us how she fell in love with the kids around Komodo, and explains the difference between a reading garden and a library.
How long have you been back in town?
I’ve been back for over a month now. Even though I’m here in Jakarta, the Rainbow Reading Gardens project is still growing. I knew it had to be sustainable, that’s why I collaborated with local communities in Flores.
Can you tell us more about Rainbow Reading Gardens?
I wasn’t planning on staying in Flores forever, so it was important to me to start a sustainable project that involved the community.
So you’re still managing the gardens from Jakarta?
I plan on visiting Flores at least once every two months. I haven’t managed to convince an airline in Jakarta to let me fly the books to Bali for free, but TransNusa Air Services lets me ship the books for free from Bali. The last time I went to Flores, I had 100 kilos of books and TransNusa didn’t charge me a thing.
Are you doing anything to raise funds for Rainbow Reading Gardens here in Jakarta?
Last November while I was living in Flores, I came up with the idea for the gardens after visiting some remote villages in West Manggarai, Flores. The schools on the islands in Komodo National Park and the surrounding area don’t have libraries. Access to books is very limited. So I sent e-mail messages to close friends and got a really good response. After one month, I managed to open our first reading garden. We have nine reading gardens as of today: four locations on islands in Komodo National Park, four up in the mountainous area of West Manggarai, Flores, and one in Labuan Bajo.
Isn’t a reading garden kind of like a library?
I wanted to create something children could enjoy outside of school hours. A place where they could enjoy reading books. We offer comic books, folktales, adventure stories, children’s encyclopedias and so on. I also provide coloring books and crayons for those who are unable to read yet.
How many books are there in each garden?
At the moment there are 300 in each garden, but the one in Labuan Bajo has about 600 books because it’s a ‘big’ town. I’m planning to increase the number of books in each library. We use a rotation system, so every four or five months, books that were on Komodo go to Rinca and Rinca’s books go to Papagarang, and so on. This way the kids get new books every four or five months.
But you have other interests as well. You have a travel blog and you’re an avid diver.
When you travel to places like Flores, Burma or Laos you are wrapped up in the experience so you don’t have time, but I put everything down in my journal and then I write about it later on my blog when I have time.
And I love diving. I have almost 200 dives. I just started two and a half years ago. When I lived in Singapore, I used to go diving every month and when I lived in Flores I dived every weekend! I just got addicted. And I have a message for divers: ‘Don’t touch anything.’ It pisses me off when divers touch manta rays. Touching mantas removes some of the mucus coating that protects them from infection.
Are there a lot of sharks out around Komodo Island?
Yeah, lots. But there are a lot more in Palau, Micronesia.
Wow. You really do love to travel, don’t you?
I was in Micronesia recently, I spent a week there. Lots of grey reef sharks. But Komodo and Raja Ampat [Papua] are better in terms of coral. They’re my favorite places to dive, by far.
But you also travel alone, right?
I prefer to travel by myself. In July and August, I spent a month in Burma. I also went to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia by myself. I was diving for a month in Thailand by myself. I love it. I find traveling alone relaxing. I feel like it’s a time where I can contemplate things and communicate with myself. Plus when I travel alone I feel like I can engage with the local people better and just hang out with them — go to their house and have tea with them — that’s really what I like about traveling.
What is your objective in setting up Rainbow Reading Gardens?
We want to encourage and nurture children’s interest in reading. I want them to start falling in love with reading and books. I also want kids in remote areas to have the courage to dream, and reading opens up a whole new world to them. None of them had ever imagined becoming an astronaut or a pilot. If you give these kids a hypothetical and tell them that they can go anywhere in the world and then ask them where they want to go, they say ‘Labuan Bajo.’