Luther Seminary graduate heads home to India with donated library

Imliwabang Jamir

Imliwabang Jamir

After eight years at Luther Seminary, Imliwabang Jamir has left for home—in the city of Dimapur, state of Nagaland, India—along with his wife and two school-age daughters.

While many scholars doubtless go home with crates of books, Jamir and his family have transported an entire library to share with their city. Inspired by the children’s section of the St. Anthony Park Library, they partnered with two neighborhood churches to set up a new Nagaland Children’s Library in rented space in Dimapur.

Grants from St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church and St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church will cover about half of the $7,500 estimated cost of setting up the library. In addition to books and the cost of shipping them, expenses will include rent, shelves, furniture and a dehumidifier.

St. Anthony Park Library volunteer Deena Strohman assisted Jamir and his wife, Sashila Pongen, and will continue to serve as liaison for the project. As of June, Strohman had collected and catalogued more than 1,200 books for the Nagaland project, Jamir said.

They will continue to welcome donations, especially if shipping costs can be covered for donated materials, he said.

Jamir, who completed his doctorate at Luther Seminary this spring, and Pongen will resume their posts teaching at the Oriental Theological Seminary in Dimapur. Pongen also studied at Luther Seminary, and their daughters attended schools in Roseville.

The inspiration for their Nagaland library came from watching their daughters enjoy browsing at the St. Anthony Park Library, Jamir said, and realizing the impact this would have on their education.

“Our children began to enjoy going to public libraries, getting plenty [of] books on a variety of subjects,” he said. “When we saw them learning a lot without having to spend money, we remembered how we struggled so much not being able to set aside a budget to buy books for our children.”

When their girls were very young, Jamir and his wife asked “both sides of our sisters to give us their children’s used scholastic books to read to our daughters, because they were sending their children to good private schools.”

Jamir and Pongen could not afford to send their girls to private school, “and a majority of the people are like us: poor, educated families or poor, uneducated families,” he said. “Dimapur, our hometown, is as big as Minneapolis in terms of population, and we don’t have even one children’s public library. But this is true for all of Nagaland. Nagaland does not have even one public library for children.”

Nagaland, in northeastern India, borders Burma and was under British rule from 1826 until 1947, and English is the language of education. But a strong oral tradition exists in various dialects, and Naga people do not have a strong literary tradition, Jamir said. This means the library will have to be creative about reaching out, at least to start.

“At the moment, we are in the process of creating a contextual children’s library project model,” Jamir said. They have consulted Wisconsin-born Anne Pellowski, a scholar, librarian and storyteller, who has worked internationally with the World Council of Churches, UNESCO and many other organizations.

Pellowski suggested starting with a “pocket library” format, in which large strips of fabric are mounted with pockets to hold books, and decorated to attract the interest of passing children. Then, he said, she instructed him to “stuff the pockets with books, and hang those in some homes of gifted storytellers (in villages).

“Other than that, we have yet to explore other models as we are just at the initial stage.”

While some village schools do teach in their vernaculars, Pellowski said, sometimes transliterating with the Roman alphabet, the Nagaland library will start with materials written in English. The project will also support Dimapur teachers with books on pedagogy and materials related to the courses they teach, as donations permit. But the main objective is to offer reading for pleasure.

“The Indian system of learning is by rote and mostly includes memorizing and regurgitating information,” Jamir and Strohman wrote in a grant application. “Students do not read and explore topics on their own. We hope to remedy this.”

Jamir envisions this as a family project. “My wife and I have two lovely girls, Manentila (age 12) and Achetla (9 years),” he said, “and our girls will get involved in this project in reading and narrating stories to the kids, giving puppet plays and arranging the books.”

As Jamir and Strohman noted in their grant materials, the library is about more than books. “The library will engender a sense of community and belonging in Dimapur,” they wrote.

Anne Holzman is a freelance writer and former St. Anthony Park resident, now living in Bloomington.

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