Choki Wangmo

Never in her eight years did Keetsho Tenzin Pema read like in the past 15 days of the nationwide lockdown. Every day, the eight-year-old reads 10 children’s books. She has read 150 books to date. Recently, she competed in an online video contest ‘My reading experience during lockdown’ and came second.

An initiative of 10 pages a day reading journey, the competition engaged young people like Keetsho Tenzin Pema to be meaningfully engaged during the lockdown. The participants shared a minute-long video on their reading experience during the lockdown. More than 200 entries were submitted out of which 163 qualified for the contest.

The organisers said that there were more female participants.

In her video, Keetsho talked about Bum Chung Chung Chi Namkhai DawThe Lion KingCindrella, and Rapunzel. “Reading is more important than winning this contest,” she said.

Although she misses going to school and meeting friends, she said that the lockdown gave her the much-needed time for reading. When not reading, she spends her time painting, drawing, taking cooking lessons, playing with her brother, and doing basic household chores. She has a huge collection of books. She, however, said that it was difficult to get appropriate and varieties of books for her age.

A reader since four, she likes reading Disney books and local writers like Kunzang Choden, Chador Wangmo, and Indra K Vishwa.

Her mother, a teacher, Padma Zimba, said that she would never let her kids give up on reading. “I make sure she reads more and use smartphone less. We have a reading ritual every night before going to bed.”

Another participant from Phuentsholing, 11-year-old Salsang Selden Dorjee, said that she read 20 books during the lockdown.  She has a small collection of books at home but said that it was hard to share books for those who cannot afford to buy.

She said that she used to read in the past but not as much as she could in the last 15 days. “I will keep up the reading habit even after the lockdown ends,” she said.

Initiatives like the video competition, according to her, is an opportunity for young children share their knowledge. A language lover, she said she would not win the contest since it was competitive.

The winners of different age groups, who were selected through total number of likes and share in Facebook, were awarded mobile data packages supported by the teachers of Lobesa lower secondary school in Punakha.

The founder, Sonam Norbu, said that sharing videos could help motivate children to read during lockdown. “Earlier, we decided to award books but because of the lockdown we couldn’t,” he said.

Currently, the 10 pages a day reading journey, inspired by His Majesty’s vision to create a well-read Bhutan, has 3,687 registered participants. One can join the initiative by registering with a Google form and committing to read 10 pages a day.

Participants can then send their reading data, book reviews and book talks to the organisers. Under the initiative, eight free open libraries were set up in different locations before the lockdown. Such libraries are expected to give access to books for  children in remote areas.