2018 Harpur Fellows: Tiara Roy
Senior helps build libraries in her parents' hometowns in India
Through her Harpur Fellows project, Tiara Roy learned the gift of reading is one that comes full circle.
When she was selected to receive funding to build libraries in India, the schools in her parents’ hometowns in the state of Kerala, India, were her first choice.
“Whenever we go [to India] we spend at least a month in Kerala. It’s like home,” said Roy, a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience. “I just wanted to give back to where they grew up and their home.”
Her project, “The Gift of Reading,” involved collecting books and supplies, mostly through donations from friends and family, and working with schoolteachers and principals to renovate space in two schools to be used as accessible learning zones for students, who were mostly elementary school age.
“The school is basically one long hallway, and they split it up and that’s how they have classrooms. So, they don’t really have much funding at all, let alone a library or anything,” Roy said. “The kids have no access to a computer or even encyclopedias. Everything they learn is pretty much from hand-me-down textbooks. So [the teachers] were like, ‘We could use anything to increase their access to modern technology.‘”
The schools, St. Mary’s UP Neericadu School in Kottayam, Kerala, where Roy’s father attended, and S.P.Y.L.P Sreenarayaneswara Ponnurunni School in Kochi, Kerala, allocated space for Roy to build libraries. She funded renovations, supplied the books and technology, and built the space according to each school’s needs.
“I’m not just trying to make it look pretty. I need to know what they are missing, do they want a computer, exactly what they need. When we go into specifics, one big thing is access to technology,” Roy said. “The first library had a computer, but they had no internet access, so we paid for internet for the next two to three years.”
Roy supplied the schools with the classic literature they requested, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, as well as encyclopedia sets donated from libraries back home. She also set up a sort of Dewey Decimal system and made the school an inventory that one teacher, designated as the librarian, assumed responsibility for. The schools were then able to use the library by implementing a reading hour in their daily schedules.
This is not Roy’s first go-round at building libraries in India. While in high school in Rockland County, she completed a similar project to fulfill her Girl Scout Gold Award. For that project, she renovated a space in and collected books for St. Anthony’s LP Panagad School in Kochi, Kerala, where her mother attended.
“After I finished that project, I heard back from a lot of other schools nearby who heard about the project. These village areas are very small and news travels fast,” she said. “I got a lot of requests from other schools, but at that time I was in college, so I couldn’t really do all the fundraising. That’s when I heard of the Harpur Fellows grant.”
This time around, Roy got to visit the first library she built, which had grown.
“It was just nice to see that it was being used,” Roy said. “It’s nice to see that teachers were so active about this library. It’s not in their job description to care for this library. They’re doing it for the kids.”
Roy was doing it for the kids as well. She holds a significant research background in psychology and child development and plans to attend medical school to pursue a career in those areas.
“I’m interested in how humans learn and how they need to be helped,” Roy said. “Especially kids developing. It’s such a crucial time in everyone’s life. That development stage sets the rest of your life.”
For Roy, giving back to young people in Kerala was more than a one-time project — it started a ripple effect.
“A lot more people are willing to help than you expect. After the first library, so many people contacted me saying, ‘We have books. How do we get them there?’” Roy said. “So many people in India as well. This one family heard what was happening and they wanted to sponsor a whole year of books for the following year just from seeing this. It’s like one act convinces other people they can help out somehow, too.”