October 25, 2016
Meet Muhammad Ridwan Alimuddina, the seafaring librarian
by Chad Felix
It’s true: there is no such thing as an average librarian. There are, course, camel-riding librarians, and horse-riding librarians. Patriot Act-defying librarians, absurdly generous librarians, and goddamn hero librarians. Absolutely. But there are no average librarians. Not a one.
Let us now add to that endless, endlessly inspiring list of extraordinary librarians a man named Muhammad Ridwan Alimuddina, a book- and ship-loving Indonesian man living in that nation’s western province of West Sulawesi. Alimuddina is a seafaring librarian.
In 2015, Alimuddina, an amateur documentarian and local news journalist, decided to change his life. Inspired by his love for books and maritime culture, he began building a boat (it was a baqgo, a small, traditional sailboat) with the intention of using it to promote literacy by delivering books to the children of West Sulawesi’s villages and islands.
As BBC Travel’s Theodora Sutcliffe reports, these are regions in need of such a hero: more than 10% of West Sulawei’s adult population cannot read, and the only book available to most villagers is a single shared copy of the Qur’an.
With his Perahu Pustaka, or “book boat,” complete, Alimuddina quit his job and began his new life. As often as possible (the library is run entirely on donations), he fills the vessel (it holds about 4,000 slim books) and sets out.
Alimuddina’s maritime collection is sizable and contains primarily volumes intended for children. Upon arriving at his destination (often a hundred or more miles away), he and his crew let out a thin plastic mat, which they then cover with colorful books full of cartoon characters, dinosaurs, dolphins, tales from the Qur’an, and much more. Moments later—if the children aren’t already eagerly awaiting (they often are)—a crowd gathers.
From that moment forward, goodness ensues. Siblings read books to each other. Others real aloud to themselves. Still others look upon the words and pages in silence. Of the project, Alimuddina told the BBC that he has “low expectations,” that he really just hopes that people will use the books. But we should set our subject’s humility aside, for this is not nothing — not by a long shot.
See Alimuddina, his crew, and some excited children in action below.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.