Q&A: ANU Law student Christina Lee talks about her initiative to combat human trafficking through technology and education

ANU Student Christina Lee,smiling  holding a Koombook

I will give everything I have into anything I can do to eliminate injustice, such as modern slavery, in our international communities through education

Meet Christina Lee, a second-year Arts/Law student who is travelling to Batase Village, Nepal with a team of ANU student volunteers to witness the opening of a new library she helped create. The library is the outcome of an international project that was initiated by Christina after her first visit to Batase Village in 2016.

Delivered in collaboration with Libraries Without Borders (Paris, France) and Friends of Himalayan Children (Cairns, Australia), the library is the first project of its kind in Nepal and aims to tackle the issue of human trafficking through technology and education.

Volunteers and organisations from various countries have been involved in the design, fundraising and the construction of the library. Thanks to crowdfunding, the project team raised nearly $40,000 for the construction of a physical library building and the purchase of a virtual library, known as a KoomBook, which Christina describes as ‘the digital library of the future’.  

The physical library building is the final stages of construction and will open its doors on 25 December 2018.

What was the motivation behind the initiative to create a library in Batase Nepal?

In 2016, I visited Batase Village in Nepal. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience to finally see the village and the people I met there were the most beautiful human beings. However, behind their smiles, they had traumatic scars.

The girls, their sisters and mothers constantly fall victims of human trafficking when they are sent to India with the false promise of hope. From that moment on, I decided that I will give everything I have into anything I can to eliminate injustice, such as modern slavery, in our international communities through education.

After I returned from Nepal, I had to do something. So I wrote an email to Libraries Without Borders based in Paris and I asked them if I could lead their first Nepal project – a digital library that aims to tackle the issue of human trafficking through latest technology.

Last December, as an intern, I had a month to convince the team in Paris that I can transform the idea into a project – fully led by university students. One year later, due to successful crowdfunding and a formation of an incredible team of ANU Students (ANU TAKE ON NEPAL) the library building is now going under its final renovation and we will open the library on Christmas Day. This project showed me that anything is possible.

What is Koombook?

KoomBook is the digital library of the future. Both autonomous and ultra-portable, the KoomBook works without an internet connection to provide access to information and learning even in the most remote locations.

The compact and lightweight KoomBook provides wireless access to thousands of educational and cultural resources such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy, TEDtalks, cinema collection, a curated selection from the Gutenberg Library, and thousands of other documents and videos.

It also has a media centre which allows users to locally upload documents and videos, allowing the community can continuously and permanently improve the core content.

Our KoomBook is special – as we have also created and included videos to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking and to educate the girls and women of the village.

How are you feeling now that the KoomBook is almost here, and that you’re about to head back to Nepal to open the library?

The KoomBook arrived here on the 20th of November from Paris and the moment I opened it, it finally felt real. When I think of the happiest I’ve been in my life, I think of my time in Batase, and I am very excited to return to the same spot – where I also found out that I was accepted into ANU Law!

I also remember walking down the streets of Paris last year during my internship, and dreaming about the day the KoomBook arrives into my hands – and now it is no longer just a dream.

How many people from ANU will be joining you in Batase?

There are 12 incredible undergraduate students joining me (from across all Colleges) and 1 student from the Queensland University of Technology. We are a team of all women and I would describe our team as – powerful, persistent and passionate.

What sort of things have you been telling them about what to expect in Batase, and what you will be doing there?

Even though our core goal is to build and open the library – everyone has their own ‘Passion Project’.

For instance, we have dance, self-defence, gymnastics, sports, cultural storytelling, photography initiatives all planned out. We will be teaching in the village school, distributing donated goods such as female sanitary kits made by the Days For Girls Canberra Team and also immersing ourselves into the village life.

We will also be visiting surrounding villages and spending most of our time painting the library building, training the users on how to access the KoomBook and creating the library space, a place where everyone is welcome.

I truly look forward to showing our team a place that changed and challenged me.

Do you have any figures on how many people helped your fundraising, or how much money you raised?

Yes! Over 500 people donated from 14 countries and reached nearly $40,000. We were not sponsored by any large companies, the project was made possible by the people of our communities.

I have learnt that when I speak about this project to an audience, there is always one person who is listening. One person who truly, genuinely cares. And that is what makes me keep going.

What have you heard from village leaders in Batase about your upcoming visit?

The closest library is in Kathmandu – which is a two day hike from the village. The library is more than a simple collection of books, it is an innovative tool that can fight instability and social inequality, allowing people to develop creative ideas and build new skills.

The people of Batase are aware of the impact of libraries and believe in their influence. Many students and teachers of Batase have exclaimed that to have a library would be a dream come true – we now know that their dreams will come true soon!

Once you open the library, will you be doing a review in future to see if it’s working, if children are staying in Batase?

Yes absolutely. We will be sponsoring a local resident to work as a full time librarian and this person will be reporting back to me on the progress of the library. I will be in constant contact with the teachers and see what improvements we can make.

The KoomBook also collects data, which can be accessible every time it is updated – and we will be able to see what contents are in need and what the users enjoy the most.

Was there anything else about the experience you wanted to mention?

I have some special people I would like to say a big thank you from the bottom of my heart. Firstly, my high school: Cairns State High School and the We Can Human Rights Team for all the fundraising efforts.

Secondly, Libraries Without Borders for believing in me and my idea from the very beginning. Thirdly, SkoolBo – Shane Hill and his incredible team for the generous gift of their educational apps for our tablets.

Of course – ANU College of Law for giving me the opportunity to study and also live out what I am so passionate about. The professors, the staff, the students and especially to the Philippa Weeks family for recognising my passion and giving me the financial stability to carry out international projects.

Also to all the strangers who listened to me. Finally, my incredible team ANU Take on Nepal – the fact that I get to live this journey with 13 others makes it unbelievably special.

So what now?

I want to ask you, what is your passion? What is that something special inside you? Or something that keeps you up at night, or makes you want to wake up the next morning? Whatever that is, hold on to it and follow it.

So I encourage, I ask, I urge you to use your talent, your skills, your time and your heart. Remember, this library blossomed from an email I was so afraid to send last year, and the library was brought to life by people who saw the possibility.

And now I know that their dreams will come true because of you guys, your time and your love for these people. Many libraries are changing lives around the world, but this library is going to get built because of you. So I want to say a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart. You make it all possible.

More details on Christina's project can be found here and on Instagram @anutakeonnepal  

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team