Jenta Reads: Changing The Narrative Through Books


Last December I got a message on Sarautas Instagram page from a young man who introduced himself as Lengdung. He is a member of the Jenta Community Initiative and he wanted Sarauta Magazine to come and take a look at the wonderful things happening in Jenta. I have lived in Jos most of my life but I can’t remember ever being to Jenta. The only memory I have of Jenta was from my primary school days at Alama Private School where Red house was called Jenta House. I also knew some parts of Jos city were known as Jenta such as Jenta Adamu, Jenta Apata, Jenta Mongumo but I had never been to any of them. After a lengthy conversation with my new friend, I was convinced this story is worth telling to a larger audience so we agreed to meet over the weekend.

Lengdung Tungchamma is his full name, but he prefers to simply be called Lengdung. In 2009, his life experienced a seismic change when his mother died during the birth of a younger sibling. The child did not survive either.  His mother was everything to him so, life became boring, meaningless and hard. This sent him into a time of reflection about life, death and purpose. One day, he came across a Bible in a house in the neighbourhood and he began reading. In his words, “That first reading was the beginning of a journey of reading more books and adventures for God.�? Within a few years, Lengdung has read some books that were instrumental to shaping how he thinks and carries himself today. After graduating from secondary school, Lengdung became involved in his local church where he formed a bond with other book lovers; Philip, Peter Kurdor, Timchang Wazhi and Sunenna Andrew. He writes sometimes and he is a dedicated follower of Jesus.

Lengdung gave a sneak peek into what the Jenta Community Initiative is about and how it all began

Jenta Reads: Changing The Narrative Through Books

A cross-section of guests at the opening of the Jenta community library

Jenta Reads Community Initiative is an idea that began on Facebook through a post by Philip Dimka, who is currently the coordinator of the movement.  Jenta Reads is all about using the tool of education as an unconventional means to create change in Jenta, a suburb in Jos which has become synonymous with crime, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse. In Jenta, Drug abuse is an accepted lifestyle, teenage pregnancy is rampant and the number of school dropouts outnumbers those who are in school. The Jenta Reads Community Library is one of the educational tools used to make an impact.  The library is an information centre, a hub for sharing knowledge and a platform for incubating and initiating ideas. We believe in the practicality of knowledge hence we engage in actions inspired by what we learned from the books we read. For instance, we ran the project H2O earlier this year which provided over 800 gallons of water because water is a big challenge in Jenta. We also coordinated some road repair projects. Jenta Reads Community Initiative is also about people deciding what kind of future they want. It’s about a {sic} people asking, WHAT CAN I DO FOR JENTA?  The problems in this place are too much, and we are working towards raising a generation that will solve these problems. Can you imagine what will happen if we are able to educate everyone in Jenta? The future is bright.

Asides from the passion for Nigeria and its immediate society, Lendung speaks of a driving force and catalyst that motivated him and his friends to birth the Jenta Community Initiative

We are followers of Jesus. The first cluster of five who started Jenta Reads (Phillip, Peter, Timchang, Andrew and I) worshipped in the same church. After every fellowship day, we will meet and discuss Nigeria, about education, about government, about our lives, our Christian experience and many times about our community. Evidently, there is a problem in Jenta. We constantly asked ourselves, as sons of God…as believers… {sic} As the light of the world, what can we do here? What solution can we offer this place? Jenta Reads is our way of living as the light of the world, a manifestation of our belief in a God who loves us and equips us to love others. Of course, there are other minor details that added up to bring Jenta Reads to fruition but the fact that it is our Christian response to a community that has been regarded as GRA (Government Rejected Area) is the most important.

Listening to Lengdung talk about the different challenges the Jenta community is facing, made me wonder how the community would welcome this initiative. This is because the Jenta Community Initiative is more like an antithesis of the norms of that community and some people are definitely benefiting from the illicit activities going on in Jenta. So I asked how the community responded to the whole idea of bringing “sanity�? to the community and whether they are noticing visible improvements

Wow! The people of this community, especially the young people, have been the runners of Jenta Reads. Because of what I’ve seen, it is clear that something like Jenta Reads would have come up even if we had not started it. Everyone has been waiting for a solution and we are glad that this initiative was the answer. When we started, we had no library space so we collected the books in our homes but every day the books were increasing. Young people gave books with all their heart and this surprised us greatly. The older generation and the community leaders have always been very supportive. They are constantly checking out for us and seeing how far we have come. I remember when we went to Abuja and returned, almost every mother in our community congratulated us. They were deeply aware and very passionate about all that we are doing. We haven’t done mass publicity about Jenta Reads within the community but I can say that everyone in Jenta knows about Jenta Reads. Who told them? Others who heard about it and could not keep silent {sic}.

For a movement that started some years back, I noticed a level of organization and teamwork. I was curious to hear what the journey was like at the nascent stage in comparison to how far they have come today. Lengdung on his part was willing to take a trip down memory lane and share some of the experiences they went through as a unit. He said:

After Philip put up that Facebook post on 4th July 2017, the five people I mentioned earlier (Phillip, Peter, Timchang, Andrew and I) met and discussed how to ground Jenta Reads from an idea stage into a real existing substance. After that, we met with a larger group of about 15 young people from the community. We wrote something called a foreword and shared it with everyone who cared to listen. One particular person who listened to us differently was Mrs Nadine Maalum. She did more than we will thank her enough for. She advised us on various aspects of setting up the organization and motivated us to go on.

After some time we began to receive donations from outside the community, one early donor was Mr Jerry Anze who gave us books worth 10,000 naira. Some early donors were Miss Atong, who gave us cartons filled with books; Mrs Kanke Sallako, who sent us books from Lagos and Mrs Saratu. However, most of the books we had, came from donations from friends, friends who gave 1 book, 2 books or 10 books. The list of those ones is longer than this interview.

Our big break came when Thaine Norris visited us in May 2018. When he came we had gotten a small room in our community. It was donated by Mr Justin, a community resident who is passionate about reading too. Few months after he left, we received the Abuja Global Shapers and Selfless for Africa Emerging Leaders Community Project Award after winning a national pitching competition which empowered us with 1.1 Million Naira to get this space that we are currently using. Mr Thaine came back with Mr Eb in December, and we are looking to having them some more.

We currently have an ICT space, with an internet connection to a local hotspot and e-library resource with over 50,000 ebooks and more books than I can really say. We are still cataloguing those. It’s been a long, adventurous journey. We didn’t have anything when we started, we still don’t have but God has always provided in His own specific way.

For Lengdung and his team, starting such an initiative with little or no resources has not been an easy task and this becomes apparent as he begins to talk about sterner issues.

What we are trying to do in Jenta is to lead a radical cultural change. Let me be honest, it’s hard. I’m quite excited that people are using the library constantly and that people are beginning to have access to materials that could shape their lives in better ways. But let’s see this for a moment {sic}. Our goal is not just to have people read. We want to see people with a lifestyle that is healthy, safe and glorifying to God. We need people to stop dumping refuse in the river, to start washing their hands after using the toilets, to stop dumping plastics anyhow, to stop littering the street, to start creating enterprises that create wealth for them, to stop using drugs, to start pursuing the education with higher regard, to stop illicit sex which mostly leads to teenage pregnancy, to stop picking their nose when in a public space, to start handling books with care, to start thinking solutions for the roads, water and electricity challenges and to start reading instead of spending time on gossip. We are facing a cultural battle and it is our major challenge but we are sure that these dark days are over. Our light has come.

Jenta Reads: Changing The Narrative Through Books

Thaine Norris and Eb heard about Jenta Reads through the internet and have been instrumental in its growth

For a library found deep in the suburbs of Jos, one might wonder the kinds of books available in such a library. Lengdung replies confidently:

I will answer this by quoting Mr Eb literally, “The books that you can get in the New York library”. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but we have some of the best books in the world presently. We have this book titled “Adventurers for God”, right now, I feel it is the only copy in the world. (Laughing). I had recommended it to Thaine after reading but he sadly replied that he could not get a copy in the United States. We currently have “Becoming Michelle Obama�? by Michelle Obama, published in December 2018. Our book list is pretty impressive. Many thanks to all those who donated these books. I am sad to say that we have very few Nigerian books, those are usually hard to get and very expensive. You will find any kind of book you seek.

Jenta Reads: Changing The Narrative Through Books

Members of the community and beyond have made the library a place of fun and interaction

The Jenta Community Initiative story is an inspiring one which I believe young people around Nigeria can take a cue from so I was quick to ask Lengdung for some parting words of inspiration for young people out there and he did not hesitate to share

In 1931 when Thomas Edison died, the Governor of New Jersey asked the citizens of his state to turn off their bulbs for a moment just so they will know what the world will be like if Thomas Edison, the man who invented the incandescent bulb, had not been born. It was total, abysmal darkness.

How different will the world be like because you lived? Start working on that. You’re the answered prayer. You’re the city on a Hill.  Here’s a quote by Rob Siltanen:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that really do”.

These young boys from Jenta had come together to shine a light on their community in the little way they can. What really got me was the fact that they didn’t really have much at their disposal when they embarked on this mission but they moved with faith that change can happen. I left Jenta that evening with joy in my heart that, amidst all the evil around us, people are still out there trying their best to make light outshine the darkness.

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