Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Center of Europe, Part 5

Vilma Meciukoniene was fresh out of college and teaching school when she wrote to Books for the World and asked the local organization for a few books to put in the "English corner" in her classroom. That was seven years ago. Despite the fact that English had become the most popular foreign language to learn since independence in 1991, there were few books in English in all of Rokiskis, Lithuania. The only resources for English teachers were a few tattered, dog-eared texts produced by the communist government that served the purpose of anti-American propaganda.

As the founder of Books for the World, I wrote Vilma back and told her that our organization doesn't send boxes of books - it's too expensive and inefficient that way; we send shipping containers instead. I explained that if she was willing to get together with teachers and librarians from an area large enough to make use of, say, 25,000 books, we'd be happy to consider her proposal.

To make a long story short, Vilma did that, and five years ago Books for the World shipped $1.2 million worth of books in English and teaching materials to northeast Lithuania. and it didn't stop there. A little later, and with the help of the Washington Rotary Club, we sent another container, with another 10,000 books, school furniture, clothing and sporting goods, to help not just schools and libraries but Arteities Vardan, a community organization in the village of Obeliai that operates a safe house for abused and neglected children.

Vilma was the force behind all this, the organizer, the cheerleader, the efficient administrator. She never really got the credit or respect she deserved for this because she was so young - just 22 when it all began.

Now 29 and still inspired and active in humanitarian activity, Vilma has moved on from teaching. She went back to school and earned a master's degree in business and now works for the city's planning department. Her marriage fell apart three years ago, and now she lives alone with her daughter, Fausta, 8, in a comfortable first-floor flat at the edge of town. She's not entirely satisfied with her new job, but she feels it's best for her and her daughter.

Vilma loves to travel. In fact, Vilma and Fausta are now in Turkey on a week-long group tour with other people from Rokiskis. For years she has dreamed of visiting the United States. But, she explains with a sad smile, "that's not possible."

As a divorced woman, young and educated, she would never receive a visa from the U.S. Our immigration officials think she is too much of a risk to stay in this country.

You know all that stuff written at the base of the Statue of Liberty? Well, it just doesn't apply anymore.

1 comment:

Airina said...

I know Vilma personally and she is really great! She is working on different projects in Rokiskis and does this very successfully!