The Last Mile

The “last mile” is a term used by telecommunications industry to describe the final leg in the journey to connect a person to a network. I’m experiencing my own last mile with Victor. Since the school year began we haven’t been doing the Reading Kingdom, because Victor doesn’t have internet access in his living quarters. Many other supportive conditions are present – Victor has a loving mom, a shelter, a computer, a tutor, and a reading program which he desires to do. But the last requisite step is not yet in place.

In the meantime, I’ve had a much easier time introducing the Reading Kingdom to other underprivileged kids in Los Angeles through after school programs and learning centers. I’ve also been talking to some Bhutanese about setting up the Reading Kingdom through a nonprofit in their country. Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom nestled between India and China, whose king, in 2008, voluntarily switched from a monarchy to a democracy. Often dubbed as the happiest place on earth, it’s known for its gorgeous mountainous terrain and its efforts to enter the modern world with its culture and environment intact.

Bhutan has been made more accessible to me by my friend Lisa Napoli whose forthcoming book, Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth, chronicles her adventures in Bhutan. (Pre-order it. You’ll love it.) Because of Lisa, I recently met with a group of Bhutanese visiting L.A., one of whom, Thinley Choden, is the country director for READ Global Bhutan, which recently helped to build a library in a remote rural village called Ura. You can read more about the READ library in Ura, Bhutan in Lisa’s story on NPR’s The World .

Thinley wants to use the Reading Kingdom in Bhutan. She and I share a vision of democratizing the learning of reading. We’re also excited about fostering cultural exchange and connecting kids using the Reading Kingdom in Bhutan and in the US with each other. There’s one small glitch. The library in Ura does not yet have Internet access, nor does most of Bhutan. In a country of fewer than 700,000 people, only about 50,000 are online.

So when Thinley told me that Internet access is coming soon, I was skeptical.

“Actually, I saw huge coils of fiber optic cable on my very long drive across the country,” Lisa told me, “They also have a very sophisticated cell network already. Remember the King is thirty and is the Internet generation personified!”

I wonder who will get Internet connectivity first, one little boy in the heart of Los Angeles, or the participants of the READ library in Ura, Bhutan? I hope that someday they’ll be able to meet each other online.

(In the meantime, we’re organizing a book drive to send children’s books to this Bhutanese library. If you have used children’s books you’d like to donate let me know by leaving a comment below.)

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