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Western News | June 10, 2010

Most people are thinking about job prospects after graduation, but Natalia Tukhareli isn’t taking the usual road.

After completing the Library and Information Sciences master’s program, she got on a plane and made her way to Johannesburg, South Africa, to spend three months on an independent study.

She is exploring the benefits of bibliotherapy – the healing power of books – with the children living at Nkosi’s Haven, a sanctuary for mothers and children living with HIV/AIDS.

“This decision was very spontaneous,” she says. “When I was making this decision, it wasn’t related to my program or my career, it was something else – an inner calling maybe.”

Nkosi’s Haven provides shelter to 85 children, aged six months to 19 years old living with HIV/AIDS. It is named after 12-year-old Nkosi, who was South Africa’s longest surviving child born HIV positive.

Tukhareli was inspired by a guest lecturer who spoke about the sanctuary and a project by London librarians to send nearly 100 children’s books to fill the library. During this hour-long talk Tukhareli decided to make the trip.

“It’s no coincidence that I took this course and she came and she talked about the place. It was something I would never expect of myself. I changed because of this experience.”

During her program she wrote a research paper on bibilotherapy. Based on what she has learned, she developed a list of books to incorporate into the existing library collection.

“I truly believe in the consoling, even healing power of a book,” she says.

Tukhareli selected fictional books with characters children could identify with. She picked books that told stories about children of different races with HIV/AIDS living around the world.

“It gives the child a sense that he is not alone coping with this problem.”

When Tukhareli started at Western she thought she would pursue a career in academia after graduation. But that one lecture changed her life.

“Working with children, this is my focus now. It looks like I’ve found my niche.”

Lecturer Susan Getchell says Tukhareli stood out as a thoughtful and attentive student.

“She is an amazing person because she is committed to sharing her knowledge and wisdom with those in most need,” says Getchell. “A good professional job with a decent salary was a real possibility for Natalia, but an internal commitment to make a difference, however tiny it may appear, moved her into deep social engagement.

“Library science is rooted in the Humanities, in democracy. For any student to engage meaningfully in a professional life, depth of experience can only bring deeper meaning and greater knowledge.”

Becoming a librarian is a second career for Tukhareli. She completed a PhD in Russian language at Moscow State University and taught for years at a university.

After immigrating to Canada and settling in Toronto, she found little demand for teaching Russian at the university level, so she went back to school.

“Overall it was a good experience going back to school again after a long break. I’ve been a student for my whole life.”

Read the complete story: Western News

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