Films, books and speakers bring the world to Bristol: One World Library Project builds bridges, expands community

BRISTOL — “It’s always been just five women,” said Anne Majusiak of Bristol’s One World Library Project.
But looking at the non-profit group’s contributions over the past nine years, it seems that five women (plus a coterie of helpful volunteers) can bring the world to Bristol — and show the local community the diversity of cultures and heritages it holds within itself.
“One thing we all share is a deep curiosity about the world and an appreciation of world cultures; and it seemed like Bristol would be receptive to that, that our neighbors would also share that curiosity and appreciation,” said Majusiak, who’s been part of the group since its inception and is currently its board president.
It began as a conversation amongst friends as to how to bring a greater appreciation of world cultures to the local community, said Majusiak. Founding members also included Kyoko Davis, Mitra Samimi-Urich, Gail Martin, Elin Melchior and Anna Sun. The group’s idea was to purchase internationally focused books and films to supplement the Lawrence Memorial Library’s collection. Each book or film would bear the unique One World Library sticker and be housed in a special kiosk, so that patrons could easily identify OWLP’s international offerings.
The collection now numbers in the hundreds.
“From Mongolia to Cuba, our library patrons can travel the world, gain understanding of other cultures and learn about unknown populations,” wrote Library Director Nancy Wilson in a letter of support to the Vermont Humanities Council.
Along with books and films, the group has also offered a series of about six programs a year, typically held at the Bristol library. The first was a March 2008 presentation on Japanese bento boxes (an intricately compartmentalized Japanese lunch box that holds small portions of traditional foods).
Since that inaugural offering, the One World Library Project has hosted presentations on such diverse topics as Abenaki basketmaking, Aztec healing traditions, Inca weaving, the Botswana Book Project, Nova Scotia’s Acadian culture, and tea growing in Taiwan, as well as an afternoon of Bollywood dancing, with a chance to get one’s palms painted in traditional henna patterns.
“A huge part of all cultures is celebration,” observed Majusiak.
THE FEB. 2 PRESENTATION by Burlington’s slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change packed Holley Hall. Photo courtesy of One World Library Project
Presentations likely to burst the library’s main room to the seams — such as the Bollywood Bash or last year’s slam poetry presentation by Burlington’s Muslim Girls Making Change — have taken place at Bristol’s Holley Hall.
Earlier this fall, the One World Library Project received some very official public recognition in the form of its first grant, $2,500 from the Vermont Humanities Council.
Events are free, and participants can leave a donation — or not. Many fundraisers have involved tea, such as the Global Iced Tea booth the group hosted at Bristol’s 2017 Fourth of July Celebration. On offer was everything from Moroccan mint to Japanese barley tea to Vermont’s own traditional haymaker’s switchel (a concoction of ginger, maple syrup, molasses and cider vinegar).
Tea is also served at the start of each program.
“Serving tea is a tradition of welcome in cultures around the world,” said Majusiak. “It allows people attending our programs to be our guests.”
BOARD MEMBER MARITA Schine gestures to the group’s Global Iced Tea booth at the 2017 Bristol Fourth of July celebration. One World serves tea at the start of each presentation as a way of welcoming its audience. Photo courtesy of One World Library Project
Last month, One World opened its 2017-2018 programming with a presentation from Vermont journalist Nina Keck, who spent time this past year reporting from a Jordan refugee camp on the lives of Syrian refugees as they await resettlement. Upcoming presentations run through May 2018, and they will include Vermont folklorist Greg Sharrow on how immigrants enrich Vermont by celebrate their own cultural heritages (tonight, Oct. 12), local author Tanya Lee Stone on removing barriers to girls’ education worldwide, and a screening of “Deaf Jam,” a film about the expressive power of sign language and the disconnect between hearing and nonhearing communities.
An important aspect of the One World Library Project has been to draw on local residents as presenters.
“So many of our presenters are like hidden treasures in our community,” said Majusiak.
Also important is that presenters speak from personal experience — of their own heritage or their experiences in another culture.
“The world’s issues are big. So it’s through personal connections that they’re brought to a local level. That’s what makes it real for people in the community. The programs are heartfelt,” Majusiak said.
The opportunity to share one’s heritage with one’s neighbors has had a profound impact on presenters, as well.
Samimi-Urich recounts how important it was to her mother, father, two brothers, sister and herself to share an evening of Persian poetry and music at a One World presentation in 2009. She grew up in the Baha’i faith in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s before emigrating to the United States. As a religious minority, the family faced persecution from the Iranian government. Her father was imprisoned because of his religion, she said, and her parents experienced loss of pension, property “and a lot of hardship.”
The evening included a celebration of Nawruz, the Iranian New Year and a marking of the vernal equinox that stretches back 4,000 years. Samimi-Urich’s mother, Behjat Samimi, played a traditional hand drum and sang Persian and Azerbaijani songs. Urich-Samimi shared photos of life growing up in Iran.
The entire family was profoundly moved by event, said Urich-Samimi, especially her father, Einollah Samimi.
“Because of all that had happened to him, this program meant the world to him,” she recalled. “He said this was one of the best things that happened in his whole life. He was able to stand onstage and speak about his belief in the oneness of mankind and world peace and share his stories out in the open, in public. And the warmth that the entire family received! He got a standing ovation … So for him, at 83, at last he felt liberated.”
Remembering Einollah Samimi’s words that evening, Majusiak drew a parallel to OWLP’s continuing mission.
“In his talk, I remember how he expressed his belief, which I believe is a Baha’i saying: ‘The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.’ That is such a perfect encapsulation of what we try to do in the One World Library.”
SHARING THEIR BAHA’I faith and Persian heritage at a 2009 One World Library Project event was deeply meaningful to presenters Behjat, above left, and Einollah Samimi.Photo courtesy of One World Library Project
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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