Indonesian tofu seller who dropped out of school makes it his life mission to spread love for reading

JAKARTA: It was 6am and the sun had just risen in Pasirhuni village, West Java, but Rudiat was already busy sorting out many books.

The tofu seller placed dozens of books in two boxes at the back of his motorbike, along with another box containing bundles of tofu. He then headed off to several villages in the rural Cimaung district.

Selling tofu has been Rudiat’s main source of income for the past decade or so. However, he regards spreading literacy as his life mission.

When he visits his customers in the villages, the 43-year-old also lends them books. 

“I bring books which suit them. If I go to a village where the majority of my tofu customers are farmers, I will bring along books about farming like how to raise ducks.

“But if the villagers are mostly housewives, I will lend them books about parenting and topics like child rearing,” he told CNA. 

Although he earns about 1.5 million rupiah (US$105) per month, lower than West Java’s minimum wage of about 1.8 million rupiah, he has always set aside 2.5 per cent of his income to buy books.  

Rudiat, who goes by one name, has bought around 3,500 books since he started working 25 years ago. He also has about 2,500 books from donors who learned about his volunteer work.

“I call them tofu books. If there is tofu, there are books. Books make you smart and tofu makes you healthy,”  he said, adding that he does not mind even if the books are not returned.

Initially started as a small personal initiative, Rudiat’s efforts have since won him a group of loyal readers. These days, a few dozen people would convey their reading preferences via text messages daily, before he is scheduled to visit their village the next day.

He even visits tea plantations in Pangalengan about 20km to 30km away from his home to bring tofu and books to villagers. The feather in his cap was a meeting with President Joko Widodo to share his experience.


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