I grew up in a house with two big cupboards full of books – mostly classic pieces of literature, authored by prominent Bengali writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra and others. During my summer vacations, often, I was kept occupied with these books, against my wishes. My mother was a very strict lady, hence I hardly got any courage to express my discontent. Eventually, as I grew up, I realized how she had helped me in developing the right values, principles, beliefs and a refined perception of reality at an early age; hence, making me better prepared for my future.
Reading is not a luxury
I was very keen to be a part of Share A Book India Association when I came to know that this organization is putting in efforts to set up libraries for the underserved schools. Having contributed my bit, I’m even more proud to have joined as a volunteer because SABIA doesn't stop just at donating books to these schools. Keeping in consideration the short attention span of children, there are volunteers who put in an honest effort in helping the children develop a sincere habit of reading through regular storytelling sessions, teaching them social etiquettes and engaging in activities like origami, crafts, enacting a character and writing. Keeping children engaged is definitely the key.
My four-month long journey thus began, with me and my fellow volunteers asking the students to write down, why they needed a library. ‘We want to read more books so that our English speaking gets better',wrote Kritika, a grade seven student. ‘I want to become an astronaut but we do not have enough books here to help me achieve my dream', wrote Khusboo during our first session.
The kids only have their textbooks, assigned by the State Government; but they are deprived of access to literature, poetry, dramas and other books. It was disheartening to hear from the TFI fellow in the school how a good number of children drop out of school due to lack of a proper system. But on the other hand, the enthusiasm and excitement of the thirty-five twelve years olds kept us motivated.
"Didi, can you please bring us all the Harry Potter Books?"
"Didi, next week, we want to hear a story from Russia!"
"Didi, whenever I see you, you make me think of Ruskin Bond"
"Didi, I already read four books from the shelf and one very fat book; fatter than the one you are holding"
"Didi, when we get promoted to class 8, can we still continue reading the books you got us?"
It is satisfying to see such an enthusiastic response every Saturday. The students are always keen on learning a new form of art, listening to stories from different cultures and faraway countries, responding maturely to character-building videos regarding helping others, respecting elders, right to education, etc.
As Audre Lorde, rightly had penned down, "Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action." Taking poetry as an analogy to reading books, she emphasizes the importance of reading for the minority & less privileged section of the society, reversing the capitalist notion of reading as a luxury.
A small but RIGHT step taken…
Neeyati & Dhruv, two volunteers from SABIA, Team Mumbai, conducted an assessment class where they asked the children to write a short piece on a few topics. While around 85% of the class managed to write about 10 lines using the words they had learned in the previous sessions, they were blown away by the innocence spilled into these short essays. Let’s consider the strong determination of this young girl who writes about her wish to ban tobacco & alcohol and promote gender equality if given superpowers. Another student writes that if he were a crorepati, he would want to distribute his newfound wealth to the families of the Pulwama Martyrs.
SABIA believes that stories are the most fundamental way in which we can pass on important values to the children; either told through books, pictures, drama, dance or videos. It is very important for children to develop a critical perspective about engaging in social action. "We want to distribute some of the books to the children who are not getting an education so that they can also learn how to read", says Sujit & Rohit, two Class VII students, when asked how they want to make use of the library books. A small boy read aloud in the class that he felt very bad when he misbehaved with his mother because he realized that his mother worked so hard to fulfill all his wishes.
All these experiences make us believe that even as volunteers, we are doing something right to influence the children in the right direction - a small step but right step is being taken in helping the children to become better citizens of the country. We believe, that SABIA is helping these children to build a shield against the unfortunate adversities of their section of the society through books, which would enable them to develop a sense of right attitude since an early age. With the help of its Library Development Program, SABIA is determined to create the first of endless ripples in the education system through storytelling, helping each child to hold on to their innocence, dream full-heartedly and make their future more rewarding.
By Debasmita Das