What do you do when you have over a lakh books in the warehouse and space is at a premium? You can pulp them; and at the pitiful, peanut-like sum of 8 rupees a kilo, you might stand to make a few thousand rupees. Or you can give them away, for nothing, and the smiles of a few young readers might not do much for your bank balance, but it does give you an awfully good feeling. If you like feeling warm and mushy inside, of course.
In June 2008, Pearson Education, India, sent a few truckloads of books to Varanasi. It was the culminating step of many meetings and discussions and a lot of hard work on the part of some people. And it was the first step towards literacy for hundreds of kids who had rarely had the chance to touch, let alone own, new and unused books.
Some of these books were distributed among schools funded by a programme called World Literacy of Cananda [WLC]. Some of the books went to a mobile library, a rural library and a community library supported by Rotary Club International. One lakh sixty thousand books were distributed among forty schools. And of all the pictures that I saw from that episode, I really liked this one below. The sight of three kids on a bench, sitting and reading very earnestly tells you nothing, until you put it in context. And the context here is a centre dedicated to kids suffering from mental or physical disabilities.
It’s just a drop in the ocean. Giving out a few lakh books, in a country where millions of kids don’t get a fair chance at education, is just one step on the long road to total literacy.
This year, Pearson Education is reaching out to kids with a donation of over 3 lakh books to the Bakul Library Foundation. The Bakul Foundation has big plans, which include setting up community libraries for slum kids and organising mobile libraries to reach out to rural areas. At the same time, they have some valid concerns. The biggest challenge, according to Sujit Mahapatro from Bakul, will be to ensure that these books actually benefit the children who receive them. To this end, they are planning to mobilise volunteers to engage the children’s interest in reading books in English. And the first step of this initiative was taken on 30 September in Bhubaneswar when internationally-acclaimed actor and director, Nandita Das announced the book giving as part of the celebrations of the Joy of Giving Week in India.
Now, in our country, we have three ruling passions. There’s the Great Indian Reality Show, otherwise known as elections; the Great Indian Sport, namely cricket; and the Greatest Indian obsession—movies. So, if there’s an actress in the room, all attention is likely to be focused on her. Or so one would suppose. But take a look at this photo…
Social responsibility…corporate responsibility…these are big words. At the end of the day, the smile on a kid’s face says it all.
Post script 2: And here’s what the print media had to say about the event:
The Indian Express
The Times of India