IDUKKI: Well-stocked libraries are the last thing one would hope to see in the wilderness of Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Idukki. That too in a place with the lowest literacy rate in Kerala, where Muthuvan and Mannan tribal families live in 11 separate settlements.
But a social initiative by the forest officials of Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary not only has set up libraries in five settlements but also has transformed the villages into a hub of learning.
“The tribal settlements have less than 10 per cent of youth who have cleared Class 10. Even they are unable to read and write effectively,” Chinnar Assistant Wildlife Warden P M Prabhu. “Besides, tribal schools are severely disadvantaged being far away from learning centres. Lack of appropriate books or written materials for children also hamper their studies. It was clear that a supportive learning environment was needed for the children to help them learn well,” he said.
Seeing the children’s love for books and the tribal parents’ curiosity to learn things to question and ask for their rights, forest officials of CWS started an initiative named “Bodhi” and shared their plan with the public on Facebook in December 2015. “Since then, as many as 20,000 books have flown into the libraries here from various educational institutions, organisations, environmentalists and the public. Cochin Adventure Foundation also played a major role in contributing books,” he said.
With public responding with enthusiasm, the Forest Department secured financial assistance from the Anamudi Forest Development Agency to construct five libraries in settlements at Alampetty, Chambakkadu, Iruttalakkudy, Palappetty and Puthukkudy. “Construction of libraries in the remaining six settlements is on progress,” said Prabhu.
These initiatives are making gradual change in the tribal belt. “They were shy and hardly spoke up initially. But once the libraries were functional, villagers themselves came asking for books,” said Mini Kashi, librarian and social worker at Chinnar.