BENGALURU: Chagaletty is a small obscure village straddled between the ever- expanding metropolis of Bengaluru and its agrarian roots. Located just a kilometre off Bagalur, this village comprising around 80 houses stands apart not because of its elders, but because of a small movement by its children.
Six kids barely in their teens started a library here about five years ago. The library that began with 200 books now has 4,200 books, and children from 15 surrounding villages trek up to it to make use of it. In 2010, Meghana, Shalini P V, Vedashree C K, Vanishree C K, Karthik N and Manasa were just kids, who used to gather at a house nearby along with their parents. Their parents used to go to the house to learn English among other things. The house belonged to the brothers Nagasimha Rao and Narasimha Prasad, who hit upon an idea. Nagasimha Rao, a noted child rights activist, says they gathered the children and started creating awareness about the rights of children and then hit upon the idea of a library.
After a two-day training with The Hippocampus Reading Foundation and the help of the Child Rights Trust, the library was started at his home.
The library was run by the children themselves, who were called leaders. The idea was such a success that within eight months, a UK-based Foundation approached them hailing the idea and provided funding to open 10 more centres in backward areas. At present, there are 24 such rural libraries in Chamarajanagar, Vijayapura, Dharwad, Ballari, Gadag and Chitradurga. Even now, after the founding members are well into college, they find time to actively participate in the workings of the library, which aptly comes has a tagline — By the children and for the children.
“The libraries are backed by a 15-member advisory council and each of them donates `200 a month. We use this money to maintain the books and organise activities,” Shalini says. The library stays open for two hours every day, and is open on weekends too. In addition, the six members have put in practice the concept of mobile libraries — for which they go to nearby schools and lend books. The children have also conducted a child census in the village, and also helped Health Department officials ensure that children of migrant labourers in the nearby areas have access to polio vaccination.
As children finish school and troop into the library, it is evident that it is not just the books, but the positive social environs that attract the kids. The books are demarcated by colour labels based on the reading capacity of the child.
A Ray of Hope For School Dropouts
In the small hamlet of Mangala just off Bandipur, the children coming to the rural library are not coming from school. The closure of the government school due to low enrolment meant that they had to travel several kilometres to the nearest school. It also meant passing through forests and coming across wild animals. And so they stopped going to school.
This lamentable fact has been repeated in many places and the reasons are not always same. Whether it is the fear of wild animals, family issues or migration, the reason for dropping out of school are many. But occasionally, there is an alternative option like the rural library in Mangala and in Ajjampura in Chamarajanagar, where the children have made the library a proxy school.
In Gadag, the barely one-month-old library opened in the city itself boasts of 100 members. Raghunath Patil, who is overseeing the management of the library, says that they are focusing on migrant families that have settled in large numbers in Gadag. “Families come here to get work like laying pipelines, cables and digging ditches and the children do not attend any schools. We are convincing them to send their children to the library but it is not an easy task,” he confesses. Parents try to run away when they see Patil and his team approaching them and it is only after repeated visits, that some parents have finally begun sending their children to the library. So glad is Patil that they have begun to trust him, that he does not intend to broach the the topic of `10 required for getting a membership!
In Padaganuru in Sindhagi taluk in Vijayapura, a rural library started for children who are HIV-positive, has now become a melting pot of sorts where they mingle comfortably with the children of migrants and lambani tandas also using the library. “We have around 92 children coming here and all of them go to school as well. We are now trying to reach more of the migrant population, where a good 40 per cent of children have dropped out of school,” Vasudev Tolabandi, who works with HIV-positive children, says.
An opportunity to re-enrol school dropouts has presented itself through these libraries. The district of Chamrajanagar has three libraries, where in the village of Chikkabegur, school dropouts have first been made members of the library and then slowly convinced to go back to school. “Several children had dropped out due to family issues, but along with community members, we have managed to get them admitted in school again,” says Anand S N of Mobility India, who is overseeing the functioning of all the three libraries.
Grow By colour Concept Used in The Libraries
Books are classified into colours by the reading ability and age of a child. The colours are green, red, orange, white, blue and yellow. Green are for those who can identify pictures or drawings. The next stage carries words ending with yellow category which might be a novel. Books are affixed with labels of these colour codes making it easier to identify. Most children progress in rural areas to the orange level and then the going is a little slow. Finding Kannada books, which are in the basic colours of green, red and orange, is not very easy. While books in the higher levels are plenty, basic-level books with pictures and single word or sentence associations are fewer in number. The lack of variety in these categories make it difficult to sustain the interest of the kids, as they get bored after reading the same book a few times. While older boys after completing Class 10 leave to find easily available jobs as drivers, delivery boys and gas station attendants and girls face a different kind of problem. Parents are reluctant to send the girls to libraries after the girls attain puberty as they are worried about the presence of boys.