While still in high school, P S Nandini decided to help children develop a love of literature, and managed to get her friends on board for a project to set up libraries in schools situated in slum areas. They named it the Keni Project, after kenaru the Tamil word for well, symbolizing the depth of knowledge.
But where did it all begin? The inception of Keni goes back to when Nandini and her friend Meera Viswanathan would talk about doing something for the community. Gathering other young minds was their first step. “Nandini decided to form a team, and I roped in my friends Sanjana, Dravina and Jayaraman (JJ) and we formed the core team," says Meera.
Funds were not a problem, because the founder had won the Change Makers Conference in 2013 and received Rs 30,000 as prize money. The Keni teambegan by hunting for books -- and left no page unturned. "Over the years we received books from donors from as far away as Dubai. Some of the donorsregularly send us entire cartons. Our book donations may not always be new, they are going to make a difference to a child. We also sell old newspapers and use the money to buy books," the Keni Team say.
Although their planning was meticulous, the team had its fair share of issues in the beginning. They struggled to convince schools to agree to participate. They set up their first library in Karpagavalli Vidyalaya, Mylapore. The team thought it was important to help kids understand the process of learning and unlearning — through weekly sessions where English was taught through crosswords and puzzles. After a few sessions, the team observed the progress of the students. They were able to understand English, recognize words, and form phrases. "They started to go and pick out books, and that's all we wanted; for them to be passionate enough to take a book and read it. The dream of Keni is to spread curiosity among children and make them want to read books," says Meera.
At a time when everything is available online, The Keni Project still stresses the importance of books, something that is striking not only in appeal but also in terms of finesse.“Underprivileged children don’t have access to non-curricular books. That is why Keni is important, it’s not just about education; it’s more than that,” says Nandini, who is studying at Sastra University. So what's next? “We’re working on setting up a library in a school in Bangalore. We also want to reach out to more schools in Chennai. Any school that has heard of us and are interested in setting up a Keni library can contact us directly,” she adds.
Our sessions involve laptops, games, and any activity that engage students and help them understand that learning can be interesting and that classrooms don't always have to be boring.
It’s essential for everyone to be literate as it gives them a source of independence. Literacy provides freedom. Once you provide someone with literacy, you're opening doors to a new world; a world filled with opportunities and that makes a huge difference.