A Book Reading Event for This International Literacy Day

The satisfaction of doing something for the underprivileged children

Image Copyright ©Samarth Srivastava

A bell rang in my head as soon as I received an email from Pratham Books to become a #PBChamp and conduct a book reading event for children this International Literacy Day.

I knew I had to do it.

The folks at Pratham Books are generous in that they provide a book, free of cost, to be read out to children anywhere in the country and beyond. To wherever you want to take the reading mission. This year’s book was “Kottavi Raja And His Sleepy Kingdom” by Yashaswini Sampathkumar.

So the first part of the puzzle, what to read, is sorted, without any licencing complications etc.

The second important thing one needs to work out is where to read?

This part of the puzzle is also made easy by Pratham Books by providing flexibility of options — streets, bookstores, schools, building or society compounds, parks, cafes — wherever you can gain access freely.

This time, therefore, I wished to take the reading experience to a school where such activities are very hard to come by. I was helped by an angel named Saloni Bansal, a student at Avadh Girls Degree College in Lucknow.

This college and the Avadh Ladies Club runs a school called Avadh Junior High School for children from underprivileged homes in its vicinity. The total strength of the school is about 35 odd students belonging to various grades from nursery to class 8.

Myself (left) and Saloni (right) at the school’s entrance

Saloni did the arduous task of getting the permission and organizing the event at this school. She also handled the logistics and made the event a breeze for me to conduct. God bless her spirit!

We started the event at 8.45 am and concluded it at 10.45 am. This was a first of its kind experience for me.

We conducted the reading in Hindi, the mother-tongue and most easily understood language for these children. This sorted the third important aspect — how to read.

The teachers at the school, Bittu Sharma, Anjali Sharma and Savita were all very cooperative. It is no mean task to keep children in the age groups 3–6 in their seats for an hour long reading activity. Especially, when they have never had such an experience!

Image copyright ©Neha Srivastava

It was encouraging that the older children, belonging to different grades from class 1 to class 8, were able to participate in the reading activity. The children were not just rapt in attention, they were able to respond and participate, a big achievement in my mind.

The level of education in these community schools is still pretty low. I realized that individual reading had not been a focal point of education as these kids fumbled through their reading. But for a first of its kind experience, their participation alone showed their spirit for learning.

The reading session was interspersed with questions and answers. We also conducted a quiz session at the end of the reading session. I was extremely pleased with the response level at the end of the session.

We concluded the day’s activity with a coloring contest. The children were provided with the outline of Kottavi Raja and they had to color it using their imagination.

Image Copyright ©Neha Srivastava

The activity ended with a prize distribution ceremony. Prizes were given to the top three winners. Five consolation winners were also announced.

Sonam Kashyap, class 6–1st prize
Neha, class 7–2nd prize
Aman, class 4–3rd prize
Adarsh, Class 2 — consolation prize
Asif, class 3 — consolation prize
Neelam Rao, class 1 — consolation prize
Sadhna, class 1 — consolation prize
Sunita, class 3 — consolation prize

The task is upon us

The joy wrought on the faces of these kids gave me the ultimate inner satisfaction of a task well done. No need for any certifications, those smiles were enough.

The activity has made me ponder that perhaps reading as an activity requires much more attention than it currently receives in most parts of my country, especially in schools for the underprivileged.

And perhaps, it is time for more of us from the privileged education backgrounds to pick up the mantle of this service and take it to the grass-root levels.

It would also be awesome if we can convert this into a worldwide mission through collaborative efforts of all of us who love to read and write. I don’t yet have a working module for it but this activity can greatly benefit the future generations and hence, we must think, together.

This International Literacy Day/Week has been special for me. These children need our help and we must not hold back.

We could also form a group for the reading mission, just thinking out loud. There are several agencies such as the UNICEF, UNESCO etc. that are doing their bit. But every little effort matters. And at the end of the day, such things give real purpose to our lives :)

International Literacy Day was on September 8th. This activity was conducted on September 9th as it was a Saturday. More people can and must join the literacy mission to make reading and knowledge a way of life for the future generations.

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