To bring a library to those who cannot afford books, eight Dharavi girls, belonging to economically weaker sections, have raised $5000 to start a community library in their area. “Friends” library, started by the Class IX girls from Guru Nanak High School and Kamarajar Memorial High School in Dharavi, stores all varieties, including comics, literature and science fiction for those who otherwise find reading or buying books unaffordable.
The library, which was started in February 2014 with the support of Avasara Academy, now has more than 350 books, which children can borrow for a refundable deposit of Rs 20.
Avasara Academy is a secondary school in Pune, which educates girls of “exceptional promise” from across the state. It is supported in India by the Avasara Leadership Institute and in the United States by The Leadership Foundation of India.
“We always felt there are many students in our area who never got a chance to read books as there was no library in the area and buying these books was unaffordable,” said Menaka Nadar, one of the founders of the library. The idea of a library struck them at the Avasara Leadership Fellows programme, conducted by the Avasara Academy, as an intensive after-school enrichment programme for adolescent girls belonging to the economically weaker sections from urban slums. It was here that they first read books beyond their texts. “At Avasara, we identify girls who are talented and wish to study, but cannot afford to pay their fees. We provide them scholarships in the form of their school fees. Last year, we provided such scholarship programmes to over 150 girls. We then train them at our academy,” said Roopa Purushothaman, founder of Avasara Academy.
She said Friends library was an outcome of a project they had asked the girls to conduct under the fellows programme. “We we had started the fellows programme 20 months ago to train these girls in entrepreneurial skills. The girls who were learning English at the academy realised that without reading books, they cannot complete their training. And that is where the idea to start this library struck them.”
But with lack of fund and space, turning the idea into reality was a formidable task “We started off with a plan. Initially, we wanted to run it for around six months. We realised we would need Rs 60,000,” said Sweety Pavithra, another founder of the library.
Help poured in from the fellows programme itself. “We approached a teacher from the US, who was part of the leadership programme, and discussed the hurdles we were facing and how we needed funds. We requested her to host a Kickstarter page for us.” Kickstarter is an online funding platform for creative projects, which allows people to present an idea to raise funds. It, however, requires an American citizen to be part of the project that needs funding.
“The girls soon started creating content for raising funds and also made a video explaining their project and need to start the project. Within a month, they managed to collect $5000,” said Purushothaman.
With space for library still being a problem, parents of one of the girls from the group offered the first floor of their house in a chawl for Rs 4,000 as monthly rent. The place was subsequently turned into a library. The girls painted the room on their own to turn their dream project into reality. The library, which is open only on weekends, has seen over 500 visitors since it started in February 2014.
With more funds at their disposal, the girls are now planning to train a younger batch to run the library as they move to Class X.