Friday, November 5, 2010

A Bike Ride to Spread the Joy of Reading




On Diwali, we are sharing a few of the stories which have made us smile, made us go 'awww' and made us very, very happy (did you read yesterday's heart warming story written by our editor Mala?).

Last month, we received a tweet from kaargocult (aka Anand) telling us that he was going to embark on a bike trip across Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and that he would love to spread the word about our mission and our work. He offered to use our stickers on his bike or donate books to schools he would find along the way. Anand had even designed a little poster for his trip. We were superbly excited that someone from our community had thought of us and was trying to spread the word about us in this unique manner. Since there was hardly any time for the books to reach before Anand left Hyderabad, we shipped the books to his friend's place and now I shall let Anand narrate his story....

The preamble is here. And if you don't have time, in short, after my Nepal trip I had not done a longish trip, and so, when I did get the chance I took it. The only two conditions were: I had 7 days in all, and I had to start at Hyderabad and reach Bangalore. The initial plan was this:

Start at Hyderabad --> Go to Araku Valley -- Spend a day there --> Go to Machilipatnam --> Pondicherry --> Finally Bangalore

After this initial planning, which looked like fun, I decided to add something a little more 'useful' to it. In my last trip to Nepal, I had realized that it is good to have an official motto for such a trip. When someone asks, "Why are you doing this? Why didn't you take a bus?" etc.. it is better and far easier to explain if you have a motto. Now I am telling this because I do not want to fool anyone into believing, "I did this trip just for helping the needy". Anyway this 'want' to do something useful as well, led to an NGO called Pratham Books. A friend recommended this NGO and said, "these people are very nice". That clinched it. I contacted them and they were very enthusiastic about my plan.

So what does Pratham Books do? They create and print books for kids. These books apart from being superbly entertaining with illustrations also have tid bits of education in them. The kind of
books which kids get fooled into reading thinking they are comics. And get educated in the process. Meanwhile a small problem presented itself. I had decided to start the trip on 1th October, 2010. The Pratham Books office is in Bangalore, and it seemed that the courier could take a little more than 1 day to reach Hyderabad. I have some family friends in Vishakhapatnam, and I decided that since Araku valley is right next to Vishakhapatnam, I can get these books couriered there. So the longcut trip suddenly got a little longer.

It was by chance that I read the board saying 'Orphanage home' and a few kids standing near the board. I came back and tried to ask the kids where this orphanage was. Language is a big problem when the others quickly decide that they don't know Hindi/English and hence cannot
communicate. Seeing this, a young man climbed up the mud stairs towards us. I told him that I had these books from an NGO called Pratham Books and wanted to give these to the orphanage. This orphanage is in Yellamanchili village. Hard pressed for funds, their lodgings now are in a pathetic condition, with broken roof tiles, falling plaster and so on. Overall there were 40 members, with around 25 of them being kids ranging from 4 year olds to 17 year olds. One of the 17 year old girls was the only person in the entire orphanage who had an email id. Their problems were so big that the books will take some time to benefit. Even if a few of those kids have the spark to learn, just the presence of a few Hindi or English books would motivate them to learn.



In the last two days, I stopped at any school that I found on the way and dropped off a set of books. Different experiences at different schools. But a very definite pattern. Initially my criteria was if I could see students who were barefoot, that meant the school needed the books. Even after this criteria, the larger the school, the less enthusiastic they were about it. After once being asked by the principle of one such large school, upon seeing my camera to only take photos outside the campus, I quickly corrected my strategy.


Now it was barefoot students, and small schools. This proved successful, when I got a 'Thank You sir', a chorus from around 40 kids. Mr. Ranganathan, the teacher, offered me a seat while I tried to explain the concept. Meanwhile one kid appeared next to me with a glass of water. Another kid appeared with a plate of biscuits. I couldn't figure out who told them to do that. The teacher was happy and the kids were happy. And I was happy.


During the last day of the trip, I still had some books with me. I couldn't count on finding that many schools, the rest of the way. I was having lunch at a roadside dhaba. "10 more minutes for rice" said the thin and energetic lady who was running the shop. She had a daughter who was cajoling a mewling kitten to come down from the thatched roof. I picked up the kitten and gave it to her. "Do you go to school?" I asked using keywords and gestures. Her mother promptly answered, as if I was questioning her mothering skills. "She has a cold, that's why she didn't go to school today". I gave that girl one Tamil and one English book. She said 'Thanks' and promptly went inside. Her mother was watching all this with a spark in her eyes. The girl cozied up in her nook, with her kitten and started reading the books.

As a side effect I got VIP treatment from there onwards. That is the moral dilemma of doing good. You always get far more in return and that in turn makes it feel selfish.
Anand also called me once during the trip to inform me that his phone had become wet due to the rains and that he was getting it repaired at Akshaya mobile repair shop in Araku valley. While he was at the repair shop, he noticed that the 14 year old shopkeeper offers to download music on people's phones. Anand had downloaded some of our audio books from our soundcloud account and asked the shopkeeper if he would want to put it on his system. "He was really excited and copied it to his machine. His plan is to give it to people with kids or nephews/nieces. The peoplel here do not have access to personal computers but most have phones which can play mp3s", says Anand.

Thank you Anand for sharing this lovely story with our readers and for also taking time out to spread the joy of reading.

The trip started out with a motto of 6 days, 60 books and we hoped that Anand's efforts would reach atleast 600 children. But by the end of this trip, the number of children who could probably get access to books are:
25 kids from the orphanage, 1500 kids of the government school, 50 kids from another school, and the girl from the tea shop. And if you are in Araku valley and hear a familiar story being played on a phone, you will know that Anand was responsible for that :).

Lighting up the lives of many children indeed!

Thank you Anand!

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