Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Shared Sense of Fun and Willingness to Imagine - Ken Spillman's Thoughts on Storytelling Sessions at Akshara Foundation

In the month of July, we had a visitor who came all the way from Australia to conduct storytelling sessions at the community libraries run by Akshara Foundation. That visitor was Ken Spillman. You can read about the sessions here. A few days ago Ken sent us an email to share his thoughts on the storytelling sessions. Ken said ...

It all began with a question. Would I like to Skype with some of the kids who attend community libraries established by Akshara Foundation in some of the poor areas of Bangalore? I thought about that for a full thirty seconds. Yes, I would Skype, but it wasn’t my preference. I’m not fond of phone conversations, and not yet convinced that phone calls through a computer screen are really any better. Perhaps instead I could make sure Bangalore was included in my next India itinerary, and I could visit the Akshara kids in person?

That’s exactly what happened – and I’m so glad it did. The release of my book Advaita the Writer (Tulika) provided an opportunity and, on 21st July, the Akshara team welcomed me to HQ before whisking me off to the D.J. Halli Community Library. The immaculate appearance of the kids surprised
me – neatly attired in school uniforms and with hair well-groomed, they would not have looked out of place in the most snobby Australian schools. I was also surprised that most of the kids attending the session were students at a convent school and had a good grasp of spoken English. I’d come prepared to improvise, but was instead able to read, discuss and field questions without an interpreter. It was a wonderful experience. That the kids appreciated and have benefited from Akshara’s libraries programme was obvious – they love stories, and sat on the floor attentively long after our session was scheduled to end. I have since received photographs of the session, capturing  wide eyes and open hearts.


Next day, Akshara Foundation took me to the Rajendra Nagar Community Library. The children were packed so tightly in that a handful of boys needed to listen from an adjoining room, with others silhouetted against the sun outside the front door. What a marvellous bunch they were! Unlike the D.J. Halli kids, they didn’t speak English… but did it matter? Not a whit. Sometimes, the librarian and Akshara people assisted with translation – but most of the time it was unnecessary. I felt a connection with these children that was beyond language, perhaps a result of their open hearts, our shared sense of fun, a passion for books and stories, and our willingness to imagine. Laughter filled the room – and not just because I organised a few of them into a chorus of ‘kookaburras’.


Throughout my career as a writer, I have enjoyed interacting with kids of all ages and I’m fortunate to have visited a wide range of schools in many different countries. I left Bangalore certain that my future touring would include more visits to areas of economic disadvantage – and full of admiration for Akshara Foundation. The work it does is practical and effective. I saw for myself that the Foundation’s community libraries are a beacon in the lives of many children. They are lighting new worlds now, and exposing possibilities for a future that is richer in more ways than one.

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