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Turning the page

Turning the page
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Asraf, a class five student from Chimbel didn’t know how to read or write in English. There was no access to a library until the Bookworm van landed in their area. He like other kids from the basti or ghetto would attend the story reading sessions and one day this November Asraf read aloud a story he wrote with the help of his teachers in English. He is just one of the beneficiaries of Bookworm’s outreach programme that spreads the joy of reading to underprivileged kids.

The NGO from Taleigao started their Mobile Outreach Program three years ago with the aim of reaching out to slum kids Every evening, the little red van packed with art and craft material and books to lend out to kids and accompanied by three resource people, visit the sites identified by the NGO. They recently reached out to children in the slums of Chimbel, where they found Asraf Kamrabhat in Tonca, St Inez nullah, a settlement near Goa University and Padre Bhat.

They have been received warmly by all the communities they visit. In fact ‘parents drop their children to the sites.’ “Four of the communities have given us spaces, three are temples. Those are scared places, but are unlocked when the library comes in,” says Sujata who is part of the outreach mission. She adds that Chimbel is the only urban slum basti to have its own library run by Bookworm.

Of course kids do drop out and they ‘lose more boys than girls on an average.’ “But I’m happy that it is becoming a lovely space for adolescent girls who often don’t have opportunities to talk to another adult about anything like not doing well in school,” observes Sujata who is determined to get the boys  back.

Before outreach programmes, the NGO conducted workshops in various schools called Library in Schools. Two years after they began in 2006, they realised that they were ‘seeing kids from a similar background, children whose parents knew books.’ “But we weren’t seeing kids from non-literate homes. So I said let’s go to schools in such places that don’t have access.” The first was in Monte de Guirim and today they support seven schools.

Each session held during school hours is designed specially to cater to their target students with workshops to improve reading and develop vocabulary and language. The children read aloud stories and then participate in various activities that are based on the books they have read. Apart from that, they are allowed to take books home and return them at the workshops that follow.

Sujata finds that the state is struggling to understand literacy, on ‘how to teach because children come from different languages and teachers are not always equipped with this home language.’ “Goa does this medium of instruction shift in the fifth grade where everybody shifts to English. Many children who learn in the Marathi medium don’t even speak Marathi in their homes. So it is a complex socio-political conundrum and the result is that children have no literacy skills, they can’t read,” she says. But Sujata is determined.

She adds, “The children must benefit and for the people who support us with small donations, I make sure that the money is spent for the purpose it has been given.”

Reading with kids may seem fun, but it’s no joyride. The biggest hindrance continues to be money. “The core focus is on fund raising work. We need financial support to multiply this idea. We can reach only this many children with the present level of support, but if we really want a community of readers, it requires a community of funding.”

Every year Bookworm conducts a jumble sale and a large part of the proceeds goes into investing in books. On an average about 2000 books are circulated in the school programme and 1000 in the outreach. Some books are never returned and ‘replenishing books’ she says is her biggest cost. “But someone somewhere is reading a good book and that’s how I make my peace with the loss,” she says.

This article was first published in Timeline GOA Magazine: Issue 1 Vol. 1 (Page 43).


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