According to reports, India has the largest illiterate population in the world–a staggering 35%. Athough the country’s literacy rate has increased from a dismal 18% at the time of British rule to 74% today, there’s still much left to be desired. A group of 16-year-olds from SAI International School in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, have decided to take matters into their hands and play a part in solving this problem.
The students feel that lack of access to books is the main reason why so many students in India have poor reading ability. “You cannot read what you do not have,” they say.
“None of our state’s 34,214 primary government schools have libraries in them. This deprives students of a balanced literary instruction. This lack of a library restricts their knowledge intake and access to basic literacy resources… How can these students keep up in the 21st Century without the proper tools to do so?”
Inspired by the simple 4-step formula of ‘Feel-Imagine-Do-Share’, developed by the non-profit Design for Change, which seeks to challenge students to ‘be the change’ they want to see in the world, the students came up with an idea.
They could provide books to more schools in Odisha. The students – among them, Ayushi Mohanty, Vishnu Kumar Lohia, Siladitiya Mishra, Chayanika Baidya and Dhruv Didwania – launched ‘Mission: 100 Libraries Project’ in December 2015. The aim was to provide “100 small well-stalked libraries to local underprivileged schools in Bhubaneswar and the local area”.
“Providing even small well-stalked libraries to government schools is a massive need in our community and surrounding area… actually the entire country is being affected by this problem.”
After the initial ‘Feel’ stage of their project, in which the students identified what problems they were troubled by, they brainstormed for the second ‘Imagine’ stage, under the mentorship of Jessica Patnaik. At this point, the students contemplated the idea of “each one teach one”, deliberating on creating a programme through which they could pair up with students from underprivileged schools to help them improve their reading habits. They felt, however, that in the long-term, this would only impact the individual students being taught. They finally chose to donate libraries, saying,
“Providing the students with the necessary resources to read, like a library, had a bigger impact on the school as a whole, as it offers access to knowledge not only to the students present in the school today, but also to all future students.”
The students decided to donate 3-4 libraries per year to government primary schools in Odisha.
Every school will be given a cupboard with 500 books, half of which will be in the local language of Odiya, and the other half in English and Hindi. The books will be selected to be age-appropriate, based on the needs of every school. The project is mainly being coordinated by the Going Global Club and Interact Club of the school.
The seeds for the ‘100 Libraries Project’ were laid back in 2012, when students of SAI International School created their first library for students of a government school in Patia.
They transformed a storage room in the school into a library, painting its walls and installing colourful furniture.
The biggest challenge has been in figuring out how to fund the project, since each library incurs an overhead cost of Rs 30,000. The students raise funds through their annual school festival called UNWIND, which has a whopping footfall of 25,000 people. They offer advertising spaces for local companies in return for sponsorship.
Their second means of acquiring funds is through a talk series based on the format of the TED talks, called SAITED. The event is attended by 1,500 students from all over Odisha. The students also organise school-wide book donation drives.
Since 2012, the students have donated 23 libraries, each comprising of a cupboard with 500 books.
Chandraka Roy, a teacher at Bhugan Ho Tribal School in Bhubaneswar, expressed her gratitude,
“Tribal schools do not have the the resources to properly prepare their students for state and national board exams. This library will give more access to the books they need to prepare.”
The libraries have impacted over 11,500 children so far. The students add optimistically,
“SAI International School students will not stop until they have gifted 100 libraries. We love seeing the faces of school students who benefit from our project. We believe that we can make our education system better through access to small well-stocked libraries that permanently impact each school that gets one.”
By the time the students complete their mission of a 100 libraries, they will have impacted 50,000 underprivileged kids currently studying in Odisha.
The ‘Mission: 100 Libraries Project’ was recognised at the ‘I CAN Awards 2017’, an award ceremony organised by the non-profit Design for Change, in the category ‘Long Lasting Impact’. Since 2009, the annual ‘I CAN Awards’ has attracted 14,000 stories of change from school children all over India who have followed the Feel-Imagine-Do-Share (FIDS) model of design-thinking to create social change in their communities. See the students set up two libraries, in this video:
In April, the SAI International School students went to the various schools to evaluate whether their libraries had been effective. They found that most children were using the library once a week, and that books written in Odiya were most popular.
There were also requests for more biographies, which can be used by students in their research. The students also gave training to the teachers on how to organise the books so that the libraries can be efficiently used.
If you wish to support this initiative by students of SAI International School, you can donate books to them. These could be storybooks meant for younger kids, works of literature or biographies. English and Hindi books are useful, although books written in Odiya are preferred. Send your books to the address: SAI International School, 5A Chandaka IE, Infocity Road, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751024. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for any queries.
Want your kids to dare to ‘be the change’ they want to see in the world? Take up the ‘I Can’ School Challenge in your classroom. Find out more online.