“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr Seuss
Before their summer holidays began, the only ‘homework’ my sons received from their school, was to read as many books as possible through their summer holidays. In fact, the school did not just encourage them, but also provided incentives if they successfully read a diverse selection of books.
This is perhaps the kind of homework that each child must be asked to do.
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While my kids have access to books, not many do, and to address this need, Guzarish, an NGO based in Delhi started a pan-India initiative called ‘Books for All’ in 2016.
In a conversation with The Better India, Ankit Manchanda, one of the co-founders of the organisation, spoke to us about this movement, its impact and how others can become a part of it.
Ankit works with Prachi Luthra, Jaibeer Singh, and Sanymi Gupta, who are all former Teach For India fellows and the co-founders of Guzarish. All of them bring different perspectives and strengths to the organisation, but what unites them is the passion for making a difference and reaching as many children as possible.
How does Books For All work?
The organisation follows a 4-step method to collect, sort, and then distribute the books.
Speaking about it, Ankit says, “We rely heavily on social media to get people interested in the work we are doing, and promote the library through various channels including online campaigns and book distribution drives at schools, colleges, apartments, and societies. Once they know about they and us are willing to donate books, all they need to do is visit the website, or send us a Whatsapp message at 8879972012 and fill out the form with some basic details which include address, number of books being donated, and so on.”
Pickups happen in and around Delhi/NCR every day, and once the person has filled out the form and mentioned which Sunday they are available, the same is organised free of charge.
Ankit claims that approximately 2,000 books, including story books, textbooks, reference books, practice workbooks, and dictionaries are collected every week this way.
Explaining the next step, Ankit says, “The books are then brought to our warehouse in West Delhi, which also doubles up as a library. We, along with the help of about 40 volunteers and interns, sort through every book, the ones that are torn, or not in good condition are sent for recycling while the good ones are stacked up for circulation.”
Each book is then barcoded to ensure that the book activity can be monitored; this helps the team curate books in a better way.
Ankit says, “We charge a flat fee of Rs 10 for each book that is chosen; this is irrespective of the original book cost. We do this primarily for two reasons— to cover our logistic costs and to ensure that the kids who take these books value them and not just see this exercise as a charity.”
While the collection as of now happens only in Delhi/NCR, books are sent to states across India—Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, to name a few. We have tied up with various NGO’s and government schools in all these states and the books are sent to them directly. Teach For India, Deepalaya, Food For Thought (setting up libraries across the country), Lamstan (serves ladakh), Akshar Foundation and Aroh foundation are a few of them.
When asked how the children get to access these books, Ankit says, “Each NGO has their own method of distributing the books to the children. We also have the entire list of books online so the NGO’s can place an order for the books that they want. At the center we have set up in West Delhi, we encourage children to come, touch and feel the book and then take them home upon a payment of the fee. The library is open on all days of the week.”
What happens after the child has read the book?
“We encourage the students to leave reviews of the books they have read. This pushes them to read more and also helps others pick up those books,” says Ankit.
The kind of insight that the children come up with after reading the books is what amazes Ankit. Sharing a few instances, he says, “There was a kid who had read a book on Bhagat Singh, and in a review, she wrote about how she sees similarities between his and Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles.”
Dilshad, one of the beneficiaries of this initiative started coming at the start of the library and would ask for colouring books because he loved to draw and colour. He would ensure that he brought his work back to show it to Ankit and the others; this gesture of his is what Ankit says has stayed with him.
The story of Taranum and Firoza will also establish just why this initiative works so well.
“Our father is an auto-rickshaw driver, and works very hard to provide for us. Books For All has been a blessing for us because until now managing to get books and study was difficult. Thanks to this initiative, we are now able to study properly, and most importantly, be consistent.”
The girls visit the library at the beginning of their academic session to get their sets of books and diligently donate the old ones. Their ambition is to become IAS officers and make their father proud.
“Being able to bring so much joy by doing something so small is what keeps me, and the team motivated,” says Ankit.
When asked about the impact in terms of numbers, he mentions that in the last one-and-a-half years, they have collected over 70,000 books and distributed close to 40,000 books. When asked how many kids they have reached with this initiative, he says that 4 lakh children have been impacted.
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Poised to keep growing from here, Books For All is most certainly helping build a better India.
To contact Books For All, do visit their website here, or reach out at +91-8095931444 or +91-8879972012.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)