Vibha Kamat’s nephew, 7-year old Neel, lives in California. Among his many activities, there are visits to the local public library. Every summer, the library encourages the kids to make a pledge that they will read a certain number of books. If the child fulfils his pledge, he receives a certificate from the mayor! Just because he kept his word. Neel pledged to read 20 books one summer.
How many kids have the access to books in our country? There are those whose parents are avid readers and have a collection of books at home. Then there are those whose parents can afford to get them memberships in private libraries. But how many are all of these put together? Very, very few.
This was what inspired Vibha Kamat to build a public library for children in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai. She had long wished that every child would have access to books. Perhaps that is why she got together with a couple of friends and organizations to fulfil her dream.
“We are 3 friends : Sonal Bimal is an apparel sourcing consultant, who has worked for GAP and has now started her own company. Vaishali Shinde is a disaster management expert who has worked for several NGOs and now does part time work for FOCUS. I teach French part time at Shishuvan school and at the Alliance française in Bombay,” says Vibha. To her, each of the three words in “local public library” is important. They imply, “To have a library, to have it locally and then for it to be open to everybody.” This means greater accessibility to more books for a larger number of children. So she got to work. But it was certainly not an easy undertaking.
The first hurdle was to find a place to house the library. This was not a small challenge considering the rental rates in the expensive city of Mumbai. These were crippling enough to close down many such former efforts in the city. Fortunately, she came across Maharashtra Mitra Mandal, who had a similar vision, and they could spare the space.
With help from a lot of friends, in designing and developing the library to sourcing and stocking the books, the library is now complete and open to the public. “We have got all the furniture we need, mostly through donations, some we got made, but again paid for with the funds we raised. We do need books. Of the 4000+ books that we currently have, more than 3000 have been donated and a fair number were brand new. One friend got us the entire Asterix set. And several others simply ordered books off Flipkart and Indiaplaza, so we had several deliveries a day, all coming from friends in Chennai or Delhi or …London! Some of these people I have never met.” The library has books in English, Hindi and Marathi along with National Geographic magazines and even a big dictionary.
In order to sustain interest in reading and make it more inviting, Vibha and her friends intend to conduct various activities like invite writers to speak to children and hold creative writing workshops. All this comes at a nominal fee to keep the initiative going.
Does she think this sort of initiative can be easily replicated in other parts of the country? “Yes, I do. I think this can be replicated anywhere. We had no magic mantra. People gave, willingly, spontaneously and generously. It reaffirmed my faith in the goodness and the kindness of people,” says Vibha.
By the way, Neel had read 162 books by the end of that summer!
We hope such initiatives abound, and every nook and corner of the country will have a public library to encourage the joy of reading among children.
If there’s any way you can help: time, donations, books, suggestions, please feel free to get in touch with Vibha directly: vibhakamat[at]gmail.com