Ruchi Dhona first visited the picturesque Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh sometime in 2017 after quitting her corporate job.

As she had some experience in volunteering with various non-profits, she wanted to do something else besides travelling. After speaking to people working there, she made a plan to set up a small library and get the locals to take ownership of it so that their children could read quality books.

However, subsequent visits to different parts of Spiti made her realise that this wasn’t going to be enough because schools are typically located far apart.

By the end of 2017, she started a pilot project giving a few schools a small collection of books and requested the teachers to rotate them across different schools through the winter.

She returned to Spiti in June 2018 to see how the initiative was progressing. Following this, she started the ‘Let’s Open A Book’ initiative, working alongside a non-profit called Meenakshi Foundation, and the district administration.

“The initiative is focused on Government primary schools, where we begin by setting up small libraries, followed by working with the teachers to help them understand how to use these books and how they can engage the children,” she adds.

The books are in three languages ⁠— Hindi, English and Bhoti. “We chose Hindi because children here understand and speak the language fairly well. English, meanwhile, is an aspirational language and Bhoti is locally spoken,” says Ruchi.

Additionally, they are essentially storybooks with significant illustrations so that even if some children are unable to read the text, they can still look at these pictures and enjoy the story.

So far, she has managed to help over 80 Government schools and 1,200 children.

Speaking about the most recent community library project that she has spearheaded in Kaza, Spiti Valley, Ruchi says it was inaugurated in September 2023.

“Over 10,000 books have been read in this space in the last six months,” she notes, adding that in the last six months, the space has witnessed over 45 children reading 100 books.

Starting such a unique initiative in tough terrain and sub-zero temperatures was difficult, but Ruchi knew it was crucial because children in these areas attend schools lacking fully operational libraries.

“The idea is to build a culture of reading among children,” she says.