To make a sizeable dent on children’s growing addiction to video games, television and surfing the Internet for long hours, and kindle an interest in them in reading books, RID 3132 DG Swati Herkal has been engaged for several years in starting libraries in government and government aided schools in Maharashtra.
The literacy chair of her district under RILM (Rotary India Literacy Mission) for seven years, she has been greatly involved in many education and basic literacy projects implemented by Rotary in RID 3132. “We all know that reading is not just a basic skill; it is the foundation of students’ success in all aspects of life. Beyond being a critical professional skill, reading opens doors to captivating, informative and inspiring literature that enriches our experience and view of life,” she says.
Our primary task is not only to encourage students to start reading but also to help them find joy in the process.
— Swati Herkal, District Governor, RID 3132
She explains that as her district’s literacy chair for several years, she had worked also on adult literacy, and has written a book also on adult literacy. The book was written in Marathi but it has been translated into several languages.
To open the magic world of books to the children in government schools with limited access to general interest books, way back in 2017–18 she initiated a school library project titled Gyan Key Library.
Under this initiative, her club RC Wai initially donated a box of 200 books to each library in the zilla parishad schools of RID 3132. The cost of each library comes to ₹5,000 and Rotarians have come forward to donate money and books for this cause. To get some feedback from the schoolchildren on what kind of books they enjoy the most, in the box containing the books, a postcard with the address for communication is placed, urging the students to write back with their views.
Under this project 1,500 libraries have already been set up, and on the day she was installed as the district’s first woman DG, 50 more libraries were gifted to schools. Now that she is heading her district, Swati is confident that “we will set up 1,000 school libraries this year.”
Most of the books given to these libraries are in Marathi, though some English books are there too. On the kind of books given and how a budget of only ₹5,000 was able to fetch around 200 books, the DG says, “Many of these are story books, real life stories, inspirational tales, biographies and autobiographies, magic books, and also comics… we give out Amar Chitra Katha comics which the children simply love.” She is delighted at the response received from students.
As for a small budget fetching so many books she smiles and says, “well, we’ve tied up with publishers who give 20 to 50 per cent discount, especially for old books which have not been sold. Also, some of the books are very slim volumes, they cost ₹10–15, and can be read in a single sitting.” The project has also tied up with the Ratna Nidhi Foundation, a charitable organisation which gives out books as well as cupboards to store the books. Rotary’s efforts have also been complemented by the contributions from other publications in Maharashtra, she adds. Different sets of books have been identified for the very young and older students.
To ensure that the libraries are not set up just in name and the books do get transferred from the cupboards or boxes into the children’s hands, a certain structure has been given to this scheme. For instance, on one designated day every month, the class teacher has to spend 1–2 hours in the library. A book is chosen and each student has to say something about that book. “They sit in a circle and there is a discussion on the book, and to participate in it, every child has to read the book. Our aim is to develop a strong reading habit in the student, which will not only benefit her academically but also equip her with a lifelong tool for success,” adds Swati.
Summing up the gratification of parents and teachers, she adds, “Parents and teachers are both deeply concerned about the declining interest in reading among children, who prefer to either watch TV or play video games, so they are very happy with this initiative. Our primary task is not only to encourage students to start reading but also to help them find joy in the process. Reading enhances one’s attention span, fosters analytical thinking, and expands vocabulary.”