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Roads less travelled

Sneha Mahale on a library movement that kicked-off in cities but is now having an impact on rural Maharashtra.

art and culture Updated: Apr 01, 2009 14:50 IST
Sneha Mahale

Despite talk of global villages and information super-highways, villages generally do not even have a book in sight for the benefit of kids. Few are aware how precious books in the formative years are for the future of a child. A sharp contrast to the lifestyle of Mumbai’s kids, perennially bombarded with printed material, TV, comics and neon-lit posters.



This neglect for basic education got Sharad and Nirmal Pendharkar, a couple based in Pune, to initiate PaanPoee Vachanalay — a village library movement in the rural areas of Maharashtra. “My wife and I felt the urge to introduce these rural communities to the wonder of books.. a world full of pictures, songs and words, fun, and knowledge.”



For over six years, their mission has been to carefully select and buy books for this library, mostly through donations (tax-exempted) from cities like Pune and Mumbai.



They then seek isolated, scattered, deprived communities of bastees, wadis, hamlets, away from cities and towns, and with the help of local village balwadi teachers, guardians and elders, set up a library. Their aim: to keep the books around for anytime use and reuse. And this is for free.



Work in progress


The books, bought after careful selection, are sent to the villages in waterproof canvass bags. The teaching venues vary from a room in a home, a small hutment, a temple yard to a gram panchayat hall.



The attempt is to reach as many people as possible. Students include children, school goers as well as lady workers. This venue where they all gather then becomes the ‘PaanPoee Vachanalay’ (library) — a place to read, circulate and care for books. The couple takes great pains in finding quality books on every subject.



To help introduce kids to the world of books, local KG teachers teach them nursery songs, tell stories, read out to illiterate adults too. They also distribute books to students, their teachers, parents and guardians.



A few books are even reserved for the neglected ashramshalas and schools. The teachers are mostly the local Vanasthali trained


village balwadi teachers and hobby class volunteers.



Simple start


The Pendharkars started the organisation with a few select books of nursery songs, stories and pictures for kids.



Nirmal Pendharkar says, “Then the teachers reported that the elder siblings wished for books too. Plus, they too felt the need to empower themselves by gaining more knowledge as they were becoming mentors for entire communities.. so we introduced more books.”



Today, with about 5000 books bought so far, they serve about 45 main locations — and approximately 40 sub-centers, all in scattered locations. The eager readership runs into several thousands and they have reached places in eight districts out of a total of 22.



Way forward


The mission has grown beyond the scope of one family. Sharad says, “We try and operate with no overheads, no rented places or office, no exclusive paid staff. This makes for high costs and it is becoming difficult to keep up.”



A new library center starts with about 30/40 selected books and booklets, the cost of each book varying from Rs 15 to Rs 350.


To cope with the increasing demands, the Pendharkars apprised well-wishers about the activity through a flier, so they can come forward and help.



As a response, Home of Hope, an organisation based in California has started helping out with money for the purchase of books. They made two visits in the past year-and-a-half and are interested in continuing these efforts in the future. But according to the Pendharkars, a lot more can be done, for there many more districts to reach.