Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Building the Library - A photostory

If you haven't, you should read the first post on the library setup I wrote 2 months ago. As I mentioned in it, we (Anish and I) had already found a place to setup the library for our students in the slum. Now the job was to make it a suitable place for habitat of books, kids and us. And there are 4 of us now with Neha and Shruti. 
This was one of the busiest times of my life. We had a full day of school with 25% percent more kids in the class than the space permitted. Anish and I had just moved to a new place and were trying to sort our living conditions as well. And we were essentially renovating another room for the library. I grew by 5 years during that time. 

Task 1: Get it painted
We are always working with limited resources and I wanted to get the best possible with our means. However, I knew precious little about painting a house. These factors meant a little background research. I went through the Asian paints website and found out some basics about paint types and pre-work. Some shopkeepers were willing to give some of their time explaining the process and various qualities of materials available. I spoke to some parents as well about availability and cost of a painter. The colour scheme was inspired from Asian paints website. 
We got a painter from our landlady, some material from a student's father's shop and started.

The look changes after putty and plaster
The first touches of paint!
Coat of Violet on one wall is done
Introduction of Orange
 The look starts to take shape
 What do you think! :-D
Pretty Neat, huh?

 The transformation after the painting was amazing.

Compare the two pictures (ideal before and after).

Task 2: Choosing shelves
We were thinking if we wanted to get stuff built or get it straight from the market. After speaking to some people, the best way seemed to be to get second hand furniture near Ghatkopar station. It would save time, energy and cost. Off we went to hunt for things that would become a part of our library. We saw many. Most were rejected. Some looked good. Few were chosen. These were rejected for various reasons - too small, too expensive, too big, not useful.
These were chosen. One looks quite good and is perfect fit for the library. We got 3 similar shelves for the other and they suited our needs. They had to polished a little though. 

Task 3: Getting the shelves to the library
A tempo was hired to get the shelves into the narrow lanes of Kamraj Nagar to the library. The lanes are so narrow that it takes about 15-20 minutes to traverse a distance of 700m. One vehicle takes up the entire road and people, shopping carts and animals have to make way. Our driver was in such a hurry to leave that he dumped our shelves in the middle of the road outside the library and went back. He didn't bother to get the things inside. There we were, stuck in the middle of the road, sweaty and tired, with 4 shelves to be taken up a narrow attic. Despair at first. Resourcefulness shows itself and our kids come to the rescue. I have always said that our kids are our strength. Exuberant, energetic and helpful, they hardly broke into a sweat as their little selves, carrying shelves a little too big, fit themselves in the narrow staircase.

Library with the shelves. Only one thing was missing now. 
Task 4: Getting the books to the library
We had stored our books in a shed at the end of the lane of the slum last year. With the help of one of the parents, we got a tempo to help us transport the books to the library for 20 bucks. Our kids were the biggest help again. They got the cartons out of the shed to the tempo and then up to the library. In fact, they loved it. They were vying for who could carry more stuff. They even wanted to open the books and arrange them. We had to send them away saying that we wanted to go home now.
Unopened books in cartons
It didn't take long for the books to be opened and for the kids to desperately want to come to the library. Our naughtiest, academically behind students are among them. We let 2-3 of them see it first before we had set it up properly.
Books just kept on the shelves. Not in any order. Shruti spending some quality time with Abhishek.

Suraj spending 30 minutes working on the alphabet with Neha
 Abhishek was at his best behaviour the whole week
The library is up and running now. We have grouped the books in broad genres. The kids love to come to the library. Some of the events that have happened at the library - 
  1. I am sitting and working on my laptop at the library. The books are yet to be arranged. Gurudev (naughty1), Abhishek (really restless and naughty2) and Rohit (violent, rebellious, angry) climb up to peek inside. I invite them inside. They immediately start looking through the books. I decide that it's time to use them for sorting and arranging. I play some music. Beats of 'I like to move it' shake the walls. Abhishek starts to shake his whole body wildly. I am actually concerned :P Rohit just smiles and wouldn't say a word. 3 minutes later I see him singing along - You like to move it, move it!
    We arrange books into fiction, non-fiction, Indian folktales from Pratham, NBT and others.
    The kids say to me - Bhaiyya, aap baithke aaram karo. Abhi hum sambhaal lenge. *Proud*
  2. Anish's birthday coincides with World Literacy Day and he is reading out a Pratham storybook. Everyone is invited to the library and I am pretty sure that this was the most densely populated Pratham story read aloud. The line outside the library had built up before we had left school and opened up the library. The shopkeepers nearby were shouting about the ruckus. Everyone climbed inside. There were kids everywhere. So much noise and chatter. Took 15 minutes to calm everyone down. Took another 5 to find and make a place for Anish to actually read a story.
    A few snapshots -
  3. Nilesh (one my 5 weakest kids who can barely read) comes beaming into the library and searches for one of the phonics books. He knows that he can read simple phonics and loves 'Jam for Hap and Pam'. He can read and explain the story to me. He says that he will try and read other phonic books. He refuses to read the big "Animals from Africa" because he wants to do phonics first. I tell this incident repeatedly to everyone who can understand this.
  4. Before their test, a revision session is held at the library. Students come with their notebooks and syllabus and revise (or for some, study for the first time) in the library. They ask me doubts. They teach and help each other. 
This is just the beginning. We hope that we are able to do much more. Funds and your support is needed for that. If you wish to help us out in any way, reach out to me. As always, your comments are most welcome.