Kundal is a small hamlet in Bijapur Panchayat of Pali district in Rajasthan. While journeying towards Kundal, I pass fields and men wearing multicoloured turbans leaving for work. This part of Rajasthan is inhabited by ‘Garasia’, a tribal population whose local dialect is ‘Dungri Garasia’. The road leading to the busy town of Bijapur narrows down to Kundal, dispersed throughout the dried forested region. The tribal in the region have scattered houses on the hill slopes, mostly made of mud and bamboo walls. The fields in the front of their houses showcase their dependence on forest produce as a means of livelihood.
This dry landscape has a co-ed school set up amid agriculture fields with a strength of about 100 children. Every morning the children run down the hill in their school uniforms with white bags made out of sacks.
The community members of Kundal are supportive of the school and regularly attend the monthly meeting. They raise issues, discuss children’s health and hygiene, infrastructure requirements, reading levels, and parents contribute whatever money they can afford to support the school.
Pitha Ram, is one of the few parents who speaks Hindi.
“The old teachers did not show interest in bringing any innovation to the school. They mostly worked like any other government employees. However, the new library teacher, the facilitator and the head teacher has brought new colours to the children’s life in this school and we feel confident of sending our children to the school”.
“Out of five primary schools in Kundal, the children of this school are the brightest and perform the best when they move to the secondary school in Bijapur. They are at par with the children who come from Private schools”.
Reshmi, a mother, is sitting quietly in the front row, ghunghat covering her face and her infant playing in her lap. Reshmi sends her children to this school rather than sending them to the secondary school which is next to her house. She shares that the learning environment of this school is holistic. Her children are involved in reading books, reciting poems, and borrowing books home.
The vibrant space and wide range of literature in the Parag library is one of the main reasons that keeps children in school even after the school hours. Kanko Devi never saw her children reading any books at home, but due to the availability of the picture books in the Parag library, children now explore literature. She reveals, “My children now read during the night as well. There are alterations in the dinner time of the family as children are busy in their story books which they issue regularly from the library”.
“During the lunch hour, children quickly finish their lunch and come to the library to pick up their favourite book and read’. I help children to understand difficult words in the stories. Children have been able to identify words and matras easily after developing a regular reading habit,” shares Yogmaya Meena, Hindi teacher. She believes that government pays teachers to provide children with knowledge resources, information, and build self-dependence.
Bhawar Lal is the man behind the show, the library facilitator in the Kundal school. He has a strong hold on Hindi and the local language because of his background in Hindi Literature. He believes the Parag library programme is an extraordinary intervention for children and has changed the outlook of the school.
‘Children Library Management Committee’ is one of the main highlights of the Parag library. This committee enables children to understand the functioning of a library, their role in it and how children can take care of the library. Over a period of time, children have taken ownership of the library. The committee comprises students from various classes and age groups who work together and take care of cleaning the library, organizing books, making sure the books are in a good condition, and also help younger children fill their lending cards.
But the library is not just about fostering a reading habit. Children are involved in activities like book talk, read aloud, treasure hunt, shared reading with follow up activities like colouring, sketching, origami and writing. So children are working on their communication skills, speech, and ability to critically think about stories and characters and also group work. Every Saturday during the Bal Sabha, children share the stories, songs and poems they have read and heard with the rest of the school.
At 27, Shravan Kumar has the responsibility of a head teacher, a booth level officer as well as Math subject teacher. He aims to transform the school into a model school where children love to spend their time and he believes the library plays an integral part in making this happen.
“I allow unregistered children to sit in the library and browse through books. I want them to build an interest in reading,” he shares.
‘My parents have been picking flowers their entire life. I hate picking flowers.’
The opening lines and the heap of pink flowers welcome you to no ordinary ‘flower picking’ but a metaphor for something rather stark – manual scavenging.