On the subject of reading, Oscar Wilde once said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it.” The quote describes the essence of reading in the making of a human being. Unfortunately, they are many across the world that just do not get the chance to experience this joy for the simple lack of education, exposure or opportunity.

Katha, started in 1988 as a magazine for children by Geeta Dharmarajan, founder-president and Padma Shree recipient, spans the literacy-to-literature continuum. By seamlessly connecting grassroot works in urban education and urban resurgence, Katha helps bring children living in poverty into quality education. Over the past 29 years, through its many programmes, Katha has helped over 900,000 children help themselves out of poverty, trained 21,500 if them in IT and taught 90,000 women in income-generation and social activism skills.

An important ‘partner’ of Katha has been the NZHOMF. The New Zealand Head of Mission Fund (NZHOMF) is a small discretionary funding (usually grants) managed by individual New Zealand High Commissions to support small-scale, short-term community projects that contribute to wider community wellbeing.This fund helped Katha in setting up of 30 ‘story rooms’ in MCD/Government schools.

NZHOMF, thereby, also helped in promoting gender sensitisation through the printing and dissemination of five Katha children’s books in government schools and in the Katha Lab School. These books, which are a part of Katha’s Gender Series, portray women in a gender-sensitive manner and sketch inspiring messages, thereby sensitizing beneficiaries on ways to challenge gender stereotypes and question the fundamental constructs of gender.

Children’s inability to read at grade level hits India’s poorest the hardest, leading to entrenched poverty. If all early learners are reading for fun and for meaning, they do well in school and are prepared to bring positive change to all, leading to sustainability for themselves and others.

Katha had previously received HOMF funding in 2015-16 from the New Zealand High Commission to support the establishment of 20 story rooms at government schools under Katha’s ‘I love reading’ programme.

Parvinder Kaur, executive Director, Katha, elaborates on the impact of the programme “With an aim of inculcating reading interest in children and helping the schools improve the enrolment, attendance, retention, and literacy skills of children, Katha set up vibrant, colourful and childfriendly learning spaces ~Katha Story Rooms ~ in each of the 30 government schools that we worked with, and filled these story rooms with engaging reading and teaching-learning material, including Katha’s colourful, award-winning storybooks.

The walls in the story rooms were painted with colourful characters from Katha’s children’s books. This works like a visual teaching aid for students as the paintings/illustrations encourage children to imagine and interpret the stories and also spark their own creativity.”

“India has about 150 million children in primary education; of which nearly 50 per cent cannot read at grade level, forcing them to skip school and drop out (ASER Report). Katha, with its ‘I Love Reading-India’ programme, is on a mission to change things by helping children learn to read and read to learn!” says Geeta Dharmarajan.

New Zealand High Commissioner to India Joanna Kempers adds, “Not only does New Zealand have a proud tradition of producing some of the world’s finest children’s literature but we are also one of the top 10 countries as far as gender equality is concerned. It is a pleasure, therefore, for us, to support an organisation like Katha that works to promote not only children’s literature and literacy but also foster greater gender equality in the process.”

Indeed, working together for making the world a better place makes almost any objective achievable, not to forget the memorable journey.