Nothing could have been more meaningful for the children in the tribal Spiti valley of Lahaul Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh during the Covid-19 lockdown than to get free access to story books sitting at home in scattered villages.
Hundreds of primary school students in these distant tough terrains have been introduced to the new world through picture and story books in Hindi, English and even Tibetan by a Delhi based NGO, Let’s Open a Book, over the last three years in their school libraries. Spiti tribals also include many Buddhists.
In Covid-19, the volunteers with this NGO ensured that the students got the books at their doorstep so as to engage their attention constructively, with limited outdoor activity in the new circumstances.
“We coordinated with the local administration and the school teachers to distribute the books to children at home,” NGO founder, Ruchi Dhona told The Statesman.
“There has been a very good response. The children are curious to read and are sharing the books provided by us among themselves for variety. The books in a way would overcome their boredom,” Dhona added.
Dhona, 34, a post graduate in business administration is from Kolkata and has worked in the Corporate sector in initial years.
“However, when I happened to visit a few years ago and saw the schools there, it immediately came to my mind to work for the school students. And there couldn’t been more lucrative option than inculcating a reading habit among them,” she said.
The NGO, which got registered in 2019, however, has been working on ground in Spiti since 2017.
“I gave the idea of setting up a reading corner for the students in their schools, which was taken well by the teachers. So far, we have covered 60 schools, 53 of them primary. Our main priority is primary levels as it is at that age the child develops a habit,” Dhona said.
She said ‘Let’s Open a Book’ NGO has since provided a diverse collection of 75- 100 story books in each school in Hindi, English and Tibetan languages catering to diverse age groups, given their language competence.
“We select each book after thorough consultation and scrutiny, need and value. For beginners, we provided picture books,” she said, adding that all the books are of Indian publishers and are given free of cost to the school libraries.
She said initially, the NGO bought the books with their own resources for the school libraries, but gradually many donors came forward.
“We are also working out with the local administration to revive the public library in Spiti headquarters in Kaza, which is not put to full use currently,” Dhona said.
‘Let’ Open a Book’ NGO’s first focus is to cover all the 69 primary schools in Spiti for the reading corners, and then expand out. “Simultaneously, the volunteers with the NGO, including a local Chemi Lhamo, have also held some training for the school teachers to engage children in reading habits in an interesting way,” she said.
The NGO has also produced short videos, showcasing the tales and stories related to Spiti