Saturday, April 13, 2013

Encouraging the reading habit - Out of the Box 39

Renton de Alwis

It is once again Lunar New Year or ‘Aluth Auvrudhu’ time. The Sinhalese and the Hindus with all Sri Lankans celebrate this time of thanks giving, reconciliation and sharing with much joy. Upon a short break taken for reflection, I repost today a story that was written in November 2010, for the Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka.

It is now nearly four years when this initiative was born and it has gone on without much fanfare. Nalaka and Sirisena Mama, with the three wheeler mamas of the village come together each Saturday afternoon to take books to the village, without a break,  except when Saturday falls on a Poya Day. The membership has grown from the 47 when it began in June 2010 to over 310 today. The collection of books, thanks to my friends who have donated their own books upon reading and some gifts of new ones has now grown to be over 1,500.

For three years, our members also created their own verse and prose. They were lithographed and published each month as the ‘Kiula Vimansa Athwela’. We also had several events to ‘reflect and recognize the efforts of our village’s budding writing talent. This story features one such when friend and author Daya Dissnayake visited us. We also had the evergreen environmentalist, theatre and film personality Iranganie Serasinghe and author and newspaper editor Malinda Seneviratne, visit us for similar events.

The links to the photo albums will serve to tell you those stories. Yet, the intention of making this repost, is to focus the readers attention to a simple model that can be duplicated anywhere in any village or urban area, with very modest need for money  but with consistent effort. In fact the whole operation cost me as the provider less than Rs. 5000 a month (fuel for the three wheeler and publication of the Athwela.)

If ‘reading can make a person perfect,’ our wish is that the villagers in Kiula, most of who have now cultivated the reading habit may be able to achieve some degree of that perfection and expand the dreams they have of a desirable and sustainable future.

This is a story told in pictures of a free mobile library service. The place is Kiula, a village in the Deep South of Sri Lanka. Every Saturday afternoon, a three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) leaves our home with books. Nalaka Lankadhikari, a young person living with us in the village, is its librarian. 


An idea born to uplift the reading habit of the villagers of Kiula, was the result of recollections of the bicycle book-man who came to our doorstep in our childhood and the need to expand horizons of the children, youth and adults of our adopted village.

We began the Kiula 'Kiyawana Gunaya' (good habit of reading) Mobile Library in mid June and now it is in its fourth month of operation. First week, we had 47 members for this free service, where books are taken to each villager’s door-step each week. Its membership has grown to be over 260.

Our friends shared with us their own books, their children's books and the rest came from our own collection and purchases. We also had the Kiula Funeral Aid Society contributing 150 books and villagers another 50. The total collection we now have numbers 635. These consist of creative works, books on Buddhism (all villagers are Buddhists), adaptations and translations from world literature of all-time greats, motivational books, children's readers and picture books. We also have a few Tamil and language learner-aid books and a good collection of basic-English readers and some simple but important works. These books are carefully selected for the library and are aimed at cultivating the reading habit through ease of access to books, to assist develop life skills.

Every three months an evaluation is made of what each member had read and how each had benefited. Three simple questions are asked and a short essay is written. On the first such evaluation, 63 essays were received in two groups; ages 09-15 and 16 and over.

Ten essays in both groups were selected and all were given the same level of recognition. No first, second or third prizes. The awards consisted of fruit plants, packets of vegetable seeds, useful herbal medicines, a Sinhalese- English Dictionary and a pen.

Our chief guest and speaker on the occasion was the award winning bi-lingual author Daya Dissanayake who joined us, traveling all the way from Colombo. Also with us was the monk of the village temple, the Principal of the Kiula Junior School and members of the Kiula Sinha Mituru Samajaya, operators of the three-wheelers, taking turns each week.

Mr. Dissanayake interacted with the villagers and shared thoughts on the benefits of reading and gave away the awards. Several of those recognised with awards also read out their essays. Two special awards were made to the keenest elder member aged 70 and to the keenest young member aged 7.

The event saw the participation of over 130 villagers and it was a rewarding experience for all of us who participated with many lessons learnt.
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Here are some tips on how you could develop your own service of a mobile library or encourage others to begin similar services in each village or areas in towns all over the island. Keeping it small and manageable is the first and it must be perceived as a process and a service. Divisive elements must not be engaged in its operation, and extensive consultations must be held with those who genuinely care for the well-being of the area or the village. Exercise care and be very selective in the books that are circulated avoiding having any that may cause controversy. It costs very little money to operate but needs hoards of commitment of volunteer time each week, focus and goodwill of others. In the process of building a better Sri Lanka, every drop counts and every effort no matter how small, will be significant.
For more please visit the Photo albums by clicking on these links:
 (Please browse down on this blog to find links to Kiula Vimansa Athwela)

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