Operation Paperback

Updated: Sep 26, 2019


It is said that you open a world when you open a book.  Well, we are trying to let our kids open doors to not just one but many and different worlds and create their own in the process as we let them through the door of our library at IJMHSS.

Located in rural outskirts of Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, Infant Jesus Matric Higher Secondary School was founded in 1995 with the purpose to educate and empower the rural children. Our vision is to create socially conscious and empowered individuals who are driven by values. We have slowly but steadily grown and now are a big family of 1250 kids who hail from the nearby villages. The neighborhoods surrounding our school contain primarily fishing and farming communities, lower middle-class families and the working poor.

We wish that our kids do not miss out on any major learning experiences only because of where they live or because of their financial status and that the education we provide is holistic and the library is meant to be our flagship. We wish to focus primarily on ensuring a structured platform for children to play and promoting holistic (physical+mental+emotional+social) growth through play. We intend to provide crucial life-skills education using our games and books as the tools. We are inviting all of you to join us to ensure that kids get the full education they deserve.

In simple terms, we are expanding our library, hurrah, and we will be building curated activity cum reading kits for age-appropriate groups and we seek your help in procuring these. We are asking for donations for children's books or board games that can spark our children and encourage reading to our youth.

Do we need more games? Absolutely!

Keep Calm and Donate!

Were you a certified bookworm at school or did you turn your nose up at reading in your teenage years and regretted it later? Either way, we invite you to be a part of our journey to build our library and let more kids discover the joy of reading and reap its benefits.

Now, think about how long it has been since you let that child in you out to play and run free? Do you believe every child deserves to be a child for once? And do you want to gift this feeling to our children? Then reach into the deepest corners of your cupboards and attic and check for any dusty old games lying around. Those could become the shiny new agents of imagination for our kids tomorrow and make sure that their sense of possibility, hope and imagination can come to life.

The result of your help and our services means that our children are not shunned of opportunities and the bright worlds that they are meant to see and imagine.

How did it all begin?

Our school library has recently had a refurbishment and complete revamping which is a nice anomaly in an education culture where libraries are either being minimized or closed entirely. Our school wishes to put a huge emphasis on reading for pleasure and playing for learning.

When we first started out we were struck by the basic question: why exactly are we making this library? Was it just because we all had a library in our school growing up or was it because we know it as the norm of a school to have a library. Well, partly we began because of all the above-said reasons. But more importantly, we wanted to come up with space – a space that children can own for themselves.We see the library as more than just books and games. It is our children’s own space, to unearth and unleash their creativity and imagination.

We began with a committed vision. Our vision was and still is to re imagine education beyond the classroom, leverage the ‘power of play’ and principles of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘gender sensitivity’ for the holistic development of our children, to create secure adults for a better tomorrow.  In short, we want our kids to be well – read as well as well- played.

Is it reading time or yoga time? Guess it’s both!

Setting up the space and breathing life into it

In October 2018, we decided to convert one of the unused rooms in the school as the library space and we set up the room with an assortment of books collected from well-wishers and other sources.  But just setting up space was not enough. Children never stepped into the room unless they were taken in to watch a video session from the projector we have set up inside the room. Even then they weren’t interested in browsing through the shelves that lined the walls let alone reading one book from one of them. That is when we decided to push things a little and introduced the library class to the primary section kids.

The kids were definitely interested to come to a new room for their class, but their excitement did not spread to the books. So, we began coming up with tiny tactics to motivate them to read. When the new librarian came kids were excited to see a new teacher and were curious about her name. So, whoever asked her for her name she replied that it is written in one of the charts present in the library. Soon the curiosity got the better of the kids and they came in groups during break time to scourge the charts made by other children that were displayed on the library walls. One of them had the librarian’s name written down within it and they were determined to find it. Finally, they came upon the name under the medicinal herbs chart, but they still did not get the meaning of the word. Then she asked them to use any of the dictionaries in the library to find what it means. The kids running around to find the word and the meaning looked as if they were actively playing a treasure hunt. This gave us the idea that to make a child interested in something we just need to pique their curiosity, and this is what we continue to do each day.

Forging of friendships amidst discovering weird facts and game tactics

Soon they were all finding a dictionary from the shelves but now that they picked up the dictionary they were naturally interested to see the other, more colourful books.  They were not sure if they were allowed to touch them. But when they looked at us with doubtful eyes and we gave them the go-ahead sign they all jumped at the books.

And then it wasn’t long before we saw students lining up outside the library door. Older kids peeped in, not sure whether they were welcome into the ‘new classroom’. “can we come in for a look?”, they asked. “of course, you can, and not just to look. The library is for you”, was what we answered, and this made not only them but the little ones inside also happy. The students mostly hurried past the bookshelves and started to be engrossed more in the maps and games. They were thrilled whenever they found out a place they have heard of, or when they solved one side of the Rubik’s cube and told each other about their findings with enthusiasm. Some other kids would come to the library door and would peep in wondering what all the noise here is about.

It is yet another peculiarity of our library. We do not follow the golden rule of silence in our library. We wanted our kids to be out of boundaries in here and not restrict them with rules. But more than that we saw that if students were confused about something they were asking their friends to help them find it and we think we should let them do that. If they read a book or found a picture they liked, let them tell their friends about it. Talking quietly in the library should be allowed, as long as other students are not distracted. We are still progressing on our way to reach the quietly talking phase, right now it’s like a small carnival in here with a section of kids’ reading aloud sitting in a circle, while another group is doing yoga around them, and yet another group is immersed in a game while few kids are listening to the story being read by a facilitator.

One child will call in another and they will call one more and soon our reading stretched into the corridor outside due to space crunch within the library and the influx of kids during the recess, lunch break and in the evenings as well. Kids would finish their lunch in less than 10 minutes so that they could spend the rest of the break within the library.

We have also begun to give honour cards to the children as a token of appreciation on the number of books they read. The students who have completed reading 20 + books and has written reviews of at least 3 gets to be on the honour board in the library. We have started this practice to support students who might otherwise slip out of practice with reading or lose interest as children often do.

Why do we believe the library can be the pavement to their learning?

Because we strongly believe that when a child reads and sees pictures, she imagines. When she imagines, she discovers thoughts, feelings and thereby creates her own language. When she has the language of her own, she builds a capacity to express herself. And when this happens to a child, she can do any subject because it is language that matters.

A lot of the kids who enter the library do not know to read English at all, but coming into the library, browsing through the books, especially the one with pictures, and reading them aloud, often with the help of other students or with us, is helping them gain the art of expression. The piqued curiosity in kids which was dulled down by the array of textbooks was waking up again. We could see them slowly starting to express their feelings and opinions. It was as if the library and books gave words to their feelings.

The story gets better when you share

Sometimes it surprises you to see the silent effect of books on our kids. One day amidst the usual chaos in the library with people enacting the yoga poses in the books to tiny tots squabbling over a game of scrabble, we noticed one girl sitting cross-legged in the corner completely immersed in the book she was reading. She was underlining certain lines with a pencil and we wanted to warn her to stop marking in the books, but something stopped us from interrupting her reading. Maybe it was the expression in her eyes or the concentration with which she was reading. She was oblivious to everything happening around her and only looked up when she finished the book. It was evident from the way she struggled to get balance and walk towards us coupled with the look of daze on her face that she was deeply touched and overwhelmed with the book she had read. It was indeed surprising to see this reaction from a girl who is all jovial in class and the librarian spent some time with her for reflection. This incident again proved to us the power of books. There could be a hidden Matilda amongst our gems.

A girl sitting apart from the crowd immersed in her book while other groups are involved in games as well as a bit of yoga because why not!

We are more than just a book hub!

Our library is yet again not just a home for books, but it houses a small but exciting collection of board games and word games which interests the children sometimes more than the books. The unspoken rule is that you need to at least read one book before you move onto the game zone and children themselves came up with the rule. That is another specialty of our library. It is the children’s space and so we have let them make the rules and believe it or not they were quite strict with the rules.

Our tiny game hub

We often talk about play as if it is a relief from serious learning. But we saw that for children play is serious learning.  We saw how our kids were picking up new skills and registering ideas, without even realizing that they were indeed learning.  

All of us have our own memories of play from our childhood. We played by the rules and at times by breaking them only to make up for it later. We all cherish those wins, those loses, those ‘one more game’ which ensured we won. And believe it or not, that was where we had learnt all life skills the ‘play way’. And this is what we wanted for our kids as well.

Who said scrabble is for 4? It’s all about teamwork.

Once they started playing and experiences the joy and power of play, we started to witness slow but incredible transformations and the little changes we witnessed, showed us how something as simple as just playing can do.

Learning and unlearning till they master it

Our game hub becomes a different space each day. For some 7-year-old it transforms into a junior idea-lab where they keep experimenting with ideas and tactics to win each game, of which they are still grasping the rules. For some others, it is a space to develop new friendships and bonding across ages. And yet for some others, it is a platform to display their skills which were hitherto unseen within a study focused environment.

More importantly, we saw the game hub becoming the arena where a lot of stigmas

were broken and that too with such little effort. Here there were no qualms about the gender stereotypes or barriers of age. Older students played with younger ones and most of the time the little ones proved to be tough opponents for them to beat, girls played with boys as they know of no gender boundaries with board games. And somehow along the way they all claimed the library space as their own.

The girl has challenged the boy to upend her score and the neutral monitor checks for foulplay.

Is there magic in books?

In one of the recent story-telling sessions, we read out loud the story of a little girl named Kavya. The book is titled 'Kavya makes up her mind' written by Ramesh Bijlani. In the story, Kavya is very confused about what she wants to become when she grows up.  She veers from wanting to be a nurse to be a pilot and then to a stay at home mother and to what not and for all her choices she has a very good reason as well based on her experiences.  The story ends with Kavya deciding that she, in fact, wants to be a good person, whatever she becomes. After the story, the kids were asked to describe what their choices were. And here we were surprised when the kids did not rattle off the ready made answers like doctor or engineer similar to how they did in our introductory session but rather they were attempting to think like Kavya and was making up their mind about a choice and all of them made sure that they had a reason for it. If one wanted to be a police officer because he wanted his fighting skills to be put to good use, then another girl wanted to be a crafts-person because she loves making pretty cards for her friends. It was refreshing to see the children straying away from the conventional goal-track and trying to expand their horizons little by little. The cherry on top was when 1 boy reminded everyone how they don’t have to wait till they grow up to be some of their choices like Kavya’s choice to be a good person.  We felt a whoop of joy inside when we saw the murmur of agreement among the kids and the promises they were making to themselves. Slowly they were joining us in creating the magic world together. Though improving the reading culture was definitely our goal, it was not just to develop their reading comprehension skills. If literacy serves as our foundation for a tangible measurement of success, our ultimate goal was to open up new worlds, introduce role models in society to children who desperately need it and essentially making children happy because everyone deserves their bit of happiness.

Most of our kids are hailing from either fishing or farming communities and hence they get very excited when they see a fantasy video about ‘the fisherman and the axe’ or when they read about fishing folk in Bengal in one of the storybooks. Their world was opening up more and more within this room. Soon they were finding out other coastal areas like theirs in the maps in the library and they were interested in knowing more about the similarities between them and fishermen in other areas. This coming from a bunch of kids who had not shown any interest in geography before was a refreshing change to us as well as them.

The joy of seeing their glowing faces as they get immersed in books, the ability to inculcate sporting values and soft-skills in their daily lives through the activities of our game hub and library, and the growth of confidence in their abilities, keeps us motivated to go forward.

While it fills our hearts to see the excited kids poring over the books we realize that we still have a lot to do for them. What we call a library is still confined to meagre bookshelves.  We need to get them access to more books and games as well as we need to provide them with space and freedom to grow them into readers. We know that a good reader can never be manufactured but we sure can give them the chance to be one.

Getting hooked onto stories and forgetting time is pretty common in libraries.

Join us if you wish to give us a chance!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this simple story of ours, and please do not hesitate to contact me (Rose) at 97429 97203/ rose@ijmhss.org or my crew member Deepak at 96296 23251/ deepak@ijmhss.org with any questions about this request.

We cannot buy happiness for our kids, but we can buy books for them and that is kind of the same thing.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our friends at Books For All, The Community Library Project , and Let's open a book for getting us started with the library.


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