Sashi, a rag picker in Grade 1, went to school for a few days before the pandemic broke out and school shut down. He is only six years old and yet works for long hours to segregate items of value from the waste on the outskirts of Gaurinagar area adjacent to Rajnandgaon railway station in Chhattisgarh.
One day, he was rag-picking from the railway track, when his attention was drawn to a voice saying “aaj hum jungle ke kudku ki kahani sunenge”. He started following the voice and reached the place where some children were listening to stories over the phone. So rag tag was his condition that the other children started making fun of him. But Sashi had ears for no one else; he was entranced and captivated by the amusing story.
Seeing his eagerness, Nikki Yadav, who was organising these classes felt that something should be done for him. She spoke to him and asked him if he would like to listen to another story. The boy nodded excitedly, sat there and listened to three other stories in one go. He requested Nikki if he could join this reading session with a few friends from his locality. Sashi belongs to a rag-picking community living in the slums in the nearby areas of Gaurinagar.
Listening to the innocent request of Sashi, Nikki’s eyes became moist and she couldn’t utter a word. That day she kept thinking how to support Sashi and to engage him along with his friends in reading stories. Nikki, a cook in the government school at Gauri Nagar where the Literacy Program of Room to Read operates, is an active member of her community. During the lockdown, she undertook the initiative of organizing Mohalla classes in her community to engage students in studies. She was engaged in one such class when she met Sashi.
On 15th August, Room to Read’s Reading Campaign started to retain the focus on literacy and reading for children. The Reading Campaign along with a chance meeting with Sashi inspired Nikki to engage more children from the slums. She discussed her idea with the ladies of her neighborhood and motivated them to contribute and support her in this campaign. Shradha and Rukmani joined hands with Nikki to start mohalla classes for underprivileged children during the pandemic. Together, they visited Sashi in the slums and spoke to other parents there. They motivated them to send their children to the community classes. Furthermore, Nikki requested Room to Read to issue them some of the storybooks that could be used for reading by the students, which was met with eagerly. “Room to Read works in 4234 government schools have distributed more than 13 lakh age appropriate books through libraries and have befitted more than five lakhs children. I am happy that our quality reading materials and toll-free numbers are used for Mohalla Classes as well,” Says Sourav Banerjee, Country Director, Room to Read,
At first, only a few children joined the Mohalla Classes from the slums, but gradually when other children and their parents came to know about them, the participation and involvement of children increased on a daily basis. While the classes started by sharing online stories, they soon spread to reading-writing with the support of the community members and books issued from Room to Read’s Library. Children are now not only listening to stories but also reading colorful storybooks.
Sashi soon came to know about the toll-free number for listening to the stories that has been started as a part of the Reading Campaign. He enjoys listening to these stories and has become the brand ambassador for this toll-free number. He also encourages other children rag-picking to join the Mohalla Classes. Everyone within the community of Gaurinagar and the slums are appreciating this effort made for children by Nikki and her team.