Once a month, S Thanaraj trudges a three-kilometre-long forest path leading to Keezh Punatchi, a tribal settlement in Attakatti near Valparai. He carries a cardboard box of children’s books with him. “These are for the children in the village. I have been doing this from June and Keezh Punatchi is one of the 11 tribal villages across Anamalai, Pollachi, Tiruppur, and Valparai where I distribute the books,” he says.
Thanaraj is the founder of the Centre for Justice and Peace, an NGO that works to support tribal communities. “The organisation has been conducting evening classes in these hamlets for the past two years. Their schools have closed following the lockdown. Most of the kids do not have access to online classes. Many of them planned to drop out and join their parents as farm labourers. So, I came up with this idea of distributing books to keep them occupied,” he explains.
S Thanaraj with children
Thanaraj has distributed 1,000 books, most of them donated by good wishers, till date. “I started with 300 books that I bought. Initially, they were given to students in five villages in Valparai. With time, we added six more villages.”
This includes short stories, comics, biographies, and language books in Tamil and English. The NGO has set up a system where a child exchanges the book with a friend, after reading it. Once all the books are read by the children in a locality, volunteers collect the lot and exchange it with the next village.
“This usually happens every two weeks. Once the stack in the area is finished, we provide them with new books. We have around 50 kids in total and they are encouraged to keep a note of the books and a small summary of the books they read,” he says.
J Deepak, a 10-year-old from Kallar has just finished reading a book on Mahatma Gandhi. “He is my hero. I hope to be a writer when I grow up. I am now writing down stories that my grandmother tells me,” he says.
The Centre for Justice and Peace now conducts storytelling sessions every Saturday at their evening school. Arun Kumar, a volunteer from Pollachi says, “Usually I teach them lessons from school, the history and culture of the community, and the importance of nutrition. The past few months were entertaining with regular storytelling sessions. And I think the best part of this is that the books are read not only by children but by the whole family,” he says.
Thanaraj plans to make this a regular part of the NGO’s activities. “Initially we decided to do it till school reopens. But now, seeing the enthusiasm of the children I plan to continue it. Many of the books that we distribute come back to us wrapped. It warms my heart to see their eagerness each time I go there with books and that is the best reward I can get,” he says.
If you would like to donate new or used books for this initiative, call 9361330173