By Shoumi Dasgupta
I first came across the Community Library Project through a social media post. I was interested and asked Purnima for more information. The first thing she told me was that becoming a volunteer requires a serious level of commitment. Although I was unsure how much time I could commit, I decided to give it a shot. Reaching the library was challenging, but I was completely taken in by the beautiful rooms for reading, circulation and children. Mridula’s orientation programme was interesting, especially hearing the experiences of different volunteers and how they really cared for and loved the library.
Although I was really apprehensive about committing, I decided to come to the library on Saturdays. The first couple of weeks were only about shadowing the volunteers, seeing how they read to the children of various ages and hold their attention. I saw the children’s reactions and started answering their never-ending questions. Finally, I gathered courage to start my own read-aloud sessions. The first few sessions were more like question and answer sessions, like “kyun hua yeh?” “aisa kyun kiya usne?” and “ab kya hua?” I gradually got the hang of it by engaging with my audience and not making it a mere monologue. Inputs from experienced volunteers helped me further. They told me about communicating the essence of the story or putting across few themes from the stories for them to think about.
Through this whole process, I realised that the books contained beautiful stories which made me think and visualise things very differently. Though they appeared to be for kids, I found reading them really very innovative and engaging. I became addicted to my Saturday mornings, coming to the library, reading, laughing and learning so much from my young readers. I love their questions, how they relate to some aspects of the stories, their own interpretations and of course the sweet lovely poems recited by the kids from the Headstart group. It really brought me a great sense of fulfillment and enrichment. Library volunteers like Shaoli, Upali, Purnima, Michael, Mridula, Ritika, and Nishant have made my journey very exciting by sharing their experiences and notes.
I would specifically like to point out the thorough engagement and the 360-degree approach taken by the library in reaching out to its young members through the community walk programme. It was a very enriching and life-changing experience for me, as it’s tough to see and accept the reality on the ground. I enjoyed going to the various homes of our members, interacting with their parents, neighbours, and siblings, and managing a read aloud session on the street. I also finally got to attend the formal read-aloud training session and got interesting perspectives and anecdotes from fellow new volunteers and experienced volunteers and founders (as well as a yummy treat at the end of it).
Through my brief stint in the library till now, I have found it very fulfilling, meaningful, and enriching and have shared my experiences with friends, colleagues, and relatives. I love my Saturday mornings and feel really sad and out of sync if I am not able to have my morning read-aloud session and chai (diligently and lovingly served by Chempal Bhaiya) with my young readers.
[Shoumi Dasgupta works with a government trust in branding strategy and content management. She is a TCLP volunteer who comes in every Saturday to read aloud.]