The residents of the Shaoliya village in Rajasthan used to spend their evenings playing cards, but recently a new activity had become popular in the community—reading.
In 2008, Room to Read established a library at the local government primary school, but found that engaging parents in their children’s literacy habits was an uphill task. “We had a hard time explaining the benefits of a library to the parents and teachers who were resistant to this change,” says the library facilitator.
Then one day, Sita Kimari—a long-time resident of Shaoliya who was educated only up to fifth grade—decided to check out the school’s new facilities. “I was attracted by the large illustrations, even though I couldn’t read the books,” she says. “As a child, my father always forbade me from reading and wanted me to help him in the fields instead, but there was something welcoming about the library.”
Sita began to make regular visits to the school library whenever she had spare time. “I would sit in the room and try to read the lines written below the illustrations,” she recalls. “The librarian helped me to overcome my fright of reading, and now I can read some books aloud with confidence.”
After she had experienced the value of the library, Sita offered to help our team engage the rest of the community. Some villagers, she said, saw school as a place for children only, which kept them from using the library. In an effort to remove that stigma, Sita began to check out a few books at a time from the school library and issue them to friends and neighbors. She also started a reading club and discussion forum with other women in the village.
Soon the large courtyard in front of Sita’s house had turned into a nightly reading corner—filled to the brim with adults and children devouring books in their local language. Sita keeps a meticulous register of all checkouts and even attended a training put on by our local team on how to tell stories effectively, for those in her community who cannot read at all.
These efforts, combined with the students’ enthusiasm for reading have had an immense effect on the community’s priorities. “Each evening, I look forward to coming to Sita’s house to read these books,” says Dhanraj Choudhary, a neighbor. “The simplicity of language and ideas in these books makes them attractive.”
Dhanraj has quickly become a regular of Sita’s book club. “I have stopped playing cards in my spare time,” he says. “Instead I read books.”