Read and reinvent

Not  so long ago, three young girls decided to give underprivileged children what no one could ever take back from them: Rivetting stories. And from there, a journey to unexplored worlds.

Janani Ramachandran, Zonu Reddy and Dhivya Perumal – all 12th standard students of The International School, Bangalore – have a mission. “It’s to improve the intellectual landscape of underprivileged schools,” says Zonu. “And create as many scholars as we can,” says Dhivya. And it’s called Operation Education or OPED for short.

What’s OPED all about?

OPED is a student-run volunteer organisation that is the bridge between those who have books and have no use for them and those who don’t but could do with them.  As a result of residential book drives and donations from publishers and distributors, they’ve managed to set up libraries in eight underprivileged schools in Bangalore.
The young team maintains a rotating library system with sets of books exchanged from one school to another every few months. They also hold weekly interactive reading sessions in the schools to engage the children and inculcate in them the reading habit.
“Many of these children are poor but these books will take them to new worlds and places,” says Dhivya.

How it all started

OPED is Janani’s brainchild. “Having grown up in the United States, I was accustomed to having my city filled with local public libraries. Reading opened my mind to worlds that I would never have discovered otherwise. But on moving to Bangalore, I realised that there were no free public libraries in my area, Whitefield. It struck me that unlike fortunate people like myself, students in poor schools simply do not have the opportunities to read anything beyond their textbooks.”
That thought prompted Janani to approach her school principal in February 2008 who encouraged her to prepare a detailed plan.  The school also made an initial contribution of 1,000 books.

Later, while attending a summer course called Leadership in Law at Columbia University, New York, Janani and a group of her classmates developed the idea further as part of a project to take action in the local community.
In August 2008, she thrashed the idea out with her two close friends — Zonu and Dhivya – and that’s how Operation Education came to be born.

Stepping stones

Giving birth to OPED wasn’t easy.  To begin with, there were apprehensions and people were skeptical. Are you SURE it’s possible, people would ask. “Besides,” says Zonu, “It was the prime time of our academic lives. Then, would these kids appreciate it, we wondered. But the first time we took the boxes of books, they were very excited and enthusiastic. And it rubbed off on us,” says Zonu.
“Also, some people say that these children may not even have enough to eat, so how will they benefit from books? But I argue that education is undeniably the way out of poverty for these children,” says Janani.
There was also the problem of communication. Janani and Dhivya are not fluent in Kannada but soon realised that communication went beyond language. During the weekend interactive sessions, when students stumble on a word, the trio realises that they don’t have to use words to explain it. Actions speak louder and dumb charades become an integral part of the session.

And there was also an unexpected trade-off. “I was at St Joseph’s Kannada School trying to help the children with their English but it also ended up with them correcting my Kannada,” says Zonu.

The joy of giving

It hasn’t been easy, of course, given that the entire process is rather laborious, involving coordinating,  organising, sorting, labelling and recording books. But as Janani puts it, “A lot of people doing a little bit of work make a huge difference.”
And the returns on their investment of time and energy have been heartwarming. “For instance, at the end of one interactive session, the children wanted to do something for us so they sang and danced. They shook hands and said ‘Thank You’. It’s the Thank You’s that matter,” says Janani.
“And there was the time when one boy from St Joseph’s Convent English School came back to us and related the story of a novel that we had read when we were younger,” she adds.

The future

As youngsters on the threshold of professional courses who will soon go their way, what about the future of OPED?
They’ve thought of that already. “We’ve laid the foundation and have a lot of younger volunteers who will take the work forward. Besides, we’ll always be there,” they say.
If you’d like to donate books — old and new — or be a part of OPED and take it further, email operation.education.india@gmail.com. You could also drop your books off at Gangarams on M G Road.


Where they work

Some of the schools where OPED has set up libraries:
* Immadahalli Government High School
* Sri Narayana Vidya Mandira K K School
* St  Joseph’s Convent School— English Medium
* St  Joseph’s Convent School— Kannada Medium
* Snehadhana AIDS School

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