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Unlocking young minds
Vinaya Patil | Wednesday, 19 April 2017 AT 09:53 PM IST
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Social entrepreneur Pradeep Lokhande talks about Gyan- key, his initiative of setting up libraries in rural schools and the need for proactive social participation.



The key to knowledge — that’s the literal translation of Gyan-key, a rural library by the students for the students. A part of the Non Resident Villagers (NRV) movement initiated by Pradeep Lokhande, Gyan-key library is now one of the largest rural reading initiatives.

“I believe that all of us are in some way NRVs with our roots tracing back to some village. If all of us can contribute to the making of a library in our own village, then our work is done,” says Lokhande, who ventured into social entrepreneurship in 2001 and began the NRV movement. “To change rural India, we need to influence children’s mindsets,” he believes and thus began with making rural schools computer-equipped.

At the onset, he was successful in installing 28,000 computers across 20,000 schools in Maharashtra through the old computers donated by people. “These schools were teaching computers as a full-fledged subject without having a computer system in place. We then visited villages to survey about the reading habits of children there. We met teachers, students and parents, and realised that the reading culture is poor,” he narrates.

Lokhande thus began Gyan-key as a social enterprise. “It’s not an NGO,” he insists. After facing the initial inertia, “the movement kicked off”, he says. Explaining the concept, Lokhande says, “I began with my native place near Wai in Maharashtra.

I got the libraries installed in three rural schools there. I then began to do the reverse calculation and came out with 180-books set which included one book on each subject that a school child would want to read about — from humour to science, fiction, theatre and everything. For these 180 books, I was going to need a particular amount and a bookseller. I therefore called for donors to write a cheque in favour of the book shop or enterprise and the bookshop then directly couriers all the books to the concerned school.”

To make the model further foolproof, the schools are asked to write a letter to the donor acknowledging the receipt of the books, as also a postcard is inserted in every book which the students use to write letters to the donor. “That way, the donor knows that his money has been used to set up a library and that the books are actually being read,” says the businessman in Lokhande. No monetary transaction is thus undertaken between any donor and the NRV. Gyan-key libraries are managed wholly by students with a girl monitor at the helm.

So far, 3,640 such libraries have been set up with three more being added every day in some corner of Maharashtra. The ‘dangerous optimist’, as Lokhande likes to call himself, aims to have all 94,000 rural schools in Maharashtra covered by 2020.
The initiative is also a means of keeping regional languages alive, says Aman Pawar, who works as a research associate at the Gyan-key’s office in Pune. He also says that four more initiatives are currently in the pipeline — Bhraman Key that aims to inculcate the interest for trekking among school children, Fit Key, Skill Key and a programme that will facilitate the donation of music instruments to rural schools.

Lokhande says that the NRV’s work doesn’t end with setting up libraries. They are constantly in touch with all these schools through various other programmes like essay-writing events, etc.

“When a child sends you a handwritten letter saying the book you donated has been read and how s/he liked it, the feeling of satisfaction is immense,” Lokhande says, and credits this feeling to constantly getting more donors through word of mouth. Some authors themselves donate their books now. He also points to the fact that these letters by children are a way of documenting the country’s history in as transparent and honest a way as possible.

The author can be followed on Twitter @vinaya_patil
 
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