Published: 27th November 2020
Books by bike: Sri Lankan man runs a mobile library for kids
Dasanayaka, 32, works as a child protection officer for the government. On his off days mostly during weekends he rides his motorbike, which is fixed with a steel box to hold books
During his leisure time, Mahinda Dasanayaka packs his motorbike with books and rides his mobile library across mostly muddy roads running through tea-growing mountain areas to underprivileged children in backward rural parts of Sri Lanka. Having witnessed the hardships faced by children whose villages have no library facilities, Dasanayaka was looking for ways to help them.
Then he got the idea for his library on wheels. He started his programme, called Book and Me, three years ago, and it has become very popular among the children. "There are some kids who hadn't seen even a children's storybook until I went to their villages," he said.
Dasanayaka, 32, works as a child protection officer for the government. On his off days mostly during weekends he rides his motorbike, which is fixed with a steel box to hold books, to rural villages and distributes the reading material to children free of charge. "The children are very keen and enthusiastic, they are eagerly waiting for me always looking for new books," Dasanayaka said by phone.
His programme is mainly centred in Kegalle, a mountainous region of the Indian Ocean island nation about 85 kilometres (52 miles) northeast of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, with poor villages scattered among tea plantations. He visits the villages once or twice a week to distribute the books.
His collection includes about 3,000 books on a variety of subjects. "Boys mostly like to read detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes, while girls prefer to read youth novels and biographies," he said. So far, he said, his program has benefited more than 1,500 children, as well as about 150 adults. He began the program in 2017 with 150 books some of his own and others donated by friends, colleagues and well-wishers.
He bought a second-hand Honda motorbike for 30,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($162). He then fixed a steel box on the bike's pillion seat. I wanted to do something for children who are burdened with an exam-centered education. And to change the way kids look at society, to change their perspectives and broaden their imagination," he said.
Apart from giving away books, Dasanayaka also speaks to the children for a few minutes, usually under a roadside tree, highlighting the value of reading, books and authors. He then conducts a discussion on books the children have read, with the aim of eventually forming reading clubs. His programme has spread to more than 20 villages in Kegalle.
He also has expanded it to some villages in Sri Lanka's former civil war zone in the northern region, more than 340 kilometres (211 miles) from his home. The long civil war ended in 2009 when government troops defeated Tamil rebels who were fighting to create a separate state for their ethnic minority in the north. Dasanayaka, who is from the ethnic majority Sinhalese, believes books can build a bridge between two ethnic groups."Books can be used for the betterment of society and promote ethnic reconciliation because no one can get angry with books," he said.