Published: 23rd August 2020
How the Buguri Community Library is helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds read during the lockdown
A library for kids during the lockdown? Yes, you heard that right. Lakshmi Karunakaran of the Buguri Community Library tells us how they used technology to read out books for kids to keep them engaged
There are no better friends than books and in a pandemic like this, they can help children gain knowledge, overcome fear and deal with stress. These are the words of Lakshmi Karunakaran, Programme Director at the Buguri Community Library. This library, which is run by the NGO Hasiru Dala in Bengaluru, is meant specially for children of ragpickers and it is located in three cities — Bengaluru, Mysuru and Tumakuru. Lockdown or not, Lakshmi and her team ran various programmes under the banner of this library. She says, "When the library was functioning normally, we kept technology at bay and used it for minimally. Now, the times are such that we use technology almost every day but with certain limitations."
When they decided to go online with their programmes in the month of March, the team worked on gathering some data, like the number of children with access to their parents' phones, whether they have smartphones or basic mobile phones, access to internet and so on. She explains the process further, "On the basis of this data, we divided the children into various groups, keeping their safety in mind especially during the pandemic. Then, we planned the schedule for various programmes and sent it to the parents. Every day, we shared books with children by reading aloud and asking for their responses to the story. We were able to read over 75 books to these kids in this manner. They are super happy about it, after all, it's a first-time experience for them and us using technology to read books. At the same time, whenever we read these books to them, we made sure to record and send it to them on our WhatsApp group too, so that they can go back and listen to it whenever they want to."
But what about children who don't have access to smartphones? For such kids, the volunteers at the library made a conference call and read stories over the phone and even conducted various quizzes. Over and above all this, the Buguri Community Library even started their own podcast show called The Buguri Podcast. "These podcasts are meant for play and drama. We observed that there was no child-friendly information circulated related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we took up the responsibility to give this information through our plays on the podcast. We encourage children to ask questions and clear their doubts. Similarly, we give them various creative art and craft projects to do using what they have available at home. Several quiz questions are asked at the end of our programme. We completed 25 episodes in our first season and we will begin our second season soon."
While all these activities kept children engaged during the lockdown, what happened when their parents resumed working out of the house? It was obvious that many children will no longer have access to these devices. That's when Lakshmi and her team started distributing book kits that included 20 different books both in English and Kannada along with worksheets and activities specially designed by the team. "We distributed these books to more than 200 kids and sent them voice notes of how to go ahead with the various activities designed for them. Whenever they have doubts, they either post it on the WhatsApp group or send us voice messages. This way, we reduce their dependency on technology. Whenever they complete these activities, children send photos of their worksheets to us," says Lakshmi whose hands remained absolutely full even during the lockdown.
So, when will they reopen the Buguri Community Library? Lakshmi says, "Our libraries were open for a little while but we had to shut down again last month due to a sudden rise in COVID cases in the state. But when we open up again, there will be certain guidelines that we will put in place. The libraries will open in a phased manner. We will be practising the guidelines set under phase 2 — fewer children will be allowed at a time and they will be divided into different batches. There will be fewer volunteers and children below 10 years will not be allowed in the library as they are vulnerable to this disease. We hope to reopen soon but the dates are yet to be announced."