Pratham Books Champion : Neela Gupta

As part of Litworld’s World Read Aloud Day celebrations, we decided to ask our community if they would conduct storytelling sessions in their cities. 50 awesome champions decided to take part and ‘celebrate the power of words’. We will be sharing the stories of all our champions through our blog.
Today’s story comes from Neela Gupta who conducted a storytelling session in Vadodara. Neela has worked as a librarian for about 30 years in different kinds of libraries (research library, an industrial library, a public library, a college library and school libraries). According to Neela, this is her longest and most enjoyable tenure of work is with 5 different school libraries. It gave her a chance to be with children and try to understand the world of children ranging from age group of 6 – 18 years. She has learnt a lot from watching and interacting with them. Neela has also volunteered with different underprivileged groups and tried to introduce them to the world of books. She says, “This kind of work gives me immense pleasure. I feel it connects me to a marvelous world of magic where there is some new discovery everyday. It also helps me explore myself and my relationship with children and adults.”
Neela Gupta writes …
To celebrate world read aloud day, my friend Vaishali and I went to a couple of nomadic families living by a railway crossing. Their homes are plastic sheet covered shelters. The children do not have any exposure what so ever to the world of words, forget about seeing or touching a book! Only one girl had attended school for some days and she knew how to write her name. We felt very strongly for them hence we chose to tell a story to them and let them have a peep into the world of books and imagination.
We had carried some of the books sent by Pratham Books and some food. As we approached their place, they and their parents eagerly came forward to know why we were there. Upon knowing our objective, one of the adults went to call other children who were playing by the railway line. Soon, we had a small group of about 10-12 children. While other children were still arriving, I spread the books and asked if they had ever seen a book? “No… “was the reply. Probably they could not believe that they can open and see pictures from such lovely and colourful books. 
After all of them settled down, I shared the story of ‘Abu Khan Ni bakri’. While sharing the story, I asked if they had ever seen a mountain or hill.. They had not. I realized how limited their world was! My friend Vaishali then told them one traditional story of ‘King and the mouse’ where short rhymes were repeated. They enjoyed repeating the rhyme and also learnt it. 
While we were preparing to distribute food, they took the books again and started looking at the pictures. The smile and sense of wonder in their eyes made their faces look so beautiful! It was touching somewhere deep down in the heart to know we have created such an imbalanced society! When will that day come when we will be able to give equal opportunities to all our children?
Our friends said they were there only for a short time after which they will move away to another place. We had bought some drawing books which we carry this evening and let them draw and paint in. Vaishali wants to try teaching them to write their names in this short time. 
Thanks Pratham Books for this initiative which is giving me a chance to look at this other world which I was unaware of.

Update : Neela wrote back to us to say that she re-visited the kids that evening.

“We carried some drawing books, writing material and crayons for the children. The thrill of holding a pencil for the first time was visible in their eyes. Some children from our Setubandh group (Aura-a learning place‘s group of underprivileged children) accompanied us. They were happy to help these children hold the pencil and write for the first time! A girl loved to draw and try out different colours.


Thank you Neela  and Vaishali for spreading the joy of reading! 
You can also read about the other storytelling sessions conducted by Neela (1, 2, 3). Click here to read the stories sent in by all the Pratham Books Champions. 
Note : If any of you want to be a Pratham Books Champion and join us on our journey of getting ‘a book in every child’s hand’, write to us at web(at)prathambooks(dot)org.

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