An MBA Graduate From Kolkata Runs A Community Library For Kids In The Spiti Valley
Ruchi Dhona, a 37-year-old from West Bengal, quit her corporate job to introduce reading habits to the inhabitants of Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. She has set up a free community library — ‘Let’s Open A Book’ — to bring about a book revolution in this remote corner of the country.
Laraib Fatima Warsi 20 Sep 2023 12:32 PM GMT
The sun had just emerged after a downpour and Ruchi Dhona said she was painting murals on the walls of a small library where books jostled for space on shelves and cupboards. “After this I shall arrange more books that we have received,” she told Gaon Connection.
Dhona is the founder of Let’s Open A Book, a community library for children in Kaza, the sub divisional headquarters of the remote Lahaul and Spiti, a cold desert district in Himachal Pradesh which shares a border with the Tibet Autonomous region in China. In Kaza, which is at a height of 11,980 ft above sea level, snow-clad peaks tower over streams.
The community library has more than 2,500 books in Hindi, English and in the Tibetan language. There are books for beginners as well as adults. For the younger children there are cloth books, lift-the-flap books, musical books and so on while for the older children there are mystery and adventure books. “I loved the Nancy Drew series when I grew up,” laughed the 37-year-old Dhona.
Let’s Open A Book is a unique community library initiative in a back-of-beyond region of the country where educational facilities and learning opportunities for children are limited.
Dhona herself belongs to Kolkata in West Bengal and came to Spiti for the first time in 2017. She had just quit her corporate job. “I visited a few government schools here and the lack of storybooks in them remained in my mind. I decided that I would go back to the valley to set up a library for the children there,” she narrated.
She started working with government schools and in 2021, piloted a free community library project. Dhona returned to the valley and set up ‘Let’s Open A Book’ for the children there.
Every day, the library, which is housed in a rented place, is visited by children who pick up books of their choice, sit on the carpet and dhurrie, and read the books at the library, without paying any fee.
Crowdfunding as well as donations from individuals from across the country has helped Dhona build up the library. “There are also publishers and booksellers like KoolSkool and Tulika who sell us books at deep discounts. We set up a wishlist and people send us books from there for the library,” she said.
Two librarians take turns to look after the library that is open throughout the year. The books do not just remain on the shelves, Dhona said. Many activities and projects are built around them and this has met with considerable success.
“We started a 100-book challenge in which we introduced the children to the different books in the library and asked them to come and read them. Whoever reads 100 books will be declared the winner and will get a bag as a prize,” she said.
There are a couple of hundred people who support Dhona’s initiative and some of them work online as volunteers who help her with maintaining the records and handling social media. The community library runs on crowdfunding and donations from wellwishers.
“The work that these people do for the library is commendable and is a big support for me. Together we create structures, strategies and plans for the library. A lot of my friends, colleagues, seniors from the office work with me for the cause,” Dhona said.
Dhona herself is an ardent lover of books and it was her grandfather who, she said, encouraged her to read when she was a child. She graduated from St Xaviers in Kolkata after which she pursued her MBA at Delhi. “For me that was the way to be in control of my own life choices,” she said.
Dhona feels that there is nothing that she would be doing other than running the community library because it makes her immensely happy and gives her satisfaction.
“It was the joy that comes with the stories and the excitement of the children to visit the library again and again which sparked the idea of building up this library and there’s nothing else I’d do on this planet other than this,” Dhona added.