The Aviva Great Wall of Education, a five-day initiative supported by The Hindu, saw Chennaiites come out in full force armed with books to contribute their bit for the education of underprivileged children.

On a fine Sunday morning began an endeavour to build a wall in Chennai. If walls are meant to keep out things, then this one served to keep out illiteracy, shattered dreams, crushed hopes and lack of access. What kind of a wall would that be? A wall of books; not just any wall, but a great wall of education.

The cause

Aviva Great Wall of Education, supported by The Hindu, saw Chennaiites come forward to part with something more precious than cash — books — and build a wall in Express Avenue, and also build a future for underprivileged children who cannot afford books to educate themselves. Through this initiative, books — old or new — that are collected will be sorted, divided and distributed to three partner NGOs – Save the Children, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Vidyarambham.

“Education is important in a country where a large percentage of the youth do not have access to schools. It is important to build the infrastructure of the mind through education and such initiatives help do just that,” said Dr. Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor, The Hindu.

“We came up with a wall because everybody requires a symbol; something people can touch and feel, see it grow; and what the society needs to give back in terms of building something. A book is something that touches everybody. It is a simple, empowering gesture,” said T.R. Ramachandran, CEO & MD, Aviva India.

R. Elangovan, Social Studies teacher at P.S. Higher Secondary School, agrees, “For students, giving away money is not difficult. But to part with the very books that gave them education, so that other children their age can benefit, is a great thing.” A tough act, yes, but this has been creating everyday heroes; people we need to look up to for their generosity, willingness to part with books that have been a part of their lives and, most importantly, for confessing that these books have been gathering dust at home and would find better use with these children.

One such was P. Aishwarya, an engineering student, who donated a boxful of books. “All these books kept me hooked as a child. I've given books like Chandamama, Champak, Gokulam and Tiny Tales, which I think that no child should miss. Books create wonderful memories. And I want other children to make equally beautiful memories.”

It's not just individuals like Aishwarya or an anonymous donor who gifted a brand new set of wildlife encyclopedias, but even institutions have come forward for the cause with huge contributions: 75, 000 books from G. Thiruvasagam, Vice Chancellor of Madras University.

Glam support

Since legendary actor Kamal Haasan's presence at the inauguration, it has been raining celebrities who have come forward to pitch in for the cause. They have been instrumental in drawing crowds and attention to the initiative. Kamal Haasan confessed that a personal experience prompted him to be a part of this initiative: “I could have easily been an underprivileged child without access to education, if not for my teachers who ‘lent' me books.”

Meanwhile, singer Haricharan who apart from contributing a few precious books, also sportingly sang a few popular hits from “Paiyya” and “Naan Mahaan Alla”. He said that education was the important factor today and that reading good books was imperative. Director Vishnu Vardhan, on the other hand, said that donating books for this cause was a reflection of the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. He emphasised on the importance of reading in a man's life and also shared how he himself has been trying to get into the habit of reading.

Actor Soniya Aggarwal, who made for a pretty picture in white, also showed her support for the cause by donating brand new books picked up from the Landmark counter at the venue. “Education is very important. What is all the more important is the experience of going to school and learning from that,” she said.

Singer Tanvi Shah also made a stop at the venue along with her friends from the cycling group Chain Reaxion. “This is a wonderful campaign. I am happy that the books will reach children who deserve it and am happy to be a part of it.”

Other celebrities who pitched in were actors Karthi and Anuja Iyer, theatreperson Crazy Mohan, singers Benny Dayal and Chinmayi and author Shreekumar Varma.

Activities

It is no easy job keeping the excitement going and also get the message across. But it was done and very well too by Evam and Storytrails. Evam performed a street play emphasising the need for books to reach the underprivileged children who dream of education but cannot afford it, while Storytrails catered to children in the audience with a storytelling session.

They narrated a story of ‘Draculink' who sucks the ink out of books and thus the stories are lost forever. The only way to fight him is to share stories with others so that the story is never lost. With a lot of singing, dancing and shouting, enthusiastic children fought ‘Draculink' and also learnt that books need to be donated so that their information does not go waste, thus drawing a parallel to this book drive.

In the end, all the running around, appeals, activities all boiled down to one purpose: education of the underprivileged children through books that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

With inputs from ARUNA IYER and ASHA SRIDHAR.

Book bytes

Which is the one book that children should read?

Ramachandran, CEO, Aviva: Thirukkural and Charles Dickens

Anuja Iyer, actor: Harry Potter

Benny Dayal, singer: Calvin and Hobbes (every child deserves to laugh)

Chinmayi, singer: Amar Chitra Katha

Haricharan, singer: Harry Potter

Vishnu Vardhan: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

Karthi, actor: Who Moved My Cheese

Tanvi Shah: The Ultimate Gift

Tapas Bhattad, CA student: Enid Blyton's Noddy series

Aziz Nawab, Std X: Jungle Book

Saksham, Std X: Tinkle comics

Avneet, II year, MBBS: Panchatantra, Alice in Wonderland, Akbar and Birbal

Uma, engineering student: Kadal Pura, Ponniyin Selvan, Yevanna Rani and the Vikramaditya stories.

Tapas Bhattad, CA student: “The one book I remember reading as a kid is Donald Duck. I remember it because there was a line , ‘Some ducks have all the luck.' It didn't do anything to change my life as a child, but now it helps me reconcile with things where luck does not favour me.”-

Tanvi Shah, singer: Education is development. Kids are the future and it is important that they are well educated.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Cricketer: It's a great initiative because not all kids can afford books. I am very happy to be a part of this drive.

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