Laudable initiative Society

How Food4Thought rekindles the joy of reading

Madhavi Sharma, Srinivas Rao, Shefali Rao and Aayush

Madhavi Sharma, Srinivas Rao, Shefali Rao and Aayush   | Photo Credit: Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

Hyderabad-based Food4Thought Foundation operates more than 300 libraries across India and strives to make books available in the remote corners

An installation shaped like a house, built with books, was one of the many attractions at the Hyderabad Literary Festival (HLF). There were smaller boxes of books placed near the installation, labelled Ghar Ghar Pustakalaya (GGP). It’s the new initiative of the Food4Thought Foundation. “I think GGP is necessary to boost our country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product),” says Shefali Rao, one of the founders of the organisation.

A young student listens to a podcast from the Save Endangered Stories series

A young student listens to a podcast from the Save Endangered Stories series   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Beyond the word play, GGP is an attempt to make books available in places where it’s tough to set up a conventional library. “Not everyone can maintain a library and catalogue the books. It involves time, effort and money. GGP is an alternative method to take books to remote hamlets and slums. Each box contains about 50 books, and once these have been read, we issue a new set of books,” she explains.

Established in 2015, Food4Thought is now spread across 22 States and 81 cities. The organisation has helped set up more than 300 libraries in schools, hospitals, homes and even prisons.

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    How Food4Thought rekindles the joy of reading

    The organisation came about when Shefali had a collection of books that she had outgrown and wanted to donate. These were treasured volumes and she was eager to know who would benefit from it. “I discussed it with my husband [K Srinivas Rao] and he said it was time to do something on our own,” she shares. The couple runs an HR consultancy firm called The Strategist and had been wanting to do something pertaining to social responsibility. They registered Food4Thought as a voluntary organisation.

    The first generous contributions came from within their family circles. “They were generous enough to forego the money they had allocated for vacations and birthday gifts,” says Srinivas.

    How Food4Thought rekindles the joy of reading

    Food4Thought recently approached a few corporate houses to see if they would be keen to help set up libraries as part of their corporate social responsibility activities. “It’s still in the early stages,” Srinivas says.

    Meanwhile, individuals came forward and donated books. Books received are catalogued and circulated to readers, and the donors can track where their books are travelling.

    “When we began, we wanted to take books to the farthest of places and explored the north eastern states. It was easier said than done,” recalls Shefali. Courier companies wouldn’t go beyond the major cities of the northeastern belt and hired porters/couriers would have to carry the books on their backs for a few kilometres. But this is where heartwarming stories also came to the fore: “One of the courier agents told us that he’s willing to do two trips for free when he heard about the work we do,” says Shefali.

    Visitors to the stall

    Visitors to the stall   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

    The organisation networked with Art of Living which had branches in remote parts of the country and made books available through them.

    Srinivas talks about the two-fold approach of the organisation — to donate books to the remote rural parts of the country, and to rekindle the urge to read among urban children. “We say no to text books and religious volumes. The idea is to encourage reading habits not linked to academics,” he says. In urban schools, members of the foundation occasionally play two or three-minute podcasts from their Save Endangered Stories (on YouTube) series that highlight oral tales that used to be narrated by grandparents. “Children get interested and want to know more, and the teacher directs them to related books in the library,” adds Srinivas.

    The foundation gets language books from National Book Trust periodically and from private organisations like Green Gold Animation which gives away hundreds of Chhota Bheem books. “When these books arrive, we have our hands full. In addition to five full-time volunteers, everyone at The Strategist helps in cataloguing the volumes and there’s a lot of joy in doing this. We are in this for good,” Shefali says with a smile.

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    Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 2:13:06 AM |

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