Seventh standard student Payal Jagtap from the Kamalabai Joshi Kenjal Vidyalaya in Wai, Satara, Maharashtra, is thrilled at being nominated monitor of her school. Payal is no ordinary monitor. She is in-charge of Gyan-Key, the key to knowledge, and heads the library at the school.
With just about 350 houses in the small Kenjal village that Payal hails from, the school is a make-shift shed. The library holds pride of place though, with 184 books in Marathi.
The books are bought at Rs 6,300, with proceeds from a donor. With easy to read titles such as ‘Shyamchi Aai’ (Shyam’s mother) and ‘Napas mulaanchi goshta’ (Stories of children who failed), the library has turned out to be a crowd-puller in the true sense of the word.
‘Shyamchi Aai’ is hailed as one of the greatest tributes to a mother’s love in Marathi literature, while ‘Napas mulaanchi goshta’, details real-life stories about children who have failed, and how they have gone about overcoming academic failure to achieve great success. “More than 50 per cent of school children fail their exams. There is a dire need of a social movement for such students, to help them overcome their despondency since it is not the end of the road. This book, which tells the inspiring stories of school dropouts, has become a major hit,”' says Pradeep Lokhande, founder of Gyan-Key. A self-styled social entrepreneur, Lokhande flagged off the initiative to reach out to secondary school children (5th standard and above) in 2008, and has never looked back.
Gyan-Key works towards opening a library in a secondary school in key villages. As of now, it is limited to Maharashtra.
Founder of Rural Relations, Lokhande helps corporates, donors and even ordinary folks reach out to rural India.
The company works across 10 States, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, among others. Lokhande seeks to change the ‘have-nots’ in rural areas, with participation from the ‘haves’ across major metroes. Gyan-Key is just one of his many social ventures.
Each library has a minimum of 150 books in the local language covering subjects such as fiction, self-motivation, autobiographies, comics, music, etc. To instill a sense of ownership, students are encouraged to donate books, for ‘their’ library on their birthday, which helps in creating a feeling of belonging.
Lokhande, who has personally visited over 4,000 villages in India, says, “School children in the most remote part of the country are well-versed with all the latest news. They ask questions about American astronaut Sunita Williams, They talk about the Indian girl who has gone to space. They are keen to know all about things happening across the world.”
Judging by the success of how children have taken to reading, and at times parents have caught on too, Lokhande plans to cross the 500 mark soon. Gyan-Key is currently on at 480 libraries in small villages which have a population of 2,000. “I realised if children read up on big stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Gulzar or even Abraham Lincoln who have combated failures, but have gone on to achieve bigger things in life, these children can take inspiration from the real-life case studies,” says the social activist.
Not limited by any boundaries, Lokhande says school children have the wierdest queries. “One would think one man talking across the world (US president Obama) would not touch the heart of a small village child. But, it does. I have encouraged these children to write in to a senior Nationalist Congress party leader, Supriya Sule, daughter of Sharad Pawar, and even to the Union Minister, Sachin Pilot, since they have several questions as to how these politicians are running the country,” he says. It is an interaction that is encouraged. “I have told the children to send their queries on a post card, so that they don’t incur any cost. They are also encouraged to read more books to widen their knowledge,” he adds. Lokhande says donations of Rs 5,000 can instill learning to around 150-200 students around 8-10 villages. Donors can keep in touch with the school monitor, such as Payal Jagtap, to get regular updates and feedback from the students.