A 15-year-old published author introduces Dharavi kids and the visually impaired to the world of short stories and poems
As the new academic year kicks off next month, 400 students of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Vidya Mandir also called Dharavi School, will get to flip through a wimpy kid’s diary, venture in Bon Bibi’s forest and learn about celestial objects, thanks to a library added to the institution, last week. Packing in 500 books for kids from Class 1 to 10, it has been set up by 15-year-old Viraaj Vig, a Class 10 student of American School Of Bombay, as part of a project-based assignment given to students, two months ago.
Students with books from Kahani Tree
“The aim of the project was to create a lasting social impact in Mumbai and I chose the subject of literacy. In my research, I found that in BMC schools, 22 per cent of students in Class 5 are illiterate. One of the reasons is the lack of educational resources like libraries, which help students develop reading skills to improve their literacy level,” says the Taipei-born, Prabhadevi-bred teenager, who connected with the Dharavi School (“it was the first link that popped up online when I searched for schools for low-income communities”) for the project. “They were supportive and recommended that I provide English books as that’s the medium of instruction,” adds Vig, who, himself, is a published author of three books, available on Amazon. Penned at the age of seven, his first book, Reader Blasts Off is an illustrated collection of short stories followed by a fiction tale titled A Sunbird’s Adventure and You Can Be A Poet Too, a collection of poems that was published earlier this year.
Viraaj Vig (in centre) with students at Dharavi School
India in the books
Vig began setting up the library by organising a book donation drive in his building, which helped him collect 350 books. “The books are for children up to 14 years. However, many of them are western stories, which may not appeal to students. So, I decided to raise money through crowdfunding to buy more books,” he recalls. Through a campaign on Ketto.org, Vig raised Rs 65,000 (the goal was Rs 45,000) and bought more than 125 books from Kahani Tree, an independent children’s bookstore in the city that curates interesting titles for kids aged two and above. From tales of Akbar and Ashoka to Picture Gandhi, a photo-biography of the freedom fighter, the books feature Indian subjects. “These books are more relatable. The funds helped me buy a bookshelf too,” he adds. The library also features encyclopaedias, short story collections and picture books.
Vig’s published works have been translated to Braille by NAB
Though closed for summer holidays, the school premises are currently being used for a summer camp. “When I was setting up the library, some of the kids came and read the books. It was inspiring to see them read the words aloud,” says Vig, who also plans to create manual reading logs, with an aim to present a prize to a student who reads the most books through the year.
Vig has contributed to the reading world of the visually impaired by translating his published works to Braille through National Association for the Blind (NAB) at Worli. In fact, his recent book, You Can Be A Poet Too, is currently perched on the bookshelves of 140 schools for the visually impaired in India. “The idea to translate my books in Braille came about when I visited NAB, a while back. I learnt there was hardly any fictional literature available for the visually impaired. I thought if I could provide them some entertainment through my books, why not?” says the teen, who has also distributed the Braille publications to visually impaired centres in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, London, New York and Boston. “When I take off on holidays with my parents, we connect with Braille centres to donate the books. They have appreciated the effort,” he reveals. Recently, Vig also conducted a poetry workshop at The Victoria Memorial School For The Blind at Tardeo. “The students didn’t know the concept of poems, so I introduced them to forms like haiku and sonnet. I would like to conduct more workshops in my free time,” he says.