Armed with a passion for books, storytelling and sharing, an educator is helping marginalised children discover the joy of reading
Poonam Kurani reads a story from Clifford The Dog to the children of Ganpat Patil Nagar, Borivali. Pic/Satej Shinde
After two decades as a teacher, Poonam Kurani is on familiar ground. Her Sunday walks through Ganpat Patil Nagar on Link Road in Borivali West are greeted with cheers by kids who are awaiting a new adventure of stories in the narrow gully. Kurani started these sessions in April as part of the Read Aloud project. Stories from Dr Seuss, Clifford The Dog, Tinkle comics and Pratham Books are read to children with little or no access to these names. “Sundays and books are my favourite combination. I don’t want to turn it into a lecture; just spark their imagination,” she says.
A Borivali resident, 46-year-old Kurani nurtured the desire to conduct these sessions for a while, but was unsure of taking European and American stories to children from vernacular mediums. A conversation on social media led her to Heeru Bhojwani, librarian and coach with the American School of Bombay and a Liferarian, which eventually kickstarted the project.
Darpana D Choudhary conducts a story-telling session in the lane running through the slum
The project is now helmed by the Liferarians. The Liferarian project is a collaboration among several librarians across the country looking to spread the love for reading and knowledge to the less-privileged. “We work to take the knowledge of books to the underprivileged across the country, and when Poonam approached us, it fit perfectly into our plans,” Bhojwani reveals.
Along with Kurani, Divya Mulchandani and Darpana Paria and several volunteers visit the slum for reading sessions every weekend, Bhojwani tells us. For Kurani, the experience has been one of mutual learning. “When I took along a few Tinkle comics recently, I discovered their curiosity and joy at reading those stories for the first time,” she remarks. Over the last three months, the sessions have grown from five children in one tiny lane, to 50 spread across three lanes in the community. The children are not the only ones enjoying the sessions, though. “Several adults bring out their stitching kit or sift rice while the kids listen to the stories,” she reveals. While Kurani continues to use storytelling to build character, comprehension and thinking, the Liferarian team handles the sourcing of books, its curation and the logistics. Bhojwani reveals that they have tied up with the local corporator to use his office as a temporary space for readings. She says, “We are not looking for donations. It is important that we find the right books, and in good condition.” Kurani reveals the sessions bring her joy while for the children, these stories are the spark that lights up their mind.
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