Amidst the pandemic many kids from the weaker sections of society lost access to educational material like books. Project Aashayein, under the leadership of Kajal Gupta is now on a mission to bring books back into the hands of kids living in slums around Delhi
In a small room of 8×9 square feet, four volunteers are busy setting up a library for children who live in the slums near the Mandi House metro station. These volunteers are from Project Aashayein, whose aim is to build and sustain as many libraries as possible for the weaker sections of society. The idea behind setting up these libraries stems from the pandemic which forced schools and colleges to remain shut for prolonged periods, in such a scenario ensuring that children are not deprived of valuable resources, like books, is their main aim.
The project was started by Kajal Gupta, an avid traveller who left her corporate job last year with an aim to build libraries in every slum in Delhi. Currently the project consists of a volunteer group of 10 members. Most of whom are in corporate jobs but united with a motive to do something for underprivileged kids.
“Everyone is trying to provide ration and oxygen, which is necessary, but nobody is realising that education is also a necessity. I wanted to do something in the education sector. I didn’t want children to have to quit their studies due to Covid. Initially I joined some NGOs but realised that they are just doing formalities. After which I decided to do things on my own,” says Kajal.
Working in the slums for four years brought Kajal to the realisation that people living in the slums generally don’t allow their young children, especially girls, to go out to study. “This is the biggest concern in my mind when I decided that I want to build libraries in slums.” So, we finalised that whatever we will do, it will be inside the slum areas.
Project Aashayein started work in February 2021 — so far they have built libraries across nine locations in Delhi. “In November, I asked my followers on my travel page to donate books. When we had collected around 1,000 books, we decided to do something from that.”
“We wanted to have a sustainable and passive model, we could have donated books but that wouldn’t serve the purpose.” Project Ashayein works in tandem with NGOs already on the ground to facilitate the construction and upkeep of these libraries. “We connected with Enactus of Delhi Technological University and built libraries at six locations. And through them we connected with other NGOs.”
Talking about the maintenance of these libraries Kajal says Project Aashayein, nominates one ‘entrepreneur’ who is a member of some NGO at a location where the library is located, who takes care of the library. “We come in touch with a person who knows about kids of a particular location where we want to set up a library.” The entrepreneur then suggests books after talking to the children there, and “we try to provide these books through our donations. These entrepreneurs are often members of some NGO which ties up with our library model and they have to keep the library open at least five days a week.”
But with the pandemic pushing education on to the digital sphere providing digital devices and network connections to these areas has been a problem. “We are trying to get more funds, suggesting our models to more NGOs so that we could buy these devices” adds Kajal.
Another issue the project is facing is the lack of educational books that the kids need. Kajal says that the books we get from donations are either literature or english books, while most of the slum kids are interested in hindi and competitive exam books. “We try to find what kind of books the kids want, for example we got most of the requests for the library near Mandi House of puzzle books, gaming books. So we arranged them.”
In slums, insecurities and money are two most important concerns in the minds of parents. Therefore, it is very important for us to come to their places and win their trust, if things need to improve in education. “Our other motive is to know the community members. Talk to them and understand their concerns.”
“When Covid normalises, we wish to come here and connect with people through our libraries, talk to them about hygiene, sanitation and hold classes for them. And also try to connect more people with the project.”