Buguri helps children helps children speak out and navigate day-to-day problems.

A haven of words How a Bengaluru library is creating a safe space for waste pickers children
news Children Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 13:53

The image that comes to mind when one thinks of a library is of rows of bookshelves, a ‘silence’ sign, and people lost in their books. However, a community library in Banashankari, Bengaluru is the opposite of this.

‘Buguri’, a community library initiative by Hasirudala, an NGO, is located on the second floor of an old age home. Hasirudala works for the welfare of waste pickers in Karnataka, and Buguri aims to create a safe space for their children.

‘Buguri’, which translates to ‘spinning top’, aims to help children spin ideas and stories. “These children come from very difficult backgrounds. This space is for them to read and learn through stories. Here, they can temporarily step away from the realities of their daily lives and into the world of imagination,” says Pallavi Chander, an art therapist and a temporary coordinator of Buguri, who insists that it is not an academic space.

Under the leadership of Lakshmi Karunakaran, the library, which opened on January 26, has only two small rooms and a washroom. Although it is located close to the basti where the waste pickers live so that it is accessible to their children, finding the premises wasn’t easy because of the prejudice people hold against children from impoverished backgrounds.

Every Wednesday afternoon, about 30 children climb up to the second floor of the old age home for a two-hour reading session. While many don’t know how to read, it doesn’t stop them from picking up their favourite books and feverishly turning the pages. The session is followed by the volunteers and facilitators, who lead a discussion about the themes in the stories.

It is in these discussions that the children speak about issues they face, says Pallavi. “Through the themes of the stories, their problems and issues come out. They talk about their everyday struggles like fights among peers, bullying and even gender related issues,” she says.

Talking about the lack of attention these schools receive, Pallavi says, “Many of the children are first generation learners. One thing we really began noticing is how little they learn in school. While many of them are more comfortable in Kannada, the schools are English medium. Many of them know how to read words but don’t know the meaning. It’s not like they aren’t interested in studying”.

The children are divided into two batches at Buguri — one for children between ages 3 and 10, and the second between ages 11 and 16. The books — most of them acquired by donations — are in Kannada, English, Hindi, and Tamil, and are segregated according to difficulty levels.

“Here, when the children pick the books of their choice and ask us what a word is or what it means, we are able to engage them. The initiative has to come from the child, because if we try to follow an academic approach, we have seen that he/she loses interest. But we have had a couple of parents tell us that their kids have started looking forward to school after they began coming to Buguri,” Pallavi says.

They also have exercises where learning happens organically. For instance, in one of the activities, children are asked to write only the title of the story and draw the beginning, middle and end. Those who have trouble writing ask their peers for help, encouraging them to learn.

It's not all about reading either. Each child negotiates the space, activities and surroundings differently. For instance, a child from the junior batch who doesn’t know how to read sees pictures in the books and then makes up her own story. Other children love to draw and colour, and that is the main attraction for them.

Buguri also helps the children understand and negotiate day-to-day issues, and their feelings about real-life events. A girl from the junior batch, who lost her father a few months ago, used stories to negotiate with her grief. “It was cathartic for her as well,” Pallavi says.  

Apart from the book reading and sharing sessions from Wednesday to Saturday, Sundays are reserved for art and craft and activity sessions with volunteers and facilitators. These including art therapy sessions, collage making, creating games out of stories and so on.

Pallavi acknowledges however that discussions and negotiations in a space like Buguri may not immediately translate to real-life changes. “It’s the first attempt. Things like these take time to have quantifiable real-time impact,” Pallavi asserts.

Buguri currently has 2,000 books and also plans to open centres in Hebbal, Mysuru and Tumkur.