Friday 21 June 2013

Pratham Books Champion : Meena Vaidyanathan

For International Literacy Day (8th September), we had a dream - we wished that 100 people would volunteer to conduct storytelling sessions across the country. We ended up finding more than 250 champions to conduct storytelling sessions across the country. We will be sharing the stories of all our champions through our blog.

Our champion Meena Vaidyanathan wrote about her experience on The Better India. Meena Vaidyanathan has had a long and accomplished career across business development, marketing, and public affairs since 1994. She presently leverages her expertise and experience on programmes having large scale social impact through Niiti Consulting, and other consulting assignments like the one with Dialogue Social Enterprise. Meena loves singing, is a compulsive cook and writes infrequently on her blog. She is a travel bug and is presently collecting stories and unearthing history around places near India’s rivers.

Literacy has different meanings for different people. A few years ago, just being able to sign one’s name was considered enough to be deemed “literate”. Since then, even the statutory definition of literacy has changed. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has defined literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.”

Meena (in the centre) telling the story to 20 kids at NabPrabhat Orphanage at Tezpur, Assam

To create and interpret and communicate, children need to imagine and articulate their thoughts. What better way to inculcate these skills than storytelling? Story telling is an art that has mental, social and educational benefits on children. Besides, who doesn’t love the warm, fuzzy feeling one gets from listening to a good story?
The story chosen for these sessions was "Susheela's Kolams", about a girl who loves Kolams (a form of painting with rice powder/chalk) and dreams big
Listening to stories help kids imagine a world of their own weaving in the words that they hear into a fabric that is unique, that can potentially help shape his or her personality and thinking. Much more sometimes than what they may do learning from a class lesson, and it definitely helps kids broaden their ability to imagine and express than watching television endlessly. Through stories, kids can get to learn about places, practices in life, relationships etc. Stories also allow children to know about their own cultural roots, differences between cultures and various lifestyles and also learn about new worlds, while helping kids to visualize the plot and characters.

So when Pratham Books thought of a country-wide storytelling as a way to mark the International Literacy Day, I jumped at it. “Susheela’s Kolams” was a beautiful book. Simple, colourful but more importantly, introduced so many new words and concepts in a fun manner. How many opportunities do children in the far east get to learn about Tamil Nadu and a word called “Kolam”? But they did, and learnt how to make them! They learnt about the Air Force and about trains. I conducted the story telling session at the Nabprabhat Orphanage in Tezpur in Assam, with about 20 kids, none of who had been in a train before. And Susheela’s kolams helped them visualize their own little train journey. We read the story together and then learnt how to make kolams. The enthusiasm was palpable and the creativity oozing out!

The children are enthused by the story and get down to drawing some of their own Kolams!
None of the kids had Hindi or English as their first language. But the pictures and the expressions helped them understand the nuances of the story, and they answered questions with such gusto and asked such probing questions that it made me realize just how much the process of story-telling encouraged them to participate in the learning process. Hearing stories with interesting expressions and a patterned speech helps break the code of language, the sounds of words, the rhythm of sentences, and bring out the emotion even in the youngest of children. Kids love to talk instead of listening to anything. Storytelling gives them the necessary training to listen and understand instead of talking, helping them nurture valuable life skills that will enable them not just to become literate but also well-rounded individuals! As children experience an entertaining story, they pair this positive emotion with storytelling, which encourages them to explore and experience it again, listening to others, perhaps even to recorded stories, and eventually telling their own.
A whole lot of Kolams came out of the storytelling session at Tezpur!

This wasn’t the first time I was doing a story telling session and definitely won’t be the last. But a campaign that got a whole lot of story-telling volunteers to reach out to thousands of kids forebodes the beginning of something different. Hopefully with the momentum continuing, we will be able to offer the young ones of today knowledge packaged in exciting, interesting, yummy stories, that combines bits of history, geography, good morals, strong values, and insights into life!!After all, isn’t a literate society all about a continuum of learning? In enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.

Thank you Meena for spreading the joy of reading!

View more pictures from the International Literacy Day Celebrations.

This blog contains stories sent in by all our champions. Browse through the blog for more stories. You can also go through the tags on the right side of the blog to find stories happening in your own city.

Note : If any of you want to be a Pratham Books Champion and join us on our journey of getting 'a book in every child's hand', write to us at web(at)prathambooks(dot)org.

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