Impact Story: An Oasis of Storybooks in Rajasthan
The Merasi are a musical community in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan with a rich cultural heritage spanning more than 800 years. Despite being defined as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, they are marginalised from mainstream society and struggle to get equal access to education, healthcare and representation.
To protect their cultural heritage and empower the community, US-based Folk Arts Rajasthan and India-based Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan have been collaborating since 2004 to help Merasi youth get better access to education and healthcare.
The Merasi School, which was established in 2007 provides children with a holistic education that combines literacy with art, simultaneously exposing them to the modern world and also striving to preserve their musical heritage.
We spoke to Karen Lukas, Director of Folk Arts Rajasthan to understand the impact storybooks have had on the lives of these children. In 2021, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan raised funds for 2,000+ storybooks on Donate-a-Book through their ‘Spark Curiosity’ campaign. The Merasi School has always been the children’s safe space, and the books in the library were a source of joy and learning. When the lockdown restricted the kids from accessing the books in person, the school was brought to them in the form of storybooks that were taken to their homes on a fortnightly basis.
According to Lukas, the books represent the love the teachers have for the kids; the kids know that by learning to read and write, they’ll have a superpower. “When they read a story that has a great message and can see themselves as the protagonists, that’s valuable beyond anything that I could hope for,” she said.
Before the pandemic, storytelling and reading sessions were held on Saturdays, along with art-based activities. One would see a child reading by themselves or with a friend. Storybooks by Pratham Books have decorated the school library for many years and over time, certain titles have become very popular, such as DumDum-a-Dum Biryani and The Seventh Sun: A Tribal Tale from Odisha, which resonate with them. Under the hot desert sun and amid the ongoing water crisis, the book prompts discussions about the environment. The children are excited to practise reading the new words they’ve been learning, and they’re anxious to read the story aloud to others. “It’s one of my favourite things to be able to sit and listen to a child read to you because they want to,” Lukas shared.
Lisa Darling, the Programme Manager at Folk Arts Rajasthan shared how storybooks by Pratham Books storybooks repeatedly reinforce how magic comes from a simple thing. “A colourful storybook in school makes Merasi School even more of a home.”
This is the core of the Pratham Books mission—to see a book in every child’s hand—and your support has been invaluable in helping us and Folk Arts Rajasthan and Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan achieve it. Thanks to your donations, the children at Merasi School are discovering that the pages of a storybook are windows to new and exciting worlds.
Click here to explore ongoing fundraisers on Donate-a-Book and donate today!