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How Eight Young Girls In Asia's Largest Slum Opened A Booming Library For The Poor

In our FEEL GOOD FRIDAY column this week, we present to you a story of eight girls from Asia's largest slum in Bombay who raised USD5,000, so to bring a library to those who cannot afford books, and successfully started a community library in their area.

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Dharavi, a slum in the Indian city of Bombay, is one of the largest slums in the world. It has suffered through many incidences of epidemics and other disasters.

Inside Dharavi

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It was featured prominently in Danny Boyle's 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, where several of the child actors in the film are actually from the Dharavi slum

A Scene from Slumdog Millionaire

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A few months ago, a group of girls came up with an idea to start a community lending library in the very slum, where they live, and give the opportunity to other children to develop a love of reading

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The project is the brainchild of a group of girls at Avasara Leadership Fellows. The Avasara Leadership Fellows program is a non-profit after-school enrichment program for girls who are highly motivated and have a love of learning and a desire to lead.

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The idea became a project and it was named The Dharavi Community Library and Literacy Project. (PS: It's also known as 'Friends Library').

One of the tasks on their long to-do list was to paint the library space, and to create a cheerful environment for children to spend time in.

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These photos provide a glimpse into the library space

Sweety perched on a ledge, committed to getting every corner painted!

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Joba, hard at work

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Vanitha making coffee for everyone

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Monisha paints while Sweety’s mother looks on (the girls’ parents are staunch supporters of their project!)

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On 1 February 2014, after months of hard work, the project came into fruition with the inauguration of the 'Friends Library'. The day was a huge success, with over 100 visitors to the library during opening hours!

The vast majority of visitors were children from Dharavi, whose eyes shone with delight at the array of books available to read. Parents, community members, school teachers and well-wishers also stopped by to congratulate the ALF library team on this exciting milestone.

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Have a look at the following photos to get a glimpse into the energy and excitement of the inaugural day:

This is the entrance to the library. Space is hard to come by in Dharavi, and rooms are stacked above each other. Once you climb these stairs, you find yourself in the literary world of Friends Library!

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Library team members– Monisha, Joba and Vanitha– enter the library after climbing up the stairs. Anticipation levels are high, only 45 minutes left till the library opens!

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The library team in the midst of their fantastic inaugural speech, which they did in three languages—English, Tamil and Hindi! They wanted to cater to their different audiences, i.e. community members, parents, children and teachers

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In the 'Friends Library', books are catalogued according to age group and genre, allowing children to choose books according to their age group and interest

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On the same day, few girls from a neighbourhood school popped into the library, and stayed there for hours reading their books

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Needless to say, it was a much needed space for kids in the slum, with some refusing to leave even after closing time

These avid readers had to be asked to leave at 4pm, i.e. closing time. They left reluctantly, already making plans to return the next day.

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The library now has more than 350 books, which children can borrow for a refundable deposit of Rs 20

“We always felt there are many students in our area who never got a chance to read books as there was no library in the area and buying these books was unaffordable,” said Menaga Nadar, one of the founders of the library.

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