Furkan Latif Khan started reading ferociously at age 10 and even today she reads four-five books a month, despite a job and other commitments of adult life. For her, reading comes a close second to breathing. That is why throughout her childhood, spent in Srinagar, she was constantly in search of books. “One cannot buy all the books one wants to read," she says. So when she was visiting the violence-torn valley in the winter of 2015, she was struck by the lack of public libraries in the region.
As a result, she decided to set up libraries and set about doing so by crowdsourcing books. The process, initiated in early 2016, envisioned collecting books by appealing to the general population via social media; it is called Karvaan: A Roving Book Project. The books collected are to be taken to private schools with no libraries across the Kashmir region, where she wants to hold two-three day workshops for initiating students, teachers into setting up libraries and making books more accessible, she says.
Karvaan is one of the two winners of the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s 2017 award for SM4E (social media for empowerment) in the category of crowdsourcing.
The project is completely pro bono—from Khan’s own time and effort to those offering to help her transport, distribute and document the effort—each one is working for free and for the love of books.
To expand the scope of the project, Khan wants to make the process more interactive—from the initial workshop to the exchange of stories by children who receive these books on social media platforms. “I want the storytelling to be a two-way exercise—stories given by those donating books and then the stories of those children about these stories," says Khan.
In one month of campaigning on social media in 2016, Khan was able to collect over 1,000 books, mostly in English, from across the country.
Khan believes books can open up a new world for children. “The vision of the initiative is to create creative spaces in the form of libraries in schools," says Khan, adding that books and stories have great disruptive power and provide safe havens; she cites a photograph in Open magazine that shows a young girl walking down a lane engrossed in a book, oblivious to the curfew or even the onlooking armed forces.
Khan is clear she doesn’t want to enter into financial transactions. “In Kashmir, much like in other parts of the country, when money is involved there is too much negative interest," she said, adding that everyone wants to know “whose money, why money, when money". To keep it simple, she is not taking any money or giving money to anyone involved in the project. Khan believes that Karvaan will only act as a catalyst and it is for school children, teachers and parents to sustain the initiative.
Sometimes Khan worries whether the libraries she helped set up will last even though she believes the love of reading will likely carry the tradition forwards. Since she initially shared her idea, she has only received positive feedback and support. For instance, a Srinagar-based businessman-philanthropist, who did not wished to be named, has promised to customize and provide a vehicle to carry the books from one school to the next.
Unfortunately, Khan is yet to initiate the process of delivering these books to the schools. Karvaan is stuck in limbo because of the continual violence in the valley. “Every month we feel that we can head to Kashmir and start the Karvaan, there is a fresh round of violence and we have to stop," said Khan explaining that she has got in touch with about a dozen schools already, who are willing to host a roving book project.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.