Transforming Lives Through Community Libraries: A Story of Hope and Success

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Rahul Chakroborty is currently in a good position. The 25-year-old from Nala block in Jharkhand’s Jamtara district is on the reserve merit list of Gramin Bank and is just one physical test away from qualifying for the Railways’ Group-D examination for non-technical jobs. Until 2018, Chakroborty knew he needed a government job but was unsure how to achieve it. While he understood that joining a coaching institute and finding a mentor would be helpful, his family’s financial situation, relying on his father’s tailoring job, made it difficult to afford.

In 2020, things changed for Chakroborty when he discovered free classes for competitive exams being offered at the newly opened community library in the village’s restored panchayat building.

“We greatly benefited from the library classes. There are eight of us in Nala who are at various stages of qualifying for competitive exams. The libraries have provided guidance to the youth of Jamtara,” says Chakroborty.

Jamtara, a district known for cybercrime, now boasts 118 such libraries.

The libraries are the brainchild of Faiz Ahmed Mumtaz, Deputy Commissioner of Jamtara, who received the Excellence in Governance Awards for 2020 and 2021 in the Innovative Schemes category. The biennial awards recognize the outstanding work of District Magistrates who are the driving force behind governance changes that impact many people nationwide.

DC Mumtaz conceived the idea in September 2020 during a visit to Chengaidih panchayat, where a local resident highlighted the lack of educational facilities leading to girls dropping out after middle school.

“The issue was real, and I felt compelled to take action. I wanted to promote a culture of reading and studying among the youth. By leveraging various schemes, we transformed unused government buildings into libraries. The first library was established in Chengaidih panchayat, and within eight months, libraries were set up in all 118 panchayats in the district,” explained the Deputy Commissioner.

He added, “While it may be ambitious, we hope that the libraries will steer the youth of the district away from cybercrime.”

Using the 15th Finance Commission’s ‘Untied Funds,’ the district administration renovated the panchayat buildings, with costs ranging from Rs 60,000 to Rs 2.2 lakh per library. Bookshelves, tables, and chairs were funded by block and panchayat officials or through CSR funds. The district administration also supplied books to the libraries.

The next challenge was to find mentors to conduct classes for youngsters preparing for competitive exams. An order was issued for police personnel, junior engineers, panchayat secretaries, and gram rozgar sevaks to conduct at least one class per week.

One of the instructors at the Nala center was police officer Akash Singh, who taught for three hours daily until his recent transfer. Singh covered math for Class 9 and 10 students and ‘Indian Polity’ for exam candidates.

Chakroborty is now seeking a replacement mentor for Singh. “Akash Singh sir put in a lot of effort for us. He was dedicated to our success, organizing weekly exams and recognizing top performers in local newspapers,” he shared.

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