Yesterday I met the Archdiocesan Board of Education all the nuns and priests running 120 poorer than poor schools. I wish you could have seen their happiness when we showed them the books. They couldnt believe that the books were for them, free, including the costs of transporting them
So writes Sister Dorothy Baker, in a letter to Monsignor John G. Nolan, of a recent and unexpected gift to the people of Bombay. Xerox Education Publications, in cooperation with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, has donated over 100,000 books of all kinds for the school children of India, and a great number more for the other countries of the Near East.
Books are a rare and valuable commodity in India. Many schools have none at all, and this deprivation touches members of every social class.
Sister Dorothy, the Director of the Social Institute of the University of Bombay, spearheaded the distribution effort in that city, and the story which unfolds is told largely in her own words.
The books arrived in India by sea and were trucked to the Social Institute, where they were received by the Director, and her two assistants, Goretti and Bernadette
It was like Christmas, Sister Dorothy recalls. There was such a variety of books, and with them, posters, pictures and records.
After the books were sorted and counted, the problem of actual distribution loomed. How they were to be dispensed and to which schools and organizations presented major obstacles to those in charge.
First of all, the books were all printed in English, and most Indian schools use the native tongues, having English occasionally as a second language.
Still, Sister Dorothy maintains, If a child sees an attractive, simple book in English, this motivates him to look at it and if he has an introductory knowledge of English, he may be able to read it.
But without the proper precautions, chances that the children, particularly the poorer ones, would have the opportunity to use the books at all, would have been very slim. In another letter to Monsignor Nolan (who was instrumental in arranging for the donation of books), Sister Dorothy explains:
Even the middle and upper classes have nothing in their homes, nor have they had them as children. So every little book is appreciated. The books do not get down to the poor child they are taken by the upper and middle groups.
For these reasons, and more, Sister Dorothy continues, distribution is going on slowly No Indian could be exposed to such beauty and richness, except gradually, because of the deprivation in their lives.
Beginning with the parochial schools of Bombay, Sister Dorothy then visited the Municipal Schools of that city with the books. As a result of the Xerox Gift, libraries throughout the area have been either set up or expanded.
The response to the books has been tremendous. The thirst of the people of India for knowledge is unquenchable, and their gratitude is boundless. Sister Dorothy has received numerous letters from teachers and administrators on behalf of the students.
In one such letter, the Director of the Municipal Schools of Bombay described the delight and amazement of his staff at a weekly meeting thus:
They were all so engrossed in going through the heap of books, that by the time they returned to the conference table, they had to drink their tea cold.
What is truly amazing is the excitement generated by the recent gift. If 100,000 books appears to be a tremendous number, it seems less so when one considers the fact that there are some 600,000 children enrolled in Bombays Municipal School System alone.
But even so, the enthusiasm of teachers and students alike has not been dampened. The Indians are a hungry people, so hungry that even the smallest crumb thrown their way is cause for endless rejoicing.
Sister Dorothy said it best when she wrote to all those responsible for the gift:
The saga of the books will continue for some time. What a great thing you have done for us! You have no idea of the good that is coming from it!
Truly, food for thought can be as satifying as the finest meal in town.
Heather Byrne is a freelance journalist who currently lives in New York City. She has gained recognition for her work in the Creative Writing field.