Sharing across India and south Asia: interstate network empowers children through libraries


Over 60 children from two South Indian states met online for the first time with an interest to learn, share, and build an interstate network to be empowered, capable of creating pathways, to reach the last mile. The INELI innovators have encouraged the children and youth participating in their library’s children’s forum to organize events through this network. This network was kick-started by celebrating World Food Day in association with MSSRF’s INELI special libraries program.

The INELI, an initiative at the MSSRF, focuses on building public librarians as community trailblazers to improve access to information and literacy among communities, through libraries, until the last mile. For this event, INELI innovators from Kerala and Tamil Nadu initiated an Interstate Children’s network for creating a human chain of stronger communities. On 18th October 2020, Participating libraries, District Central Library, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu and Valapathanam Gram Panchayat Library, Kerala, who are already strengthening libraries beyond books, came together. The idea of having an interstate Children’s Network is an offshoot of the Asia Network of Library Innovator’s Foundation (ANLiF) formulated by INELI India and South Asia Innovators since 2019. Children are engaged with these libraries shared cultural actions, food habits and nutritive value of each state cuisine.

Pathiri, Puttu, Peanut, Idly, Pongal, Sambar, Rasam varieties, Kozhukkatta, Undapputtu, Cappa, Jackfruit, and many different varieties of traditional food were shared from children of both States. Eight children presented the culinary diversity of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, speaking of a particular dish, health implication of unhealthy food, importance of home cooked food and food being medicine. They chose to challenge the audience by asking them to let go of having junk food and rediscover traditional food habits and practices. Children also sharedon the role of nutrition in healing the self.  Ms Jasal, Ms Ajna, Ms Nada, Ms Nida, Ms Vaishnavi, Ms Roja Jasmine, Ms Ritisha and Mr Akash, were the children who were the key speakers of the event. The session was moderated by Ms. Rabia Abdullah of the Library’s Creative Home Virtual Platform.

Ms. Vaishnavi from Tiruvannamalai said “Pongal is a package, has medicinal values and helps in lowering cholesterol, pepper is rich in proteins, enzymes, the jaggery has loads of iron, and it is a well-balanced food”

Ms Nada from Kerala stated encouraging children to consume junk food increase the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart diease, cancer and sometimes early death. Junk foods with high sugar, creates changes in body chemical reactions, creating long term health problems, including emotional disturbance.”

All the children who participated were thankful for opportunity. Each one of them invited all the participants to their homes to learn more traditional home cooking, after COVID-related lockdown.

Overall, more than 60 children from both states participated, with four key speakers from each state, sharing the traditional food and nutrition used by their families and communities. MSSRF’s strategic programme lead of the special library programme, Ms Priyanka Mohan spoke of INELI’s vision of children empowering communities, emphasizing on learnings from the COVID pandemic speaking of how farmers continued to cope and adapt to daily challenges. She also spoke of lessons to strengthen roots, build on life skills through home gardening, nutritive kitchens as life lines for healthy and happy families and each state’s food diversity of nutrient-enriched cuisine. "Together we must inspire and innovate, rebuild and co-create, nourish and grow, learn, thrive and sustain our children and our communities” she said. Ms Rojarani, synthesized and shared the importance of food and nutrition in children’s lives and that they are knowledge torch bearers for their communities.

These libraries that are already serving communities in various thematic areas of Agriculture, Health and nutrition, hygiene, climate action, skill development, women’s empowerment and nurturing environment have added yet another dimension to these activities with this event and are choosing to expand the horizons of public libraries for a common cause.

The librarian from Chandigarh, expressed interest to organize a similar event through their children’s forum, in the topic of Festivals of India. The series of exchanges are set to continue, to strengthen the role of children as an empowered, knowledgeable part of society, making a difference to the community around them.

Written by: Priyanka Mohan

Edited by: Jayashree B