During his leisure time, Mahinda Dasanayaka packs his motorbike with books and rides his mobile library — across mostly muddy roads running through tea-growing mountain areas — to underprivileged children in backward rural parts of Sri Lanka.
Having witnessed the hardships faced by children whose villages have no library facilities, Dasanayaka was looking for ways to help them.
Then he got the idea for his library on wheels.
He started his program, called “Book and Me,” three years ago, and it has become very popular among the children.
“There are some kids who hadn’t seen even a children’s storybook until I went to their villages,” he said.
Dasanayaka, 32, works as a child protection officer for the government. On his off days — mostly during weekends — he rides his motorbike, which is fixed with a steel box to hold books, to rural villages and distributes the reading material to children free of charge.
“The children are very keen and enthusiastic, they are eagerly waiting for me — always looking for new books,” Dasanayaka said by phone.
His program is mainly centered in Kegalle, a mountainous region of the Indian Ocean island nation about 85 kilometers (52 miles) northeast of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, with poor villages scattered among tea plantations. He visits the villages once or twice a week to distribute the books.
His collection includes about 3,000 books on a variety of subjects. “Boys mostly like to read detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes, while girls prefer to read youth novels and biographies,” he said.
So far, he said, his program has benefited more than 1,500 children, as well as about 150 adults.
He began the program in 2017 with 150 books — some of his own and others donated by friends, colleagues and well-wishers. He bought a second-hand Honda motorbike for 30,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($162). He then fixed a steel box on the bike’s pillion seat.
“I wanted to do something for children who are burdened with an exam-centered education. ... And to change the way kids look at society, to change their perspectives and broaden their imagination,” he said.
Apart from giving away books, Dasanayaka also speaks to the children for a few minutes, usually under a roadside tree, highlighting the value of reading, books and authors. He then conducts a discussion on books the children have read, with the aim of eventually forming reading clubs.
His program has spread to more than 20 villages in Kegalle. He also has expanded it to some villages in Sri Lanka’s former civil war zone in the northern region, more than 340 kilometers (211 miles) from his home.
The long civil war ended in 2009 when government troops defeated Tamil rebels who were fighting to create a separate state for their ethnic minority in the north.
Dasanayaka, who is from the ethnic majority Sinhalese, believes books can build a “bridge between two ethnic groups.”
“Books can be used for the betterment of society and promote ethnic reconciliation — because no one can get angry with books.” he said.
He also has established mini libraries at intersections in some of the villages he visits, giving children and adults a place to share books. These involve installing a small steel box that can be opened from one side onto a wall or on a stand. So far, he has built four such facilities and aims to set up 20 in different villages.
While Dasanayaka spends his own money on his program, he is not wealthy, with a take-home income of 20,000 rupees ($108) a month from his job. He said he spends about a quarter of that on gasoline for his mobile library.
He lives with his wife, who is also a government worker, and their two children.
“I live a simple life,” he said. “No big hopes, and I am not chasing after material values such as big houses and cars.”
Nuwan Liyanage, senior deputy general manager of local radio station Neth FM, called Dasanayaka “a hero of our time.” The station has been helping Dasanayaka collect books.
“He has set a real example for society,” Liyanage said. “With very little resources, he has done remarkable things, and his project has opened the eyes of many others to do similar things.”
Mohomed Haris Shihara, 48, a nursery school teacher in the village of Kannantota, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Dasanayaka’s home, praised the program, saying it has benefited about 100 children in her village.
“This is a great thing and it has helped to develop an interest among the kids to read books,” she said. “Also, the follow-up discussions on books have widened the children’s knowledge.”
Dasanayaka said he does not seek any monetary benefit from his program.
“My only happiness is to see that children read books, and I would be delighted to hear the kids say that books helped them to change their lives,” he said. “And that’s my ultimate happiness.”
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Faqir Chand Kohli, popularly referred to as the 'Father of the Indian IT industry', died in his home in the city of Mumbai on Thursday. He was 96.
As its first CEO of India's biggest IT outsourcing firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) , the brilliant technocrat helped the country build the USD 100 billion software industry. TCS is the jewel in the crown for the Tata Group -- whose empire ranges from cars and steel mills to aviation and salt -- contributing 10% of its total revenues and 40% of its profit annually.
It was Kohli who had hired the current Tata Group chairman N Chandrasekaran as a trainee in TCS. After his superannuation in 1996, Kohli worked on an adult literacy programme to teach adults who have never been formally educated and that was also emulated in many African countries.
In a statement, TCS said, "Tata Consultancy Services mourns the passing of Padma Bhushan Shri FC Kohli, its first CEO, and the Father of the Indian IT Industry. Mr Kohli joined the company in 1969 at the behest of JRD Tata."
"He pivoted first into management consultancy, and then over the next two decades, into software development, helping the organisation navigate multiple technology waves over two and a half decades by continually investing in people and staying relevant to customers. He stepped down as CEO in 1996 and continued to play an active role in promoting technology to solve the country’s social problems," it added.
During a recent interview, Kohli said that he remained active in the field of technology until 94 years of age. "After that my needs started to change and became very different in that if there was a conference I shared what I thought about technology. The main thing is that technology is never static, it is always moving forward," he said.
Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran also paid tribute: "He was a true legend, who laid the very foundations for India’s spectacular IT revolution and set the stage for the dynamic modern economy we enjoy today."
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday sent a message to Joe Biden to congratulate him on election as US president.
Promoting healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations not only serves the fundamental interests of the people in both countries, but also meets the common expectation of the international community, Xi said, reports Xinhua.
Xi said he hopes that the two sides will uphold the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, focus on cooperation, manage differences, advance the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. ties, and join hands with other countries and the international community to promote the noble cause of world peace and development.
On the same day, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan sent a message to Kamala Harris to congratulate her on election as U.S. vice president.
Heavy rains have been lashing Tamil Nadu's Chennai as Cyclone Nivar hurtles toward India's southeastern coast.
Nivar is expected to cross the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry as a very severe cyclonic storm late on Wednesday, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
"The cyclone is set to bring winds gusting up to 145 kilometers per hour."
Rain has already felled trees and flooded much of Chennai. Tens of thousands of people have been asked to leave homes and move to relief centers in southeastern states, reports BBC.
All fishing boats have been advised to return to harbors.
The National Disaster Response Force of India has deployed 30 teams in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and Andhra Pradesh, and 20 more teams have been kept on standby to help assist local authorities on possible evacuations of residents from vulnerable coastal areas, reports the Hindustan Times.
As there are fears of flooding in Chennai, people living in low-lying areas are being evacuated.
In Tamil Nadu, the state government has declared a public holiday and advised people to stay indoors. Buses, trains, and flights have been suspended.
"People have been advised to stay indoors and those living in low-lying areas were asked to shift to safer places. We are providing food and drinking water to the people, and their Covid-19 tests will also be done," Pondicherry's Chief Minister Velu Narayansamy told ANI news agency.
Also, senior IMD officials told ANI that the cyclone is intensifying and could cause structural damage, uprooting trees and crops, and even destroying thatched and tin-roofed houses when it strikes.
Beijing has rejected Pope Francis's criticism of its treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang.
"I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi," the head of the Roman Catholic Church said in his new book "Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future."
It was the first time he had called the Muslim minority a "persecuted" people. However, the Chinese foreign ministry dismissed the Pope's remarks as "groundless."
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, "The Chinese government has always protected the legal rights of ethnic minorities equally."
However, it is believed that the Chinese government has detained up to a million Uighurs in what the state defines as "re-education camps".
Also, it has been alleged Beijing is forcing Uighur women to be sterilized or fitted with contraceptive devices, "apparently to control the population growth."
China initially denied the existence of the camps, before saying the internment sites provide job training and education, reports BBC.
The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic ethnicity. The majority of them live in China's Xinjiang province where they number about 11 million people or around 45% of the population.
These people consider themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.
Over the years, central government policies have gradually curtailed the Uighurs' religious, commercial, and cultural activities, as large numbers of majority Han Chinese have been encouraged to move to the region, observers say.