Katha’s journey began in 1988, with a pioneering children’s story magazine “Tamasha.”Geeta Dharmarajan – Katha’s founder – disrupted the norm of children’s magazines with “Tamasha!” by focusing on BIG IDEAS, such as health and the environment, and by portraying children – especially girls – as protagonists of the imaginative and adventurous tales. “Tamasha!” was a magazine for and about children, and children as agents of change. It focused on gender equity, which has been one of Katha’s primary concerns along with the Envrionment and that of Kindness. Ever since then, Katha has been working with socio-economically disadvantaged children along with their communitiesby spreading the joy of reading for fun and meaning among children, and by providing integrated, relevant and qualityeducation via Katha Relevant Education for All-Round Development (KREAD) and powered by StoryPedagogy – a detailed educational framework – created, designed and developed by Geeta Dharmarajan. A quick talk with the Padma Shri awardee Founder President Geeta Dharmarajan, a writer, social entrepreneur and educationist, who has been volunteering for 32 years to enable children to break out of the cycle of what she identifies as the five poverties (Social,Personal,Intellectual/Imaginative, Cultural and Environmental) along with economic poverty and has encouraged women to come forward with self-confidence.
Katha is working with socio-economically underprivileged children in and around Delhi NCR, Haryana, Chennai, UP,Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu.Teachers have stayed connected to children through Zoom,during the pandemic, teaching them so that theycan keep up with their lessons and continue with reading writing, and what Geeta Dharmarajan terms TADAA! (Think, Ask, Discuss, Act and Action!). Katha teachers and mentors communicate with the children through SMS and messages, andsendpuzzles and activities,and conduct small conteststo keep the learning both fun and meaningful for the children in these difficult times.
While the children are learning through the pandemic, the women from the communities arecurrently making masks to distribute tothe elderly who are most at risk.The women are trained seamstresses from the Katha School of entrepreneurship, which was started in 1995. The women are now either working at jobs where they earn more than ten times their original family income or are self-employed. Entire communities, which Katha has been working in close association with for more than 30 years have come forward to assist Katha in this time of need while they are also the beneficiaries of any food and essential items government-programme, which Katha is assisting the government with. Sanitizers and masks have been distributed to old-age homes through doctors in Chennai and various other parts of Tamil Nadu. Katha visited old-age homes and explained the inhabitants on how to use the masks and sanitizers – and thushelped spread the awareness of the potential severity of the disease in especially older individuals and immune-compromised individuals. With the unavailability of food and essential items being a majorproblem for daily-wage labourers, Katha made the necessary provisions for food, oil, health-care productsand other basic commodities, such assanitary napkins in these communities.
“The Mystery of the MissingSoap”by Geeta Dharmarajan, a fantastical tale –was written, narrated, translated and illustrated– in the middle of this pandemic – for children and to enable them to communicate and spread the message and habit of washing hands and maintaining hygiene during this epidemic. Here too, as in classic Katha tales, the protagonist is a girl, an elephant (the clever and adorable Tamasha – who is the eponymous character and mascot from Katha’s Tamasha! Magazine) and other children who keep their wits about them to save the day.
Since 2008Katha hasbeen working systematically on spreading the facts of climate change through storybooks, and its adverse effects on nature, animals, food distribution, and those living in poverty. Several beautiful books written on environmental change, such as Safed Bhalu, Sonam’s Ladakh, The Earth Carer’s Guide by Geeta Dharmarajan demonstrate how stories canhave an impact on children, and how they can inspire children to learn more andknow more aboutglobal climate change, conservation, and behavior that is harmful and behaviour that could reverse the adverse effects that humans have on our environment. There are other magical books in the pipeline, which will spin tales on how the pandemic released the earth’s stress, and how peoplestart valuing the Earth and adopt new ways of living with an emphasis on the habits, which lead to the nurturing of the planet, all sentient life-forms and ourselves; such as those of walking, cycling and establishing well-maintained public transport systems while eliminating,or reducing purchases, taking care of animals, and maintaining both cleanliness and hygiene in our personal and collective lives.
Through the stories Katha communicates that children should not be scared, fearful or unhappy about such a pandemic or any other natural calamity but insteadbe compassionate and empathetic towards the Earth.Katha is running a campaignto acknowledge and value what the Earth has given us always, which they intend to carry on post these uncertain times.
“The children of India should know about the real India and not only the one, which is always portrayed to them”, says Geeta Dharmarajan. Forover three decades now, Katha has successfully transformed the lives of over 80,00,000 children. The Katha Family is bonded with and by the children, and strives to attain the happiness given to them by the children.
“Reading should be a universal skill, enjoyed by all children,and quality education should be promoted in a holistic manner, for all equitably,” is what the Padmashri Awardee added.