(September 30, 2023) As you read this, a 12-year-old Akarshana Sathish is setting up her eighth library at a Bharosa Centre in Siddipet, Telangana. The youngster, who aspires to be a space scientist when she grows up, was recognised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his ‘Mann Ki Baat‘, in which he emphasised the significance of education in the development of both the nation and society, expressing his admiration for Akarshana’s dedicated efforts.
“Akarshana Satish studying in seventh class has done wonders (sic). You may be surprised to know that at just 11 years of age, she is running not one or two, but seven libraries for children,” the PM said in his address to the nation, adding, “Around six thousand books are now available in the seven libraries that this daughter has opened so far at different places for needy children.”
As she connects with Global Indian over a call, an elated Akarshana shares, “I am so honoured that the Prime Minister noticed my work, and recognised me. It was a proud moment for me and my family. Now, as the entire nation knows about my work, I feel a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. However, I am determined to keep helping the people around me and giving back to society as much as I can.”
Cultivating a unique vision
A student of Hyderabad Public School, Akarshana has been an avid reader since she was a young kid. A cycling enthusiast, who is gearing up to represent Telangana at a National level, Akarshana says it was the chance visit to a hospital in Hyderabad that gave her the idea of starting a library at the MNJ Cancer Hospital in Hyderabad. “During the first wave of the pandemic, my father and a few of his friends decided to help the patients at MNJ Cancer Hospital by distributing food to them. My parents would visit the hospital for that weekly. One day my father asked me if I would like to accompany them, and I agreed,” shares Akarshana.
At the hospital, the youngster met several kids her age and a few even younger than her, who were undergoing chemotherapy as part of their treatment. Soon she befriended several patients and would go to spend time with them. “There was one girl who I had a bond with. She told me that there was nothing to do at the hospital, and asked if I could bring her some colouring books. So, the next time I went to the hospital, I took a few I had at home,” recalls Akarshana.
But that wasn’t enough. “There were other kids who asked me for colouring books in the hospital. So, I told my parents about it and they suggested I ask people in our colony to help. I asked my neighbours, friends, family, and others if they could donate any books, and in no time we had many fiction, non-fiction, general knowledge and colouring books piling up at our home,” Akarshana shares, adding, “The initial idea was to give the books to the kids in the hospital. But, then I thought, if we set up a library, not only the patients who are in the hospital now, but those who will come later will also benefit from it.”
And thus, Akarshana set up her first library at the MNJ Cancer Hospital in 2021, with a collection of about 1,036 books. Following that, the youngster established libraries at the Sanath Nagar Police Station, featuring 825 books, the Gayathri Nagar Association in Borabanda, which housed 250 books, and the Juvenile and Observation Home for Girls in Hyderabad, boasting 625 books.
Spreading her wings
Last year, while on a social media platform, Akarshana noticed that the Coimbatore city police had decided to open a street library. The idea was quite fascinating for this youngster. Recalling the incident, “I already had some collection of books. So, when I saw that the Coimbatore city police were interested in starting a library, I immediately emailed them to offer my help. They agreed and with the help of my family living in that city, I was able to donate about 200 books to the Coimbatore City Police Street libraries.”
Her fame soon reached the capital of Tamil Nadu and the then DGP of the city, Dr C. Sylendra Babu, approached the girl to set up a library in Chennai. “I again contacted my friends and family, who are living in Chennai. We already had a few books here in Hyderabad. So, with all the help, we were able to establish our biggest library at the Chennai Boys Club in the Nolambur Police Station, with about 2000 books. Interestingly, even after the library was opened we kept getting calls from people who wanted to donate books. Since we had already come back to Hyderabad, my father asked them to go to the library directly and hand over the books,” shares Akarshana, adding, “When I visited one of our libraries a few months after we had opened it, I found that almost 75 percent of the books were borrowed by the kids and several shelves were empty. That really motivated me.”
Subsequently, Akarshana managed to open one more library in Hyderabad, at Govt High School in the Old Sanath Nagar area. While many would have found it difficult to collect books for establishing such libraries, Akarshana’s troubles are quite the opposite. “We just received about 100 more books for a single donor,” shares Akarshana’s father, J Sathish Kumar laughing, “Right from when people got to know about Akarshana’s initiatives, we have been receiving several books. We have collected over 6000 books till now and it doesn’t seem to stop. But, I am very proud of my daughter and it makes me very happy that her efforts are bringing joy to so many kids.”