by Aayusha Shrestha and Avani Adhikari
Though Bal Sahitya Mahotsav is a very talked about event at Rato Bangala, many students do not know about the background of the festival. Therefore, to learn more about the significance of BSM and to get an idea of this year’s evet, we sat down with Rato Bangala School Principal Ms. Milan and Rato Bangala Foundation Director Ms. Shanta, the founders of the festival, and asked them some questions.
What is the significance of BSM?
Reading is a very important skill to develop in children. If they become good readers, they becomes good writers, they become good people and most importantly, their emotional intelligence improves because through books they are brought to someone else’s world and they understand someone else’s point of view. Therefore to inculcate good reading habits, the BSM plays a huge role. Through BSM, we want to develop and spread this reading habit throughout the world.
The main purpose of BSM is to make reading fun. Generally, reading is done is a cut and dry way. Our intention is to remove this anxiety about reading, by making it fun, interactive and most importantly, creative.
What lead to the inception of BSM?
We started the festival three years ago, but the importance of reading and the need to develop reading habits has always been with us. Rato Bangala Kitab can be seen as a predecessor of BSM because we started it for the same reason—to develop reading habits. When we first started the school, the children used to never touch Nepali books because they looked so boring. The books were all printed in black and white and were very moralistic. The concept of getting children to read what they liked was not there. That is why we decided to run workshops and publish books, to do something to give the children what they liked. We started publishing things like Mangale ko Changa, which ended up being a classic for children’s literature in Nepal. BSM is only an extension of this sentiment, a celebration of the ideals we have always had with us.
How is this year’s BSM going to be different?
For the students and the school it is going to be similar with more exciting activities. We are very excited about bringing somebody like Marcus Pfister to the festival. We believe that his presence makes writing accessible for these children. Because of the fact that he is here and he is so enthusiastic about promoting literature among children, they too feel like they can be him. We also have started the Early Grade Reading (EGRA),where we have a set of handpicked books for grades 1-3 in a package which sort of acts like a crash course into reading for these children. We are also going to bring in government schools and put them through workshops, both of the students and the teachers to bring the culture of reading to their school.
One thing you are most excited about?
We’re really excited about the braille books. We have two students coming in, who’ll be doing read aloud sessions with the Braille books. We also have the chairperson of the Blind association coming in for the Mahotsav. We’re also looking forward to Dada Ji’s timeline, which will make people realize his contribution to the BSM and to the Nepali language itself. We’ll have Chhanda recitations and Ms. Milan will be reading the book she wrote about Dada Ji’s life. It’s an opportunity to really study somebody who has brought the Nepali language to the level it is in right now. He also inspired the Nepali Unicode, and it is due to his contributions that Nepali is no longer a dying language.
Furthermore, we’re thrilled to have Mr. Marcus Pfister as our guest for the event, and we’ll be going through his timeline, as well as engaging ourselves and especially the kids with illustration workshops and an interview session with him.
What are your plans for future BSMs?
The Bal Sahitya Mahotsav has been quite successful in Kathmandu, and we’re planning to expand it into government schools in other districts as well. We have schools from districts around the valley coming for this year’s BSM, and we’ll be conducting workshops for the students and teachers so that they too will be conducting BSMs in their own schools. By doing so, the culture of reading will spread into their community and more and more people will enjoy reading, once they know how exciting it can be. We'll be facilitating these BSMs and the Rato Bangala Foundation will work in-depth with them, funding and supporting four of these schools. BSM is a long term plan, and we hope to spread the joy of reading with the Mahotsav.
Avani Adhikari and Aayusha Shrestha are writers and students at Rato Bangala School.