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. 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 him — always looking for new books.
His program is mainly centered in Kegalle, a mountainous region of the Indian Ocean island nation about 85 kilometers 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,” 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 . He then fixed a steel box on the bike’s pillion seat.
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.
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His program has spread to more than 20 villages in Kegalle.
Dasanayaka, who is from the ethnic majority Sinhalese, believes books can build a “bridge between two ethnic groups.” and “Books can be used for the betterment of society and promote ethnic reconciliation — because no one can get angry with books.”
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 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. He lives a simple life, with No big hopes.
This a great thing and it has helped to develop an interest among the kids to read books 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.
His only happiness is to see children read books, and he would be delighted to hear
the kids say that books helped them to change their lives.
“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small.
He is doing great work. Spreading books = spreading happiness. He really is a hero and an example for our generation.