Biloongra Books started as a collaborative effort between Bookgroup – an educational research organization in Karachi pushing for education reform in Pakistan – and a group of young and old “thinkers” in Houston, Texas. The first major project was the creation of an Urdu-English book, Biloongra – the word means kitten in Urdu and Punjabi. Although the book was initially intended for limited distribution among young school children in Pakistan, we found that the book could also be a teaching tool for Urdu for the South Asian Diaspora in the United States. Building off of this double-hinged success, we sought out expansion into other countries – given the large Hindi-speaking population in Houston, we targeted India as the next potential site.
The first step for expansion was to organize a translation team that could generate a Hindi-English version of Biloongra. The group consisted of four individuals from team Biloongra in Houston and three members of the editorial team of Bookgroup in Karachi – the process took approximately six months to finish. The entire process was incredibly unique in that the translation team consisted of high school students, college students, professional publishers, and language experts from countries across the globe – it is notable that although communication was done almost exclusively over email, the effort still yielded a positive outcome. The final product was a well-translated, professionally published Hindi-English version of Biloongra and our next step was to find a distribution partner in India.
We were fortunate to strike a partnership with an organization called the Psycho Educational Society (PES) in New Delhi, India. PES has been working on providing formal and informal education (including health-related) to rural populations surrounding New Delhi since 1982. Bookgroup in Karachi and team Biloongra in Houston were able to fund the project entirely and as a result over 1200 books were sent to one of the PES-run schools, the B.D.P School, in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh.
Neither PES nor the school or the children were charged to recoup costs of printing, shipping and distribution. In essence the books were gifts for those children from the people involved in the child literacy effort. Much to our delight, the bilingual Hindi-English books were well received in the B.D.P. School. We received a letter, shortly after the distribution, bearing the news that the children were more receptive to both the English language and reading in general, after using the books as learning tools.
As we move ahead and into other languages we are continually looking towards building partnerships with similarly driven organizations elsewhere. Most recently, we have completed a Swahili-English version of another book in the Biloongra series, called ‘Biloongra’s Mischief’, and we are interested in partnering with some group in Africa that can become a local stakeholder. Additionally, in order to get more metrics in support of our model, we have started developing research studies to gauge the efficacy of the Biloongra books to deliver lessons that go beyond linguistics – health care-related, for instance.
We hope that this is only the beginning of collaborations between Biloongra, Bookgroup, PES and other organizations in India, U.S., or elsewhere, as partnerships over the long term would not only benefit under-privileged children’s learning, but also engage highly motivated youth from India, Pakistan and the world in healthy discourse via the book development process.
About the Author: Arnav Kak is a 10thgrader at the Carnegie School in Houston, TX. His interests, other than medicine, include tennis, reading, listening to rock music, and playing video games. Reviewed & Edited by: Mayank Aranke, a recent graduate of UT-Austin in Austin, TX, interested in pursuing a medical career.
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