'Walking library' reaches out to the poor

As the people of the village wake in the morning, the first thing they see is Mr Polan Sarkar, standing there, smiling, with a bag of books on his shoulder.

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The sprightly 94-year-old travels on foot for miles, going from village to village with his books, which he buys with his own money and lends to people. After a few weeks, he comes by again. The villagers return the books and borrow from the fresh lot he brings along.

Mr Polan's been doing this for the past 30 years, covering about 20 villages in Rajshahi, a district of Bangladesh - and spurring an innovative reading revolution in the region.

The idea came when he was diagnosed with diabetes, and was advised to take regular walks. He was then lending students books from a secondary school he set up. "People come to my house to borrow books from me," he thought to himself. "Instead, I can walk to their homes delivering the books to them."

Many others have followed Mr Polan's example in setting up libraries and distributing books from village to village.

In the darkness of illiteracy that enshrouds rural Bangladesh, Mr Polan is a bright beacon of hope.

ABUL KALAM MUHAMMAD AZAD/PROTHOM ALO (BANGLADESH)