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Wonder Woman: Seena Jacob - Healing Orphans through the Power of Books

March 8, 2016

Seena, Bookwallah
It was numbing cold in Chicago, and Seena could feel the stinging chills in her gut, yet something moved her. It was the plight of young orphans that warmed her heart in the chilling winter. Little did she know that one wintry evening would change her life forever.

Meet Seena Jacob, the master-mind behind Bookwallah, a non-profit organisation that brings to life the world of storybooks for orphans. Bookwallah believes that books are a great source of empowerment.

Read on to know more about Bookwallah and her extraordinary work done to transpire the lives of orphans.

How did you conceive the awesome idea of Bookwallah?

I conceived the idea because books helped me get past hardships in my own life. So I knew the power of a good book. In 2010, I took my first trip to India, and donated a bunch of books to an orphanage in Mumbai, only to realise later that the books were lying unutilised in the cupboard. I realised that while books are great as first level intervention, we need to do a lot to make sure that the sustaining happens. This epiphany led to the birth of the Bookwallah project. Little did I know that this small visit would transform into becoming my life’s calling.

How do you transpire the lives of orphans through this initiative?

When you have immersed yourself in a storybook, you go through the hero’s journey - be it Harry Potter or Cinderella. You identify with the character and the struggles that they go through. These characters get empowered and ultimately transformed, so that they can recreate their own life. These stories help you discover yourself and give you the power to think abstract. This is essentially what we want to imbibe within the orphans. We want them to dream and hope for a better future. We want them to know that their life stories can take a steep turn if they believe and work hard.

How are you different from other libraries?

We induce a lot of art and activity in our program. Art brings life to the project. We don’t want people to think that libraries are a metal cupboard with a dead bolt. Shelves are open, books are accessible. We do different things to spark engagement in our kids. We are more about imagination.

Seena Jacob, Bookwallah, Founder

What is the essence of Bookwallah?

We work on the underlying issues through story books. Because all the lead characters that you read in a story, have integrity, passion and courage, these kids get inspired to achieve and hope for better. That is the core essence of Bookwallah.

Can you share one of your success stories with us?

This is a story of a girl who was was sexually abused by her biological father. Albeit that, she was brave enough to speak up and save her sister. This girl used to be angry, upset and disturbed. However, after almost a year, one of my project leads received a beautiful drawing of ducks swimming in water. But there was one isolated duck that was flying was in the sky. When she was asked, she said that before she was in the river, but now sometimes she can fly. She is free and has more power.

What are the best things about being a woman in today’s world?

Freedom. If we women can be free, we can do so much. We have the intellect and emotional reasoning to handle all kinds of situations, to innovate and create. We can leverage our strengths as a woman and we definitely don’t have to become a man to be powerful.

Who is your inspiration in life?

Books. Books have helped me come forward in life and evolve, and this is exactly what I want it to do to those little kids.

How has reading inspired you to travel?

It is because of all these books and the stories set in beautiful places that I had the urge to travel. Books have planted the wanderlust in me.

Which is your favourite travel experience?

Going down the river Varanasi early in the morning. There’s something about the Ganges; there’s some aura, some mysticism surrounding it. Seeing all these palaces that once belonged to Maharajas from different regions, I truly felt some spiritual ancient element.

Favourite place?

Costa Rica. I loved their food and culture, and of course, the adventure - ziplining and white water rafting.

Favourite adventure?

Skydiving. I have done para-sailing too, but nothing can beat the rush that you get from the free-fall. When you are skydiving, it feels like you are floating in the air. By the way, does boarding Indian Railways count as an adventure? It was one heck of a ride!

As told to Winnie Karnik