In the summer of 2012, Seema and Suraj Korumilli, then 12-year-old twins from Plainsboro, New Jersey, visited Kapileswarapuram, India, their ancestral homeland. “Walking through the village,” Seema recalls, “was a coming-of-age moment.”
The siblings—now first-year students at Northeastern—were shocked by the lack of books, computers, and other educational resources available to the villagers and vowed to effect positive change. As Seema explains, “We felt like it would have been a crime if we didn’t give back to the community that had fostered our entire family and become an integral part of our identity.”
They chose to focus on education. “We decided we would become the solution to eradicating illiteracy,” Suraj says, “and the first step to doing that was creating libraries.”
In the summer of 2013, Seema and Suraj co-founded Literacy Movement 4 More, a nonprofit aimed at promoting literacy through the creation of libraries and the donation of laptops and other school supplies. Its motto is “Changing lives one library at a time.”
Over the past four years, the Korumillis have created seven libraries around the world. They began in Kapileswarapuram, at the ALC Orphanage, and have since branched out to bring books to children in schools and orphanages in Philadelphia; Ewing, New Jersey; the Bahamas; and Plagiari, Greece, where Suraj is currently studying as part of the N.U.in program. In July, they signed a pledge with an elected official in Mandapeta, India, to open libraries at all 17 schools in the district.
As of now, Seema and Suraj have collected and donated 3,000 books, seven laptops, and scores of pens, pencils, and other crucial educational tools to thousands of eager learners. And there’s no end in sight. “Literacy Movement 4 More has become one of the core parts of our identity,” Seema says. “It’s one of the most important factors in shaping us into who we are as students, as learners, and as humans.”
Seema, DMSB’21, and Suraj, DMSB/CIS’21, plan to take their nonprofit to the next level by tapping into Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Seema has already connected with IDEA and the Social Enterprise Institute, but is waiting for Suraj to return to campus in January before designing a definitive strategy.
Their cause is personal. As Seema explains, “Education is the most important thing to us.” Although their hometown library has donated the majority of books to Literacy Movement 4 More, Seema and Suraj have held countless fundraisers in support of their nonprofit. For their birthdays, they ask not for gifts but for donations from friends and family.
Since enrolling at Northeastern this fall, they have struck up a working relationship with City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library, a volunteer organization that seeks to enhance public awareness, recognition, and financial support of the BPL system through advocacy and education. They’re looking for more books, with an eye toward expanding their nonprofit to public schools in Boston neighborhoods. “This is where we will be living, growing, and learning for the next five years,” Seema says, “and we want to get involved with the community here.”
The Korumillis’ long-term goal is to open 100 libraries around the world. They will return to Mandapeta this spring to open three more libraries there. Over the summer, they’ll launch a few more. In some ways, Seema feels like a big sister and Suraj a big brother to the scores of children who have benefited from their selfless dedication to educating the next generation. “We have thousands of younger siblings around the world,” Seema says.