„Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.“
Due to a less prominent tradition of reading as well as an underdeveloped infrastructure, children in Laos have little or no access to books. Outside the nation’s capital Vientiane and major tourist centres, there are practically no bookshops or public libraries. But, as with elsewhere across the world, children in Laos are eager for knowledge and full of curiosity. Increasing their literacy skills will not only enhance their personal development, but also improve their learning skills; more education bolsters their chances of a better future.
Our project is committed to making a sustainable and lasting contribution to literacy and learning in the region and achieves this goal by establish libraries that allow books to be used and read repeatedly. This library model is not only more sustainable but it also helps to promote a true community of readers.
Especially in these times of globalization and digitalization, reading books is an all the more indispensable experience that can decisively impact reading and learning traditions, as well as the reality of the lives of children and young adults.
Reading Elephant Laos is not a non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the name of a grass roots project or a non-profit initiative in Ban Houayxay, in Bokeo province, located in north-western Laos. Its stated objective is to promote reading and literacy skills in children and adolescents alike. Exclusively conducted and run by young people on the ground, the project is supported by people in Laos and abroad.
In order to assist children and teenagers experience “reading”, Reading Elephant Laos works jointly with a group of Laotian publishers who recently began publishing books for children in Lao over the last eleven years. In addition to a small book sale, the establishment of a mobile children’s library – beginning with a reading room in the provincial capital – specifically targets children in remote villages. Many of them will thereby have the opportunity to read a book for the first time in their lives.
Funding is mainly through donations. A part of logistical costs will be covered by the sale of books as well as local craft products. The easiest way to support the Reading Elephant Laos project is through a donation to Books for Laos e. V., a recognized non-profit organization in Germany, which will directly transfer all donations to Reading Elephant Laos. Click here → Donations Page.
Reading Elephant Laos is developing various strategies in order to realize its goals:
In the provincial capital of Ban Houayxai, Reading Elephant Laos is running its reading room, since January 2018. Here, students from surrounding schools can discover and read books free of charge. Our staff advises students on which books to select according to the student’s age group or interests, answer questions, and explain how to handle books that are borrowed. A classic lending system is being carefully tested and will be progressively introduced following successful trials.
For the book festivals organised by Reading Elephant Laos, a small team of trained educators and experienced animators will visit for an entire day village schools in the Houayxai district of Bokeo province. They will play, sing, and paint together with the children, read them stories, and explain how to handle books. The children can browse through the books the educators have brought along and read them in the “open-air reading room” or in the classrooms, thus discovering the fascination of books. The first book festivals were already put to the test in 2016 and were rated positively by the local school authorities.
Until such time as Reading Elephant Laos acquire and convert a specially prepared bookmobile, they will temporarily use private vehicles for the upcoming book festivals.
Thanks to funding from the Georg Kraus Foundation in Germany, Reading Elephant will be able to purchase its own Bookmobile in 2019. This vehicle, suitable for the very rough road conditions common in Laos, will be furnished and equipped for use as a travelling library.
The bookmobile will be used for book festivals and will be regularly present in villages and school yards throughout the Houayxay district as well as at local popular festivals, sporting events, and markets, in order to popularise the children’s library and the sale of books in Bokeo.
The photos below show mobile children’s libraries throughout Laos, with which Reading Elephant Laos is already actively exchanging experiences. Left: the International Community Learning Initiative in Luang Prabang province; Right: the National Library’s bookmobile at a primary school in the nation’s capital, Vientiane.
With the growing popularity of the mobile children’s library, especially through the book festivals and book sales, a system of school libraries permanently accessible to children and teachers in village schools will be gradually set up in village schools in the Houayxay district, in conjunction with the school authorities. For this purpose, Reading Elephant Laos will provide a school, for example, one of its mobile book-boxes with selected titles until their next visit. The books will then be replaced by another selection of books so that the children can continually discover new stories.
We have provided some children’s books for viewing or reading in the download section. The copyrights belong to the authors and the publishers in Laos. We would like to thank the Big Brother Mouse publishers from Luang Prabang as well as Sengsouvanh Publishing from Vientiane for their kind support and for providing us with the necessary links and files.
Next to the reading room in Ban Houayxay, Reading Elephant Laos operates a small non-profit bookstore stocked with new and antiquarian books in different languages, maps, and postcards, as well as regional crafts. The sale of books is meant to partly finance the on-going costs of establishing the mobile children’s library unit. With the help of the book sales, all age groups will have access to books in order to make this a matter of course in a region in which there has not been a bookstore until now.
In the Reading Elephant Laos reading room, locals and tourists alike will be informed about the project’s progress and have the opportunity to support it directly.
In order to co-finance the project, Reading Elephant Laos also offers a few bicycles for daily rent to tourists.