„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.
The Reading Elephant Laos mobile children’s library was founded in autumn 2015 as a grassroots initiative by a group of young Laotians in Ban Houayxay, Bokeo province, in northwestern Laos, and is dedicated to promoting reading and learning skills among children and young people. It is formally registered as a ‘private reading room’ according to the Library Law of the DVR Laos and operates entirely on a non-profit basis. Their offerings are free of charge for all children. In 2018, a small library with a reading room was opened in the provincial capital Ban Houayxay.
Reading Elephant Laos works with Lao publishers who have only been publishing books for children and young people in Laos for a few years. In addition to the provincial capital, the work of the facility is particularly aimed at children in remote villages. This gives many of them the opportunity to read a book for the first time in their lives. Since 2019, a regular operation of two book mobile homes to supply children with books and provide a borrowing service has been tested and expanded. The construction of a village learning and reading center in Ban Phonxay is planned starting in 2021.
Reading Elephant Laos is mainly financed through donations or grants. Part of the logistics costs are covered by the sale of books and local handicrafts to tourists. The easiest way to support the work of the project is to make a donation → make a donation here.
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 Laos was able to purchase a used vehicle in February 2019 to be retrofitted as a bookmobile. It is a pickup with 4WD, suitable for the very rough road conditions common in Laos. It is already in use and will continue to be furnished and equipped to serve as a bookmobile for children.
The bookmobile will also be used for book festivals and will be increasingly present in villages and in schoolyards, as well as at local festivals, sporting events, and markets, in order to make books a part of life in Bokeo province.
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.