“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 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 establishing libraries that allow books to be used and read repeatedly. This library model is not only more sustainable but 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
The Reading Elephant Laos children’s mobile library was founded as a grassroots initiative by a group of young Laotians in Ban Houayxay, Bokeo Province, northwestern Laos, in January 2016 and is dedicated to promoting reading and learning skills among children and young people. It is approved as a “Private Reading Room” under the Law on Library of the Lao PDR and registered at the Office for Information, Culture and Tourism of Bokeo Province. The project works consistently and transparently according to non-profit principles. Its offers are freely accessible and free of charge for all children and young people in the region. In October 2017, a small library with a reading room was opened in the provincial capital of Ban Houayxay. From 2019-2020, as part of a practical project study, the use of a book mobile was tested in village schools in the district to supply children with books and provide a borrowing service. Starting in 2021, scheduled operations with two vehicles – a three-wheeled electric vehicle and an off-road station wagon – will be gradually established in this catchment area. This extends over the entire district of Houayxay in 60 government-run primary schools.
Reading Elephant Laos works together with Lao publishers who have only been publishing books for children and young people in Laos for a few years. The offers of the project in the city and increasingly for children in remote villages give many of them the opportunity to read a book for the first time in their lives.
The project is mainly financed through donations or grants. Part of the logistics costs are covered by the sale of books and local handicrafts to tourists. Unfortunately, this is not possible during the coronavirus pandemic. The easiest way to support the work of the project is to make a donation → You can make your donation here.
Reading Elephant Laos is developing various strategies in order to realize its goals:
Children’s Library with Reading Room
In the provincial capital Ban Houayxay, Reading Elephant Laos has been operating a reading room as the basis of the children’s mobile library, since October 2017. Here, students from surrounding schools in the city area can discover and borrow story books free of charge, as well as finding textbooks for all subjects and classes. The team members advise 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 or read together with the children. On some days a variety of playful events for children related to reading take place in the reading room, e.g. puppet shows, dance, creative techniques, and tutoring in English or reading.
Book Festivals in Schools
Reading Elephant Laos has been holding irregular book festivals in selected primary schools in the catchment area since 2018. The experienced small team of educators visits a village school in Houayxay district of Bokeo Province for a whole day. They play or sing with the children, read stories with them or perform them as puppet shows, do quizzes and explain how to use books. The children can browse through the books they have brought with them, read them in the ‘open-air reading room’ in the school yard or in classrooms and discover the fascination of funny, educational or exciting stories. This outreach work has been gradually intensified since 2019 and is becoming the focus of the work from 2021. The aim is to ensure that in the future all primary schools in the district are visited regularly at least two or more times a year with a bookmobile.
Thanks to funding from the Georg Kraus Foundation and the Nord-Süd-Brücken Foundation from Germany, Reading Elephant Laos has an all-terrain station wagon and a three-wheeled electric vehicle that can be used as bookmobiles. The used Ford Everest is an SUV with all-wheel drive that can be used for the largely impassable road conditions in Laos, but without the comparable equipment of European or U.S. book mobiles. This serves 47 village schools in the district at least twice a year with 28 weekly tours, which are divided into 14 remote zones. The books are carried in plastic boxes, as well as floor mats, sun protection and play materials, such as a self-made small puppet stage. During these visits, the mobile team organises full-day book festivals and stays overnight in the villages. A further 13 schools in the city zone of the provincial capital can be reached every 14 days by the e-mobile. This means there is a more regular presence here with reading offers including the possibility of borrowing. (Photo shows the station wagon with the design draft).
With the increasing regularity of the bookmobile operation from 2021 onwards, a system of school libraries permanently accessible to children and teachers in village schools will be gradually set up in village schools in Houayxay district, in conjunction with school authorities. For this purpose, Reading Elephant Laos will loan a school, for example, one of its mobile book-boxes with selected titles until their next visit. The school administrators receive a manual with recommendations for using the books in class and for lending them to the children. Then the books are exchanged so that the children can always 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 publishers in Laos. We would like to thank the Big Brother Mouse publisher from Luang Prabang for their kind support and for providing us with the necessary links and files.
Book Sales and Souvenirs
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 book sales, all age groups will have access to books in order to make this a matter of course in a region where 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.