22.01.2013 - 22.01.2013
I've been a bit of a bookworm since I was little. I was one of those kids that would sneakily put the light back on after bedtime and when I heard my parents coming up the stairs I would pretend I'd fallen asleep reading, book slipping out of hand and glasses at a bit of an angle etc.. "Ah bless her" they would say carefully taking off my glasses without waking me and turning out the light...only for me to put the light back on again once I thought they were asleep and continue whatever adventure I had been reading...
Books and stories played such a huge part of my childhood (and still do today). I can not imagine not being able to get lost in a book and so when I heard that many Laos children had never read or possibly even seen a book I was keen to find out more.
Big Brother Mouse is a Laos based project which looks to improve literacy in Laos by publishing books in the Laos language and also distributing these books. You can find out more detail about Big Brother Mouse here www.bigbrothermouse.com
One of the ways to help is by sponsoring a book party and mini library in a rural village, bringing books to children and making literacy fun. I decided that instead of spending money on Xmas presents to send home that I would use that money to sponsor one on behalf of the Doyle family. We knew roughly when we would be in Luang Prabang but there was no guarantee we would be able to attend a book party when we got there. Fortunately for us even though book parties don't normally happen end of Jan due to the school exams we were able to attend one and it was so great to see what the donation is used for.
At the office we met the enthusiastic Pi who has worked for BBM for the last 5 years. He told us that he loves his job as he gets to put a smile on children's faces! He runs book parties and also has written a couple of books too that BBM has published. He told us that his latest is a book about a magic cave that when the characters go inside takes them to another world (a bit like the top of the Faraway Tree). This one takes them to the time of dinosaurs!
He plans it to be a series where the children will be able to learn about other countries or times in history. We also met Sung who illustrates some of the books and helps at the book parties, and Magherita from Australia who was also joining the book party.
We all got into the minivan and started to make the hour drive out of town to Ban Hadkor Village. Pi told us there would be about 100 children there and that it had been over 2 years since BBM had been able to visit this village with books. We found out that the kids also didn't have work books so we stopped off at a local shop to buy 100 exercise books and pencils so each kid would get these too as well as a reading book of their own to keep.
When we arrived at the school the children were playing outside but quickly lined up and watched expectantly as we got out the car and started to unload. The book party itself would last for 3 hours and include talking to the kids about literacy, games, story time and the exciting ending of choosing their very own book for them to keep, which for some of them would be the first book they had ever owned!
After an intro by Pi we gave each child a piece of paper and a pencil as we would start the morning with some drawing of whatever came to mind. The little ones seemed a bit nervous of us to start with and as soon as they had their paper and pencil they ran as fast as there little legs could carry them back to their classroom. We sat in one of the classrooms with our own paper and pencil and started to draw too, although I'm sure you can spot which pictures are ours and what we were missing at home!
Soon the kids were showing us their drawings and giggling at ours! We helped to tell them what the English words were for what we had all drawn and they told us the Laos, but I think they were better students than we were, maybe its why one of the girls was giving Dan evils in the pic below!
After drawing was over it was time to head back outside for Pi to talk more to the kids on literacy, sing some songs and play some games! He was great with the kids and they were so engaged.
Isn't this the most amazing backdrop to a playground ever!
One of the games the kids played they were in a circle holding on to each other. Pi had 3 signs (red, orange and green) and they moved in a circle depending on which one he held up, much like traffic lights with green being the fastest etc... This is when we noticed how the brothers and sisters look after each other and sometimes the little ones who are too young for school still come along with them anyway. One little boy lost his sister in the circle as his legs couldn't keep up and started crying. The only person who could comfort him was his sister, who came running out of the game to him for a big hug. So cute!
Then it was story time...and the kids were transfixed standing or their seats to get a better look as they were told the story that I think was about a duck who lost his mother and then found her again.
Whilst the kids were listening to the story the team started to get the books ready. There were enough books for each child to have one and also to start a mini library with educational books for the teachers as well to help them too. The books were organised according to the age group as each class started to line up.
Pi had explained to the children that we had brought them books and once we had given them an exercise book they could go and choose a reading book of their own to keep. You could feel the excitement in the line of kids but they still remembered to be polite and not push to the front and each one gave us a 'nop' of thanks. This where two hands are placed together in front of you with a little bow, the higher the hands are raised and the lower the bow the more respect/thanks is being given and the kids were doing the biggest nops we had seen since we had been in Laos before running over to chose their reading book.
Pi explained that often the largest books would be chosen first and that the kids were very excited about owning their own book. They would be encouraged to swap them with their classmates once they had finished reading them but Pi explained that this sometimes took awhile as they got quite attached to them.
It was amazing to see that as soon as the kids chose their book that they immediately went to sit somewhere to eagerly read it.
As we walked round the classrooms to shouts of thank you in English and Laos (Khwap jai) the kids were keen to show us which books they had chosen and how they could read. Some were more able than others but they still loved their book and you knew they would be reading it all the way through in no time!
We then presented the remaining books for the library to the head teacher, Mr Kham Lah, who thanked us on behalf of the staff and the kids. He told us how they had had other volunteers from other organisations who have helped to build and paint parts of the school but that to actually receive the books and resources the children needed was a real pleasure and would make a difference. We thanked them for having us in return and that we hoped the kids like the books and keep enjoying reading.
It had been a fantastic morning and one of the most worthwhile experiences we have had on our trip so far!
If you would like to get involved please visit their website www.bigbrothermouse.com or if you are going to Luang Prabang you can pop into their shop to buy books to give to kids on your travels in Laos or help people with their English at their drop in sessions.
Happy reading everyone!