Saturday, December 17, 2011

Big Brother Mouse in Laos: "Reading should be an adventure of discovery and delight, not a chore."

Stay Another Day in Laos
When my partner and I traveled for three weeks to Thailand and Laos in 2007, we spent about five days in the lovely city of Luang Prabang along the Mekong River. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town is replete with 32 Buddhist temples, numerous day spas and delicious food. My only regret was that we didn't get to visit Big Brother Mouse, a local literacy organization featured in our sustainable tourism booklet "Stay Another Day, Laos."

Big Brother Mouse is a Lao-based, Lao-owned project that began bringing books to far-flung communities in 2006. Now they publish their own titles, along with translations of classics, hiring and training young local staff to write and illustrate them, providing hands-on experience as they learn new skills: writing, editing, translating, computers, and organizing events.

In a country where only a minority of children continue school after 5th grade, there are few books published in the Lao language, and little way to distribute them. A staple of their outreach is a book party--introducing rural children to the art and joy of reading. According to their latest newsletter: "The book party teams spend 5 days on the road, away from home. They begin a typical week with a 3- to 8-hour trip, getting to a rural area. Then they travel within that area, and come back to Luang Prabang at the end of the week."

It can mean traveling three hours on the road, an hour by boat, and ninety minutes of hiking just to get to a village. Sometimes books are delivered by their staff elephant, Boom Boom (meaning: books), over mountains and streams. She even stars in her own book, The Little Elephant That Could.
Sasha Alyson, an American writer/publisher who came to Laos in 2002, founded the organization after three years of preparation. Since then, Big Brother Mouse has reached almost every primary school and all 61 middle schools and high schools of Luang Prabang province. Oftentimes, the kids haven't ever seen a picture book, and the events begin with how to open and turn the pages. After book reading, art, games and songs, each child gets to choose a book of their very own. At the end of the three-hour party, they leave 80 books for a "swap-box," essentially a mini-library where kids can trade their book for another.

They've adapted The Wizard of Oz (with a flood instead of a tornado) and are working on Pinocchio. The biggest book they've published so far is also the book that took the longest to translate: Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. According to the website:
There were many challenges in the translation, not just because European terms often had no equivalent in Lao, but also because few people here know enough about World War II to fully understand the context of this important book. But our illustrated history of the war will come off the press soon, and already we're seeing college-age readers absorbed in the diary.
With the holidays fast approaching, consider donating to Big Brother Mouse. Just $250-400 will sponsor a book party or village library, giving 50 to 300 children the first book they've ever owned! $1,000-3,500 will sponsor a new book being published.

Check out the Big Brother Mouse list of titles, with descriptions and photographs, that need sponsors. Or, if you're lucky enough to visit Laos, consider buying books (costing only $1.20-2.50 each) to distribute yourself. The latest goal is an extensive teacher training, to find ways to help teachers effectively incorporate books into classroom use through book parties, teacher training colleges and workshops.

For extensive advice on how to start a literacy project, from creating books to distribution, check out "What We've Learned."

1 comment:

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

from Sasha at Big Brother Mouse:

"Just in the last few days, we had 3 people send donations to sponsor book parties, people we'd had no contact with before, as far as we know. We cannot track what blog or website leads to what, but clearly, what you and others are doing to spread the word is making a big difference. Thank you."

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