Words by Daniella Jayne Luke Danis
Photos by Hannah Reshma and Ajahn Yeoh
Kong Lao, 17 was a boy I met down by the Mekong River. His perseverance to learn English has led him to trek up Mount Phousi (a tourist destination in Luang Prabang) every day after his high school graduation. He strikes up conversations with random tourists in order to improve his speaking skills, creating a platform for him to engage with native speakers. Like Mount Phousi, Big Brother Mouse does just that, except, that it offers a place for people to come together with a common purpose – education.
According to UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), youth literacy rates in Laos is the second lowest rate in South East Asia – 89% for men, 79% for women. Big Brother Mouse, a non-profit organisation was developed in 2006, where book publishing was rare in Laos at that time. While many children recognised textbooks, it wasn’t common for books to be fun and entertaining, especially because many children did not have the privilege to buy themselves textbooks, let alone storybooks.
Big Brother Mouse was the first publishing house in Luang Prabang and promoted the love of reading and learning in children. This is accomplished by introducing literary programs like book parties and developing new effective ways to distribute books to rural villages within the country. It has since won the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award 2016 by the International Board on Books for Young People held at the IBBY International Congress, Auckland.
Big Brother Mouse has published more than 350 types of books that began with children’s stories to a wide variety of subjects: from women’s health to the geographic regions of the world, from traditional fairy tales to the diary of Anne-Frank, a nature series, and the most popular books; traditional Lao folktales. Many of these books are in English and Lao so that students can use these books to improve their English and Lao reading skills simultaneously. For the full list of books that have been published: http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/books.html
The concept of book parties became introduced because book distribution to local villages (in which many are not easily accessible) can be a challenge. Members of the staff travel on long journeys to get to rural villages and schools. This may involve hours on the road, by boat, and hiking through forests and hills. These books are introduced to the children, with sessions of creative writing, art lessons, games, songs and story time.
A set of books are left behind at the end of every book party so that teachers will incorporate the concept of “sustained silent reading” in which the children are able to choose what they are reading and are not required to answer questions, or have to report about their reading session. The goal is to add enjoyable variety to school life and improve reading skills. Children reap many benefits from sustained silent reading as it allows them to find entertainment through learning and it becomes something they can enjoy.
Big Brother Mouse also creatively enlisted foreign travellers by encouraging them to purchase books to distribute on their hikes/treks to and through rural villages. This accomplishes the goal of increasing book distribution to remote areas while allowing travellers to engage with children.
In addition to book publishing and book parties, Big Brother Mouse also runs English practice sessions where youths line up to engage in conversation with each other, or with travellers and volunteers that drop by. This gives them the opportunity to interact with native English speakers and improve their set skills. Big Brother Mouse is open to visitors at any one of the two-hour sessions (9AM to 11AM, 5PM to 7PM) every day for interaction.
Many members of the youth community, like Kong Lao, are eager to make their way to Big Brother Mouse. They acknowledge that opportunities for education are endless, but more importantly, that a bridge to those opportunities lay in literacy, and in English.
Please head to the website if you’d like to find out more, donate or sponsor:
Daniella has a thirst for adventure and an ardent disposition towards nature and nurturing. Like daffodils, the heralds of spring, she is always growing and inviting growth.