Before arriving in Laos, I read about an organization in Luang Prabang called Big Brother Mouse. They distribute books that are written in both English and Laos, and I think it is a great idea. When I arrived in Luang Prabang I was looking for a bookshop or book exchange for myself. I asked around and never got a straight answer. One young man even told me that they weren’t any bookshops in Luang Prabang. Why would he think this in such a small town? Because for the most part, people in Laos don’t read books for fun. I can’t blame them… try finding books written in Laos. They’re not common, and the only bookshops I actually did find sold English books and were geared for tourists. Big Brother Mouse is a business started five years ago by an American gentleman who recognized the lack of books in Laos. The organization delivers books to villages and also sells books to tourists to hand out.
Everyone Should Own a Book
When I was younger, I fondly remember my mother taking my sister and me down to our local library. In fact, it was the smallest library I’ve ever stepped foot in, but we always found books to take home with us, and when we wanted to get lost in rows of books, we would venture down to the county library. I loved reading all of the wonderful tales that sparked my imagination and took me to imaginary places. It’s unfortunate that most children in Laos have never owned a single book, and I was excited to help out.
Buying Laos Books
I found a Big Brother Mouse stall in the Luang Prabang night market and bought 14 of these books. Some are funny short stories, while others are about animals and places around the world. They are all written in both Laos and English. Younger children can read them in Laos, while older children can practice their English as well. Handing them out was a bit of a task since many of the children didn’t speak English. The first little boy looked scared to death. My driver tried to tell him to take the book and he did, while looking a bit in shock. Luckily, it soon got better. In the first village, I had three children actually follow me. Word traveled fast. This was perfect- kids that were excited to get a book.
Two of the kids hugged their books tightly as if snuggling with a new teddy bear. This boy continued to follow me, grinning and waving as we left.
In Vientiane, I had about half of them left to hand out. After dinner the first night, I saw two kids peering through a metal gate, watching some kids play inside. I offered them each a book and at first they were hesitant to take them. But then, they realized I wasn’t some crazy person and just wanted to hand them a book. As I stood up to walk away the girl suddenly yelled, “Thank you!” in English. My friend told me to turn around. I missed it, but apparently the little girl started jumping up and down while hugging her book. We turned the street corner and passed a man that I assume was the girl’s father. She goes running toward him, flapping the book in her hand, and yelling. I would say that was one happy little girl :)
I went to the post office the following morning and mailed two books to my friend Nang in Muang Ngoi Neua. One is a picture dictionary in English and Laos of words that I think would be really useful for her to expand her English. The other one is a children’s book entitled “23 Children Around the World” to share with kids in the village. I wrote her a letter and had a teenage boy who works in my guesthouse translate it into Laos. I gave him the other picture dictionary as a thank you. He was really excited, as he’s only had three years of English school but would like to learn more. I inquired with him about a local school, and it happened to be right across the street at the temple.
I walked through the temple gates and saw the kids outside playing for what I assume was recess. I found the teachers’ lounge and asked if I could leave some books with them. As I pulled them out of my bag, a male teacher said, “Are those in Laos?!” “ They are in Laos and English.” Yes, apparently Laos books are hard to come by. He had me write my name in the front cover of all of them and seemed just as eager as the kids were to receive them. “Oh, this one is about animals!” he exclaimed. It ended up being a really good decision to leave them at a school where many more kids will have access to them.
A special thanks to my dear travel friend Joseph who has made multiple donations to my Sole Purpose project and also a previous fundraising project that I did. His donations made the purchase of these books possible, and he’s an all around awesome guy!