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Since so much of the population of Laos lives along rivers and in valleys nearby, river travel is often much easier for them than land travel. Community Learning International has capitalized on that by creating traveling libraries called Book Boats.
The boats will arrive at a village in the morning, and school is let out for the day so that the children can visit the boat. They take turns going aboard to choose books, read, and play some learning activities. They’re allowed to take the books home for the day, to read onshore or by candlelight after dark. Once all the book are returned the next morning, the boat takes off to greet the next village.
It always seems to me that communities with low access to reading materials appreciate reading SO much more. The people I know, who have libraries in every neighborhood, still can’t be bothered to go. And this is including my friends who love to read! It’s baffling.
One easy thing we can do is to donate to CLI, who runs the book boat program as well as many other programs to help those in poverty. (And yes, I put my money where my mouth is and made my own donation already — plus my work will match it!) They help people learn marketable skills like weaving, and provide access to rounded education through learning centers. Their Facebook page is updated more regularly than their website, so if you’re interested in more updates, check them out there!
Signs of change
The literacy rate in Laos has improved substantially since the 1990s, with rates improving from 60% to 85% literacy. My guess as to what may have happened between 2005 and 2011 would be a significant immigration out of the country by educated adults, as Laos struggles with brain drain. They’ve bounced back well, though! And while I would never say that one program has made that change, I think it’s clear that the existence of this program and others like it are a fundamental change signifying a new focus on the importance of education and literacy’s role within that.
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