Bringing Book Fun to Rural Thailand: Always Reading Caravan
Published on: March 16, 2017
Always Reading Caravan is a unique nonprofit that brings books, fun, and hope to rural communities in Northern Thailand.
Written by Ema Naito-Bhakdi / Photos courtesy of Always Reading Caravan
If you’re looking for an unlikely and inspiring combination, how about a mobile library for children and adults both with and without disabilities in rural Thailand, founded by a Japanese woman who happens to be blind?
That’s exactly what Always Reading Caravan (ARC) is. The non-profit organization was founded in 2010 by Yoshimi Horiuchi, “a blind bookaholic from Japan.” The story is that “while she was studying in Bangkok, she visited numerous villages and disability related organizations throughout the country and realized that people with or without disabilities have very limited access to information and reading materials…. [Thus] she initiated projects that provide means to connect books to people, and people to books” (from the ARC website).
ARC runs projects in Northern Thailand, including a community library and a mobile library-on-a-truck in Phrao District, Chiang Mai, and early learning centers for hilltribe children to help them transition into Thai primary schools.
The mobile library comes in the form of a modified blue Toyota truck, named Haruno after Yoshimi’s hometown. Loaded with books, games and toys, Haruno travels over mountain roads to far-out places across the district and visits different schools three days a week. There, children can read books, play with games and toys, and enjoy crafts and activities.
The games, toys and activities are part of ARC’s strategy to promote reading for pleasure. Although average literacy rate in Thailand is high, at 96% according to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, ARC says that the average number of books a child reads is just five books per year.
Yoshimi believes it is in part because many Thais think of books only as tools for study, and not as a source of entertainment. By making the libraries a place associated with fun, she hopes to break children’s fear of books and foster a love of reading.
Once a month, the mobile library also visits local people who are living with disabilities, the elderly, and others who may have a hard time going to a library. They can borrow books and swap them with new ones the following month. ARC’s librarian may read a magazine column to a blind member, or do some coloring with a girl with Down’s Syndrome.
“As a blind person, I am often helped by others. Doing this work [with the libraries] reassures me that I can also do something valuable,” says Yoshimi. In a country where people with disabilities are often pitied, look down upon, or ostracized by their communities, Yoshimi hopes the library will serve as a means to empower disadvantaged individuals in a similar way.
The existence of libraries isn’t a matter of life or death, and their impact can only be seen over a long, long term. But there are glimpses of their effects: an auntie who shed her own despair after learning about other people’s lives through the library; a painfully shy child who became socialized through the library’s activities and is now doing well at kindergarten; a hill-tribe kid who was adapting to their new Thai school environment thanks to the early learning centers.
ARC’s vision is a future where communities come together to build their own community libraries, and mobile libraries will be available in small villages around the country like mobile ice-cream vendors, where children and adults flock to select their favorite books.
How You Can Help
ARC is run by the support of its donors. If you’d like to help out, you can do so in a number of ways:
- Become a member, with an annual membership scheme starting from just US$30
- Donate money, whether once or regularly
- Donate books. ARC is particularly looking for Thai books (no textbooks or magazines). English books with special effects, e.g. popup books, books with music, touch-and-feel books, are also welcome, as they can be translated by volunteers.
- Volunteer. ARC is open to volunteer staff with ideas and motivation, and is happy to consider ways to use your specific skills, such as teaching, graphic design, marketing, translating or creative writing. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information
- Website: www.alwaysreadingcaravan.org and www.facebook.com/ARCBookworm/
- Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out: “Have books, will travel: Japanese woman’s mobile library mission in Thailand”, by Noel Boivin.
About the Author
Ema is a freelance English editor (www.theclarityeditor.com), who worked in international development and has been on the BAMBI News team since 2014. Raising three cross-cultural kids, she sings classical music, and blogs at www.crossculturalfamily.com.
The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.
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