Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Big Brother Mouse, Laos.

Castigating the French for not setting up an Education System in Laos is probably an inappropriate lead-in to a place I'm going to tell you about; a place where Lao are trying to put things right by encouraging the population to learn to read.

Beyond a few school text books published by The Peoples Democratic Republic to be used in the few schools they've set up around the nation, there certainly were no books in written in Laotian that are fun to read. And that's why "Big Brother Mouse" stepped in.

Big Brother Mouse

Big Brother Mouse is a 100% locally-owned, locally-run publishing company that produces books for village children in their local language that are distributed free of charge to whoever wants them.

The place is the brainchild of 22 young Laotians aged 14 to 24 who saw a need and stepped in AND what makes it so astonishing is that every single one of them had to learn to read, write, draw, use computers and operate a business before setting it up. Can you believe it? A heroic achievement by anyone's standards.

Kudos, boys! Kudos!

They write and illustrate the books themselves, or commission a local artist to do one for them, and the range of publications is astonishingly vast:

The list of existing publications!

They have 38 titles so far and a further 12 ready to roll as soon as they can raise the money. And there are ideas for a further 50 they want to do in the future.

As you can imagine, it's a hand-to-mouth enterprise and so only publish a few books at a time, whenever they can afford it or whenever someone kindly sponsors a new run of any of their existing publications ...

Information about the work.

... or one of the new books they have ready to be published. (It costs US$2250.00 per book by the way for a first edition run!)

Their books!

There is enormous local interest in what they do. People really do want their products. The list of local villages requesting "A Book Party" is enormous, but that can only happen whenever The Box is full:

This box is so important that we should do it in capitals, in larger font and in bold:


Hard to believe that such a humble box can be so important in the larger scheme of things, but trust me, it is. Here's how the system works:

In addition to buying books for yourself from off the shelf (photo above), Big Brother Mouse requests you buy a set of their books ...

Sets ready for The Box,
the moment someone pays.

... for 100,000 KIP (about US$7.00) and then place them inside The Box and the moment the box is full you're ready for "A Book Party".

You can buy a really cute video of what happens at "A Book Party" (the cost goes to pay for another run of existing books). Since I don't have one to place in here, I'll tell you: whenever The Box is full, a bunch of folk - we were invited but couldn't accept since it was the day we left - take The Box go out to the next village on the list, and there you read the books aloud to the children - and all the adults who can't read either - and then you hand out the books to whoever wants that particular one.

What I particularly love is that the impact is obviously so great because here's one of their books reproduced by the Hmong as a handicraft:

Fabric versions of the
Big Brother Mouse alphabet book
in the Night Market.

Loving it? So, are we totally supporting these guys or what?

Right, so what can you do to help? Well, apart, obviously, from buying books for The Box, Big Brother Mouse currently needs English-speaking editors. See, because tourists tend not to speak or read Lao, they tend not to buy the books for themselves, so now BBM plans on doing English text alongside the Laotian so their books become tourist souvenirs that folk will want to take away with them. Makes sense, right?

Also, if you're rich, you can donate US$3,000.00 for the from-scratch development of one of their new titles. Less rich? It costs about US$250 to set up a full mini-library in a village someplace.

Not rich at all? They also need volunteers to sit with those locals who are learning to read English in their reading room. With that, you just need to sit there and prompt and correct and do all the rest of that more-usually kindergarten-level stuff:

Volunteers listening to reading.

All the tourists I saw who did this went off with that "Stay Another Day" glow. And yes, Big Brother Mouse is indeed one of the "Stay Another Day" organisations.

So how do you get in touch with these amazing guys?

Their website can be found at:
Their e-ddress is:
Their phone numbers are: 071 254937 and o2o 5873780
Their address is: Big Brother Mouse, Ban Vat Nong, between L'Elephant and Tamarind Restaurants, Luang Prabang, Laos.

And if you're in Luang Prabang, just follow these signs:

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