The library is not a quiet place in Cambodia. As soon as the recess bell rings, students flood into the room, clamoring for a book, and then collapse into groups of two or three to read out loud on the floor.
It was not always this way; just a few years ago there was little interest in reading at this remote rural school. Then fourth grade teacher Chhim Sokrat moved to the area and upended everything with a profound vision: students should have free access to books.
Sokrat’s rural mobile library project began almost ten years ago, when he first observed the intractable reasons keeping the library at his new school from being used. Parents who felt reading distracted from lesson work. Students bored by the limited offerings. The school responding to the lack of interest by buying even fewer books. Worst of all, the librarian would not check out books, because they were evaluated on the condition of their books, not on student usage.
Sokrat decided to break this cycle by starting his own community library, stocked with a diverse set of enjoyable titles, and freely available to the children in the area. He partnered with Dr. Charlene Bredder, an American volunteer at his teachers college in Kampot. She would raise the funds to buy the books and help curate the library collection, and he would handle the day to day operations.
Now the project has grown to four libraries serving over 1000 children a year. In several cases the community library has inspired principals to invest in their own school libraries, even changing policies so students are allowed to take books home.
ChangeStream Media first profiled the work of Dr. Bredder and Chhim Sokrat back in 2011. Our video about how they were creating educational resources like games and flashcards helped convince the Ministry of Education to include this in the official teacher-training curriculum.
It was amazing to come back and find them still innovating to enliven the minds of their students. Our video about their library project shares many of their innovations with others who may want to start a similar program in their community: covering books in plastic to protect them, a library card system that allows students to trade books, and exchanging books between libraries so every title reaches as many students as possible.
We wish them all the success in the world in maintaining their library program and continuing to find new ways to inspire Cambodia’s next generation. If you would like to support the Cambodian Rural Mobile Library Project, contact Charlene Bredder at firstname.lastname@example.org.