Thanks to the efforts of Kandal's rice-farmer-turned-librarian Nom
Soklot, thousands of villagers have access to a travelling library and
are getting increasingly into books
Nom Soklot reads to children from the Hun Sen Chunloeung school in Kandal province.
FOR six months, Nom Soklot has been riding around Kandal province's Rokhar Chunloeung commune on a small motorbike with a box of books strapped on the back.
In a desperately impoverished province, the 33-year-old is the only access to reading material many residents have.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of her small moto-library, the 5,400 inhabitants of the five villages in her area have had access to books and magazines - which they can read at their houses or borrow until the moto-library returns the next time.
"They really like to read a lot in this area," said Nom Soklot, laughing.
"They love everything related to cattle breeding and to farming. They also enjoy a lot of magazines."
Despite the fact the commune she serves is one of the poorest in the district, it is filled with curious people hungry for knowledge.
Many villagers - adults and children alike - visit the nearby library, which is run by one of Nom Soklot's colleagues, Ngoy Phat, who supplies her with books.
A big event for a village
Villagers know when Nom Soklot's moto-library is coming because she lets the local authorities know three days in advance.
When she arrives, it is something of an event: She stops outside the village chief's house and unstraps the box of books from her bike.
I regret that my motorbike cannot carry more... I would bring more books.
Word gets out and villagers start to gather. Children come running back from nearby fields and crowd around to read.
If the time of Nom Soklot's visit does not suit villagers, they can go to the Education for All centre which was created - at the community's request - by the NGO Sipar in order to offer information and training to villagers.
The activities of this centre focus on the library, which was established in a nearby school.
Ngoy Phat plans Nom Soklot's tours of the area in response to demand.
"I regret that my motorbike cannot carry more weight; I would bring more books," Nom Soklot said.
She added that she had to be careful about the tiny scooter breaking down on one of the small, muddy tracks she must cross daily.
The motorbike was donated by Sipar, which builds libraries in Cambodian schools and publishes books in the Khmer language aimed at young people.
The perfect librarian
Last Thursday, Nom Soklot's moto-library was due at Hun Sen Chunloeung school, which has been open for three years in its new premises but still lacks a library.
At around 7:30am, she arrived and unfolded mats under the covered part of the school playground, where about 200 children soon joined her.
In this under-the-sky library, reading came as a welcome break for the children, who were laughing, talking and sitting with friends as they devoured the moto-library's offerings.
Some exchanged magazines, some answered puzzles, while others listened attentively as Nom Soklot told them a story - concentrating so hard her cheeks turned red from the effort.
Her audience did not miss a single word.
"I've just finished a librarian training in Prey Veng. I feel that I have learned a lot. I have become more clever and more qualified," said Nom Soklot.
"Now I understand how to code books, I know how to make an inventory and I tell the stories much better. Before the course I read too fast without taking time to show the illustrations in the books to the children."
Nom Soklot is a wonderful example for the young pupils whom she visits.
She smiled when she heard someone call her teacher, or neak krou, as she only went to school through third grade when her mother's illness forced her to drop out.
Until the age of 31, this rice-farmer's daughter worked in the fields.
When the Education for All centre opened in 2006, she went there regularly to borrow books to read to family and friends in the shade of a tree in front of her house.
As her audience wanted more and more stories, she went to the library more often. When one of the librarians resigned, the director of the centre though it a good idea to ask this ardent reader to replace him.
"I was so panicked with this idea," she remembered.
"It made me sick. I did not think I was able to take this kind of job with these responsibilities."
After consulting with her family, she finally accepted the offer. The director trained her step-by-step.
"I have made a lot of effort; I have read plenty of very interesting books," she said.
"After that, I did not want at all to go back to work in the rice fields," she added.
Being a native of the area, Nom Soklot knows everyone and has an incredible power to pass on her enthusiasm for books.
She picks books according to her audience, and the moto-library has become its own success story, with more than 50 books a week now being loaned out to villagers in the area.
The only thing Nom Soklot could wish for is more books.