Children read books supplied by the mobile library, which tours 70 locations in Phnom Penh and Kandal province every week.
Six-year-old Pen Sreyleak raptly listens to her teacher read a story to a group of about 40 children in a small room in Beoung Khyang village, Kandal province, about 30 kilometers from Phnom Penh.
“I’ve come here three times already and I like to listen to the teacher read stories with my friends,” she said.
“I’m really happy that the mobile library comes to my village and I wish it could come everyday.”
The mobile library is a van loaded with books, paints and toys, explained the head teacher of the mobile library program, Kim Nai.
The mobile library first hit the road in 1998, started by the Soutien à l’Intiative Priée pour l’Aide à la Reconstruction (SIPAR), and there are now seven mobile libraries tooling around Phnom Penh and Kandal province.
They tour a circuit of about 70 different locations, Monday through Friday, stopping in two places a day. Some carry 20-30 books, while others have over a thousand titles, reflecting the interests of readers.
All of the books in the libraries collection are in Khmer language, said Hout Socheata, communication officer at SIPAR.
“Some of them we translate and print ourselves, some of them we buy from markets, but all of them are in Khmer,” she said.
Socheata said that sometimes the organization bought French language books and then translated them into Khmer. This helps them to ensure they have a wide range of reading material on offer which appeals to people of all ages.
“We have books for children from 8 to 12 years and some for older children or adults to read,” she said.
I’m really happy that the mobile library comes to my village and I wish it could come everyday.
Head teacher Nai said he sees the mobile libraries as a long-term method to improve the quality of the nation’s human resources.
“We created the mobile libraries because we saw that the Cambodian people were not so interested in reading. If we wanted to get them to develop their reading skills, we had to get the books into their hands,” said Nai.
But at every stop it’s all about the children, with each mobile library visited by an average of about 30 kids per stop ranging in age from four to 16 years, with a number of elderly also enjoying the service.
“We let them borrow the books they want, but they have to return them or they won’t be allowed to take anymore,” Nai said.
“My daughter always tells me stories read to her by her teacher after she comes home,” said Buth Pun, the father of a five-year-old girl.
“I always bring my daughter here because I think it’s a good program that has really helped my daughter improve a lot. She can draw and paint and it has made her more confident.”
Ty Khunchan Dararith said she liked drawing pictures and listening to stories.
“My parents don’t have money to buy books or paints for me, so that’s why they send me to the mobile library,” the eight-year-old said.