Amidst a sea of small awe-filled faces, an extended trunk presents each child with a storybook. The gift of knowledge is reciprocated by tiny hands offering the elephant pieces of sugarcane, bananas and bamboo leaves, followed swiftly by a gracious Buddhist 'nop', the traditional greeting and way of giving thanks here as hands are clasped together in front of body accompanied with a slight bowing of the head.
On receipt of their books, many of the children attentively read each page in the location they stand, whilst others simply clutch the book to their chest as a prized possession, which in most cases it is, the book being the first item the child has ever owned. Welcome to our Elephant Mobile Libraries project.
Reading is not common practise amongst the local people of the Lao PDR. Illiteracy is high among many rural communities, whilst resources remain scarce and when available are often uninspiring.
Working with partners Community Learning International, Eco-Sys Action from Hong Kong and Xang Noi Publishing, we take an innovative approach to encourage literacy within schoolchildren of Laos distributing books and resources in Lao script using retired logging elephants, these include ElefantAsia's own elephant storybook Xang Phuan Keo and a trio of elephant posters.
Capable of carrying up to 150kg, this making for a lot of books, delivery with elephants has dual purpose. Agile, elephants are able to access remote areas where roads and access routes are nonexistent allowing the Elephant Mobile Libraries to reach those schools most in need, whilst interaction with the elephants increases knowledge of the endangered species and understanding of elephant behaviour amongst both young people and local communities, this being particularly beneficial in areas experiencing human-elephant conflict.
We conducted our first Elephant Mobile Library mission in 2010 in Sayaboury province and have since visited many rural schools across several districts within the province. With each school visit, our team implements a host of environmental based activities, including games and sing-a-longs. Each event inevitably becomes a very public affair as whole communities come to join in the fun.
A static version of this project, Kids in Conservation, has also been developed. Located at the Elephant Conservation Center, we invite children from neighbouring schools surrounding Sayaboury town to visit the home of the elephants and enjoy a whole host of environment-based activities.
To support future Elephant Mobile Libraries, please visit this page.