It is 11 am and the children are leaving their classrooms to go back home. While some walk on a small bamboo bridge to reach the mainland, others board a small boat. Ry Srey Lin is 12 years old and is putting away some books to bring them back to the school principal. The young girl is responsible for the mobile library of Yukunthor primary school, located around the great lake Tonle Sap.
Every day as most children from surrounding fishing communities, Srey Lin can hardly reach her floating school (1) built on bamboo sticks to keep the school above water of the Tonle Sap lake. Floating schools like Yukunthor are difficult to get to and students many must travel long distances or take a boat to school. Floating schools and other hard-to-reach schools are also difficult to access for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) which means these schools frequently are under services and underfunded.
Yukanthor primary school © AEA Cambodia / 2015 / Chin
A mobile library, an adapted solution
“If children can’t come to a library, the library should go to them,” explains AEA Cambodia director Samphors Vorn. The installation of mobile libraries has been designed to assist the MoEYS to provide quality education for all children in Cambodia. The mobile library’s small size makes it perfectly adapted to the context of floating schools because is easy to maintain and move from one classroom to another.
Srey Lin; the young librarian © AEA Cambodia / 2015 / Chin
Every day at break times, Srey Lin moves the mobile library from classroom to classroom so that all 142 students can borrow books. Although she is still very young Srey Lin is a very active and serious librarian. Her role is important because she facilitates reading activities and manages the library to avoid the loss of books. At the end of playtime, she picks up all books. If a book is missing, she refers to the class representative to get it back.
“The library has given the children not just a place to read and learn but an official setting for playtime. Play is crucial in developing creativity and intelligence,” added Samphors Vorn. The children also enjoy this time and rush to the mobile library at every opportunity. Between classes, during lunch and after school, they come running in, laughing and chatting, to pull out magazines, books, toys and games.
The mobile library addresses one of the main obstacles currently preventing many of these students from reaching secondary school; teacher and student absenteeism. especially during the fishing season from January to March. “Since we have the mobile library, [the] children come to school, even during the fishing season. At the end of the day, teachers start reading tales and legends. They promise children that they will know the end of the story if they come back to school the next day!” says the school director with a smile. “They love books with pictures. It is more fun to learn new vocabulary when looking at drawings. It improves children’s concentration.”
For Srey Lin, the library is not only an incentive for her to go school, it is about building her future. “I love reading! Being a librarian gives me the opportunity to read many books. I especially like reading legends. Now, I know them by heart and I tell stories to my friends and family. I can see I have improved in reading and I gained knowledge,” she says. In the future, Srey Lin’s dream is to study abroad and become a teacher.
The mobile library looks like a shelve on wheels that contains many books and reading materials
© AEA Cambodia / 2015 / Chin
(1) Floating schools are designed to fight floods. Considered as one of the most hazard-prone countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia regularly faces natural disasters mainly floods. (UNDP) In 2013, floods killed 188 people and affected more than 1.7 million. (Floods Humanitarian Response Forum, Situation Report, November 2013)