21 December 2017

Reading ambassadors promote reading in remote areas

 
Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya / Video by Metee Thuentap / Photos by Jonas Gratzer

This story was published in Bangkok Post newspaper on 9 December 2017

MAE HONG SON, 8 December 2017 – In the playground of Khun Yuam Vitthaya School in Mae Hong Son province, Kittisak “Gao” Tianyut and his friends look cheerful yet determined. Kittisak has a story book in his hand, while his friends put paper puppets of colourful animals on their hands. They tell a story, make animal noises, and act out a scene.

This is the final rehearsal before their show-time tomorrow.

Kittisak Tianyut, a student at Khun Yuam Vitthaya School in Mae Hong Son
is one of the youth reading ambassadors who bring stories to children living in remote areas.

“I am happy to be part of the team going into hard-to-reach areas to tell stories to children and to expose them to books and reading,” says Kittisak, an 11th grade student at the school. “Here in Mae Hong Son, there are many children living in hard-to-reach areas who want to read books but who don’t have good books to read or have no access to libraries.”

Kittisak is among 10 students from his school, and 80 in the province, who have been selected to join the Youth Reading Ambassador for Mobile Library programme. It is aimed at promoting youth engagement in reading activities in their own communities and expanding the coverage of the UNICEF-supported mobile library programme, which was launched in 2015 with the objective to promote reading among children in remote areas of the country, starting in Mae Hong Son.

The programme is supported by UNICEF and implemented by Mae Hong Son education authorities and schools.

Reading ambassadors engage children in reading activities.
These children usually have limited access to story books.

“The reading ambassadors go where our mobile libraries can’t go,” says Rangsun Wiboonuppatum, Education Officer of UNICEF Thailand, adding that there are five mobile libraries carrying 1,200 books and reading animators each running to remote areas in Mae Hong Son to bring books to schools and children and engaging children in interesting reading activities. The programme also strengthens the capacity of teachers in these schools to develop reading skills among their students.

The mobile library and youth reading ambassador programmes were initiated in response to a national survey which showed that there are still many children in Thailand who do not have sufficient children’s books at home, in particular children from poorer backgrounds. According to the national survey on the situation of women and children in Thailand in 2015-2016, only 4 in 10 children younger than 5 years (41.2 per cent) live in households with at least three children’s books present. The proportion of children with 10 or more books declines to a little more than 1 in 10 children (13.5 per cent).

“Exposure to books in the early years not only provides young children with greater understanding of the nature of print, but also instills the love in reading in them when they see others like their siblings reading,” says Rangsun. “Moreover, the presence of books is important for later school performance.”

Before becoming reading ambassadors, youth under the programme have to go through two training sessions supported by UNICEF. They learn about reading promotion activities, reading participatory techniques, and skills for reading participation.

Youth reading ambassadors at Khun Yuam Vitthaya School rehearse under the supervision
of their teacher Sorawit Suwannaboot before going into communities.

“The training is very good because it enables students to come up with activities to engage with children on their own,” says Sorawit Suwannabout, the teacher who oversees this initiative at Khun Yuam Vitthaya School. “I would advise them on how to improve their story telling techniques, how to make it more fun, and how to better engage with children,”

There is no doubt that his students have benefited from this.

“Students have gained confidence and are ready to carry out the task in communities, some of which they have not been to before,” says Sorawit.

Before the community visits, Sorawit accompanies his students to survey the route, the location, and find out about the ages of children which they will do activities for, as well as their language group. With this information, the team would then select story books that are appropriate for their ages, prepare materials, and rehearse.

Youth reading ambassadors select books that they want to read to the children
from the school library and the mobile libraries.

Books that they use are selected from the school library and the mobile libraries that visit their schools. Kittisak says his favourite story is the Artist Piglets, which he usually takes with him when going into communities because “it offers a good lesson for children. It teaches that when you compete, the person you should compete against is no others but yourself,” he says.

Kittisak adds that the materials the team usually bring along include paper puppets that they received from UNICEF, hay, bricks, grass, and papers. These tools help them engage better with young children.

Once everything is ready, the youth reading ambassadors hit the road.

“Places where we go are mostly far away. Roads are curving, earthy, and underdeveloped,” says Chintra Saechao, a 10th grade student who is a team member. She says it takes them around 1 to 2 hours to travel to a community by minibus.

Children at Ban Tor Pae village in Khun Yuam district of Mae Hong Son
are excited to meet the youth reading ambassadors. 

Another challenge is the different languages spoken in different communities, because Mae Hong Son is home to ethnic minorities and different hilltribe groups.

Chintra, who is from Hmong ethnic group, says she uses her mother tongue to communicate with small children in Hmong communities who do not understand the Thai language well.

It is expected that 80 well-trained reading ambassadors will be hitting the road to reach 30 communities in the province. Around 300 children aged 3 to 15 are expected to benefit from this programme in this phase alone.

“I am very proud to have participated in this programme and to be a force that brings opportunities to children who live so far away,” says Chintra. “It feels good when you share something with other people.”

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