The IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award was created by The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) and the Japanese newspaper company the Asahi Shimbun to support grassroots activities that give children access to books. The 21st IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Awards went to a Cambodian NGO, “SIPAR” and “Abuelas Cuentacuentos - The Grandmother’s Storytelling Program” based in Argentina. The two organizations were each presented with the prize money of US$ 10,000 from IBBY and The Asahi Shimbun at the IBBY Congress held in London on August 23, 2012. Let us take a look at the activities that the winning projects have been conducting to bring the joy of reading to young children.
SIPAR, Cambodia has built a network of mobile libraries and trains writers
Girls pick out their own books and spend quality time reading in a village near Phnom Penh.
Vuthy Vibolraoth, right, reads a storybook written in Khmer in a village near Phnom Penh.
It is 9:30 in the morning on August 29. A loud honking sound rang out in a rural village. As if on cue children began showing up at the village head’s garden; each of them were carefully carrying picture books. The children knew that SIPAR’s “mobile library” had arrived.
The SIPAR’s mobile library project began in 2000. A van packed with 3,000 books, give or take, travels throughout the rural outskirts of Phnom Penh, making weekly visits to villages that have no libraries.
This day, the van was visiting a village located about 28 kilometers north of central Phnom Penh, consisting of some 150 rice-farming households.
A total of 75 young readers, ranging in age from seven months to thirteen visited the mobile library. The first task for all the children was to wash their hands. Then the mobile librarian Vuthy Vibolraoth, 31, entertained the children with some magic tricks. Once he got their attention, he began reading a story. Later on, the children sat in a circle and spent time reading books they had each picked out.
Children are allowed to borrow a maximum of three books per week. An eight-year old boy really liked the story Vuthy had read to them. He checked out the book about a small frog, saying he was going to ask his big sister read it for him.
Sin Sothea, 31, is SIPAR’s library department coordinator. Sin said: “Our mission is not only about delivering books, but showing how to enjoy reading books. During the agricultural off-season, when farmers have more time, we have adults coming to the library, too.”
SIPAR was established in France in 1982, with the goal of helping Cambodian refugees. The organization moved its headquarters to Cambodia in 1991, and has since been focussing its activities on supporting education. All SIPAR activities rely on donations received from overseas. With cooperation from the Cambodian government, SIPAR has managed to build some 230 libraries in elementary schools, hospitals and prisons across the nation.
Alongside their library project, SIPAR has also been focusing on publishing books written in the indigenous Khmer language. Director of the organization, Hok Sothik, 43, said that during the times of political chaos and internal fighting that began in the 1970s, books were burnt and a lot of writers, librarians and editors were killed. He said: “For 20 years the best our people could do was try to stay alive. We lost the habit of reading books. It is as if a whole generation died out. So you see, publishing books in Cambodia has a special significance.”
Initially, they started by painstakingly pasting paper on imported books, by hand, and adding translations. In 2000, SIPAR launched a publication business and has been holding training workshops for writers, editors and illustrators. So far, SIPAR has published 85 titles including serials that teach history and geography, and world atlases.
Every time a new library opens, SIPAR donates books published by the organization. To cover costs SIPAR needs corporate and private sponsors for every single book they print. Huot Socheata, 31, is coordinator for the publishing division. She said: “Eventually we hope to be able to publish books on our own without relying on sponsors. We want to create an environment where people can discover the joy of reading and will go on to purchase books.”
Jobless women become “Storytelling Grandmothers” in Argentinas
Mempo Giardinelli, representative of the Mempo Giardinelli Foundation (FMG).
“Abuelas Cuentacuentos - The Grandmother's Storytelling Program” in Argentina began in 1999, organized by the Mempo Giardinelli Foundation (FMG). The program is unique in the fact that it engages older women who are out of jobs, and trains them as reading volunteers who read stories to children-thus providing opportunities for children in some of the poorer districts to get an introduction to literature. Mempo Giardinelli, 65, is a writer who heads the foundation. He spoke at the awards ceremony at the 33rd IBBY Congress on August 23, describing the activities of the storytelling grandmothers.
Giardinelli fled the country in 1976 and spent nine years in exile in Mexico. After returning to his home country, he established FMG to promote reading. He explained: “During the long years of military dictatorship, a lot of citizens simply forgot the joy of reading.”
Giardinelli was inspired to start the project when he saw volunteers in a German hospital reading stories and poetry to elderly patients. Now there are about 3,000 “storytelling grandmothers”-most of whom are in their fifties to seventies-based in 60 locations in Argentina and in seven other South American countries. Every week, there are grandmothers reading stories to a total of more than 100,000 children in nursery schools, facilities for the disabled and orphanages.
Giardinelli explained: “It is important that the same women read to the same group of children over many years; thereby promoting the children’s intellectual growth and also strengthening the women’s self-esteem. Love and quality literature combined creates a highly nutritious cocktail. I believe that building a strong reading culture leads to a future that is devoid of discrimination.”
（By Kiyoko Miichi
The Asahi Shimbun
September 8, 2012）