Literacy Program in Laos: Big Brother Mouse

Big Brother Mouse Logo

Big Brother Mouse Literacy Program

A highlight of our visit to Luang Prabang was volunteering at The Big Brother Mouse literacy program headquarters. The project, which began in 2006, is Lao-owned and operated, and based in Luang Prabang. Big Brother Mouse publishes books in the Lao language (as well as in Lao/English), an important contribution, as there are still very few books for people to read in their native tongue.  In some rural villages, some people have never even seen a book, much less owned one. Part of the mission is to change this. Big Brother Mouse is working to give children the joy that comes with owning their very first book.  At the project headquarters in Luang Prabang, travelers are welcome to stop in during certain hours to learn more about the project and to spend some time practicing English conversation with local students. It’s also a great place to buy some books to take along with you and hand out further afield in your travels!

Big Brother Mouse, Boy Reading

A young boy looking at Hidden Alphabet: Pictures that have letter shapes hidden within them.

Conversation Hour at Luang Prabang Headquarters

Students participate in the conversation hour at the Luang Prabang Headquarters on their own volition and on the day we visited, all of those present were students studying in the local university. Most of the students were from other parts of the country. In many cases, they were the chosen, the only ones their family could afford to send to school. The students had notebooks filled with notes from previous sessions, and a few had workbooks with plenty of vocabulary practice exercises. We talked about where we were from, favorite foods and our families. Beyond the small talk, students were very eager to ask questions about why certain words were pronounced a certain way or why some words have an “s” at the end to make it plural and why others do not. This was quite an exercise for us, attempting to explain things in simple terms while not always knowing the exact reason ourselves! A simple “because” was definitely not going to cut it. We felt a lot of responsibility answering as the perceived “experts.” Drop in from 9 to 11 am or 5 to 7 pm 7 days a week to participate in adult English practice.

Big Brother Mouse, Three Girls

Girls reading at a Big Brother Mouse book party

Efforts Supporting Literacy in Laos

Big Brother Mouse projects include teacher training, workshops, the establishment of village reading rooms, where books are accessible to all, and book parties.  “In 2012, more than 125,000 rural Lao children got a book, typically the first book they had ever owned, through a Big Brother Mouse book party.” These book parties are held in remote villages, often difficult to access. Big Brother Mouse staff, young people from small villages themselves, make the journey, talk to the children about books, read and do art projects, play games, tell stories and allow the kids to pick out a book to keep. They also leave a collection of books behind with the classroom so they can have reading daily. This idea of “Sustained Silent Reading” has proven to be very valuable in developing a lifetime habit and a love of reading that benefit children greatly in the long-term.

Big Brother Mouse Book Party

Khamla talks to students at a book party about how he wrote BBM’s first alphabet book: Frog, Alligator, Buffalo. Behind him are pictures for the art lesson, which comes later in the book party.

How to Get Involved

Learn more about how to support Big Brother Mouse through donations, sponsorship or volunteering on the Big Brother Mouse website. You can also make a donation via Global Giving, a site that matches up projects with donors. They even have a shortcode to make a donation via text!

All photos in this post courtesy of Big Brother Mouse, used with permission.

About the author

Free-spirited traveler at peace on the slow road. Packs light and treads lightly. Tamara writes about the nomadic lifestyle and slow travel along with budget-friendly tips and destination guides.