Amard Lansun believes that a good book can change a person's life. And it's not only because books have opened doors of opportunity for himself _ for the last two years, he has seen how books have changed his community for the better.
During Krabi province's Maolid Nabi Celebration Fair last February, Amard along with members of the book exchange project exhibited the results of two years of work in his community, Nua Khlong district in Krabi province. There people are able to borrow books to read at home from the mosques near their houses.
As the much ballyhooed World Book Capital kicks off in Bangkok this week, the fruit of reading is also taking shape in the southern province, or at least in the Muslim community in Krabi.
"We are very lucky to be a part of this project," said Amard.
In 2010, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand offered a budget to support communities located near Krabi's electricity plant in the Nua Khlong community, where the majority of the population is Muslim. With the vision of Makut Onrudee, writer, publisher and recently crowned National Artist, and a team from the Faculty of Social Administration at Thammasat University, the budget has been used to fund a book exchange project.
"A team led by Makut first visited the leaders of the community to introduce the project," Amard recalled. "Back then, there were 32 mosques in the district, however, there are now 34. At the beginning, eight mosques agreed to participate in the project."
Like most people in his community, Amard's first thought about the project was that there would be a library at each mosque where people could borrow books. Then, after becoming involved with the project, he learned that there was a better way to encourage people to read.
"Each mosque usually has a list of its members," he said. "The leader of the each mosque then introduced the project to the villagers and asked them to propose a list of books they wanted to read. By matching books with the readers' needs, we could be more certain the books would be read."
Housewives turned what they read from books into extra incomes.
From law to religion and health to cuisine, the project coordinators had selected book genres based on the locals' preferences. Instead of using a library system, the project runs on trust.
''We rely on a trust system as we don't want to put a burden on a particular person to be responsible for the books. Importantly, these books are in the mosque, they belong to the mosque, so it has a sense of holiness where people should treat them well,'' he said.
''At each mosque, the borrower must sign their name and the code of their chosen book. The codes state the name of the mosque it belongs to, which category and which edition it is.''
What makes the project special, Amard said, is that every four months, the books rotate from one mosque to another. This means a maximum use of the literary resources and a way to multiply potential readers.
''This witty idea came from Makut,'' Amard added, crediting the initiator of the project.
''He said if 1 baht is worth a book, with four people, there are four books. But when we take turns to read, in the end, we invest 1 baht, but we get to read four books.''
The eight mosques in the project are split into two groups. The books will be rotated among each group, before switching to the other. After three years, and with the positive feedback from the project, there are now 16 mosques participating in the project.
Along the way the project has been adapted to suit the nature of the community in order reach wider readers.
''After a while, we discovered we were still unable to reach female readers,'' he said. While Muslim men frequently visit the mosques, women only go during special days and usually stay home as housewives.
''We decided to distribute books to different locations in the village, such as beauty salons or local grocery stores,'' he said. What grew from the project, besides the number of books that have been read, is how these books have inspired the readers. Joining an exhibition with Amard was a group of housewives who have turned what they read into a part-time job that earns extra income.
Chaba Kraibut is Amard's neighbour from Baan Rai Yai village and a housewife whose hobby is handicrafts _ from tailoring to embroidery. After Amard introduced her to the project, she got the chance to borrow books that suit her interests.
''We have a group of women who usually get together and work part-time by making hijabs or other handicraft items. Some of the books give us ideas to develop our works,'' she said, showing off necklaces made of plastic crystal beads, and bejewelled hijabs.
Suangsuda Chipchareonwong, a volunteer from Kao Kaew mosque, said her community joined the project in the last six months, after hearing the success stories from other villages.
''At first, the leader of my community wasn't sure whether we should get involved. But after learning more about the project, our village then came on board and I signed up to be a volunteer for my mosque,'' she said.
Amard added that in Chaba's case, the group of women got inspired from what they read and decided to contact the Skill Training and Development Centre, where they were offered professional trainers to help them turn their hobby into a business.
The project, reviewed year-by-year, has continued to its third year. As a person in charge, Amard feels that it has taught him lessons and changed his community.
''I am proud of myself to be part of this project,'' said Amard, a 49-year-old rubber farmer.
''The best thing I've learned from being involved in this project is that it creates unity among communities. These books don't just give people information, they lead you to new friends, give families a chance to bond among members and promote a peaceful environment for the community.''
Rubber farmer Amard Lansun uses his time to be head of the book exchange project in his hometown of Nua Klong district, Krabi.
About the author
- Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer