International School Bangkok (ISB) Middle School student, Emily, moved to Thailand in 2021 from Washington State in the USA. Back in the states, she and her mother were both actively involved in the Girl Scouts, a youth organization in the United States that encourages girls to be themselves as they discover their strengths and rise to meet new challenges.
Emily was working toward her Silver Award, one of the highest awards you can earn in Girl Scouts, together with her troop in Western Washington when she moved to Thailand. Passionate about books, Emily and her troop had previously built and installed a little free library in their community to increase access to books and they were hoping to continue their work.
To earn the award, Girl Scouts must find an issue they care about, look into their community, then develop a project that leads to sustainable and lasting change. After completing the project requirements, including 50 hours of service, it must then be submitted to the Girl Scouts for review and approval. Finding herself without a troop in Thailand, Emily decided to continue the project on her own, so she had to get a little creative and adapt.
Creativity & Adaptability
“We were kind of brainstorming ideas and we came up with this idea [in partnership] with the Bumble Bee Free Library (BBFL) next to us,” said Emily. The BBFL is a free library serving the local Nonthaburi community. Many children in the area have a desire to learn English, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic were learning at home and on smartphones. To meet the local community’s needs right where they were at, Emily came up with the idea to bring the English language to them.
“We took out children's books and read them in English (aloud) so that people who were learning English could read along with them. Basically, we took out books, and we recorded me reading them, and then we uploaded that video to Youtube and then we made that Youtube link into a QR code, and then you print that QR code, you laminate the QR code, and then you stick it in the back of the book” said Emily.
This meant that students learning at home could check out books for free from the Bumble Bee Free Library, easily scan the QR code, and have a native speaker reading the book aloud to them as they read along right there in their homes. Emily said, “My favorite part was making the QR codes because that’s something I learned, I didn’t know how to do that before [doing this project]. I [also] learned about the community that I live in, the people around it, and I learned about how I can help them and also help inspire other people to do as well.”
Community Partnership & Impact
Emily and her mom worked together with the librarian at the Bumble Bee Free Library as she developed the project to ensure that it would work well for the people it was intended to serve. Emily’s mom Sara said, “We did bring the first set back to the library and said, ‘Here’s how this looks, will this work?’ She had some feedback for making sure there’s some spacing between turning pages for little hands that might not be able to turn it as fast. So it was nice to get some back and forth feedback.”
Once the project was up and running, the feedback from the community was incredibly positive - the children really loved it. But Emily’s project’s impact reached beyond those reading along and touched and inspired others in the community to get involved. Emily’s mom Sara said, “She sort of put together the template for other people…she’s taught the librarian ‘these are the steps that I went through’ so now, the librarian can help other people do the same thing in other languages. So it is sustainable, it’s growing. It’s really neat to see.”
Two of our ISB High School students, Anwesha and Mena, saw Emily’s Read Along project and followed her lead, getting creative and doing it each their own ways. Anwesha said "‘How do dinosaurs eat their food?’ - A very fun book to work on! I took photos of each page and recorded a seperate audio which was then compiled together with some effects. The recording process was harder than I thought it would be. But, it was a lot of fun and I had a great time editing." While Mena reflected "It was a very fun and rewarding experience as I knew that I would be directly helping local Thai kids to learn English in an enjoyable way." Mena’s sister even pitched in designing the stickers to mark the books as Read Along books. Still even more people in the community have joined in, following Emily’s template and creating videos in Thai and Chinese.
What Emily started has truly led to sustainable and lasting change in this community. For her final book on this project, Emily read the book she wrote, illustrated and published at the age of 6 before donating it to the library.