Buk bilong Pikinini, meaning ‘books for children’, is an independent not-for-profit organisation based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, which aims to establish children’s libraries and foster a love of reading and learning.
Hear Anne-Sophie Hermann, founder of Buk bilong Pikinini, to learn more about this brilliant initiative.
Buk bilong Pikinini with Anne-Sophie Hermann
31 July 2015
National Library of Australia
Speaker/s: Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, Director General NLA and Anne-Sophie Hermann
Anne-Marie Schwirtlich: Good afternoon and welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Anne-Marie Schwirtlich and it’s my great privilege and pleasure to be the Director General of this wonderful Library. In welcoming you may I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet? I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we are all now privileged to call home. The National Library and the Australian Library and Information Association’s Asia-Pacific Special Interest Group have collaborated very, very happily to bring you today’s very special presentation by Anne-Sophie Herman, the founder of Buk bilong Pikinini which roughly translates as books for children in the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin.
Buk bilong Pikinini was established in 2007 with a mission to help increase literacy rates in Papua New Guinea by setting up children’s libraries in community-based localities. In 2009 it was estimated that 680,000 children between the ages of six to 14 remained outside the school system and at the time AusAID estimated the primary school enrolment rate to be about 72% and less than 50% in some provinces and districts. Anne-Sophie moved to Papua New Guinea in 2006 with her 14 year old ... 14 month old daughter, Yasmin, who was a catalyst for much of Anne-Sophie’s thinking and work and with her husband, Chris Moraitis, the then Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea. Following her arrival in Port Moresby Anne-Sophie quickly became aware of the very low literacy rates and the lack of facilities such as libraries for children and within a matter of months she and Anna Mukerjee, the wife of the Unicef representative based in PNG, established the first library at the Port Moresby General Hospital in a ward for children with threatening ... life-threatening illnesses. Anne-Sophie returned to Australia in 2009 but she continues her involvement with Buk bilong Pikinini.
Under Anne-Sophie’s guidance Buk bilong Pikinini has established 17 children’s libraries across Papua New Guinea and one of Anne-Sophie’s great supporters since her return to Australia is the High Commission of Papua New Guinea and we’re delighted that the Deputy High Commissioner is with us this afternoon because I think Anne-Sophie would say that she couldn’t do what she does in Australia from Australia without the assistance of the High Commission. Now Anne-Sophie is a passionate and articulate dynamo as you are about to hear so please join me in welcoming Anne-Sophie Herman to tell us the Buk bilong Pikinini story.
Anne-Sophie Hermann: Thank you so much to all of you for coming here today. Welcome and isn’t it a wonderful institution, the National Library of Australia? In the most beautiful location we are so privileged here in Canberra to have access to this beautiful building. And as you can imagine taking libraries for granted is something that can happen here in Australia but certainly not in Papua New Guinea. So first of all I would like to thank Anne-Marie Schwirtlich for her beautiful welcome and your very kind words and for welcoming me here to the Library today. I would also like to thank Brendan Dahl and Sally Hopman who have assisted with the setup and the media around this event and I’d also like to thank Marie Sexton for coming along representing ALIA and the Asia-Pacific Special Interest Group. I’d also like to acknowledge the Deputy High Commissioner of Papua New Guinea to Australia, Sackias Tameo, who has come along today as well. As Anne-Marie said the PNG High Commission has really been the most extraordinary support that one could hope for. We would not have been able to continue the work in Papua New Guinea if I had not had that supports.
So first of all I’d like to just talk to you about how this adventure came about so as Anne-Marie also said before in 2006 I travelled with my husband to Papua New Guinea and our little daughter who was then 14 months old ... not 14 years ... she’ll turn 10 next week which is another story but we were very fortunate to live in a beautiful house with a lovely view ... there’s Yasmin and Freda ... and we would have staff living around the house and the staff children would very soon come into our house and play with Yasmin. And one of the activities that we greatly enjoyed together was to read and so I would start asking Freda about what types of books she might have at home and what kind of things she liked to read and she said to me I don’t have any books at home. And I was a bit surprised about that because I thought people who have been in secure employment for many years working for the Australian High Commissioner surely could have books for their children but it was not the case. So I said don’t worry, Freda, we’ll just go to the library and get some books. And then she said what’s a library? And I thought this cannot be true, you have to have libraries, you have to be able to enjoy reading in everyday life and for children isn’t it just the most important thing to start with is to discover the world around you in the beautiful pictures and stories that books provide. So this was really a shock for me so I started asking around all the people who I knew in Port Moresby, what was the story?
And so I was told that before independence there was 30 public library or more around Papua New Guinea but that there is now less than a handful left. I also learnt that ... and this was just driving around Port Moresby ... that there weren’t any real bookshops. You could buy some books in supermarkets but they weren’t really beautiful books. And they also, when I started talking to then of ... AusAID officials were telling me that in some provinces as Anne-Marie also mentioned less than 50% of schoolchildren ... school-aged children are enrolled at school. And I also learnt that even if you are fortunate enough to go to school this does not guarantee that you can actually read and write and this is particularly the case for young women, they ... or young girls, they get kept at home to help their parents with chores. The other thing I learnt was that at schools, just as the public libraries have suffered, school libraries have suffered and do not have many materials for the children which again means that the kids can’t take books home to enjoy in their own time. So I guess the fact that there isn’t that easy access to literacy materials means that it’s not really any surprise that the literacy rates are as they stand at the moment.
This is Asia-Pacific Business Basic Education who conducted in 2011 an education experience survey in five provinces of Papua New Guinea and these were the figures that they came up with. So as you can see in the national capital district of Port Moresby only 11.5% of adults are seen to be fully literate so that’s very far from the official figures which estimate that it’s about 52% literacy across the country, it’s simply not the case. And this has also been confirmed by us in our baseline testing. So before I go on to talking to you about how we’ve actually been able to do this I would like to first take you to PNG and I’d like to do that by showing a little snippet of our documentary which was filmed in 2013 by a very talented Papua New Guinean called Tania Nugent. It’s called Literacy, the Buk bilong Pikinini Way and we would like to just play a little five minutes of that to give you an idea of our work and also so that you can hear from others than me.
“Our population at the moment going by last census is 743 million. At independence we were three million so we’re more than that which means that we have backlog of education to catch up on and we have to catch up soon otherwise we’ll find it very difficult as the year comes by to catch up.
Yeah, I think it’s something like 40% of our population is now under 15 so it tells you that it’s a very young population and it tells you the rate at which we’re going. It’s obvious that if you cannot maintain the goods and services you’re going to get cracks, you’re going to get problems and it’ll just exacerbate, As the uneducated youth get larger and larger it’s ... naturally it’s going to create problems.
The official literacy rate for Papua New Guinea is 52%. Now everyone knows that this is simply not the case, you go to any settlement, you go to any rural area and you straight away find that you know you’re lucky to find above 10, 15% of adults reading at a full literacy level. In order to create a nation with people literate you need to provide those tools for them to become literate so you need public libraries, you need to provide the access to the people.
We have two sessions every day, Mondays to Friday. In one session we have about 75 to 80 children, one session, and about 60 in the second session, it’s more than 150 every day so it’s quite ... quite a lot of work however we have hands coming from our many staff.
[Papua New Guinean]
Come and see our [unclear], one, two three.
We prepare children to continue on to formal education.
Thank you very much, good luck.
I see Mum and Dad.
We see [unclear].
[Papua New Guinean]
I see me.
They have the enthusiasm and they’re just getting out there and teaching our children to read, providing them books, going to difficult areas and making it happen you know where we are sort of struggling.
We support it, we do it enthusiastically and genuinely. We think it is one of the simplest recipes for success in today’s society. We are true believers.
[Papua New Guinean]
So the big tree grew a lot of seeds. Most of the seeds were good.
[unclear]. When I grow up I want to be a builder.”
So this is just a small snippet of a half hour documentary which we also celebrated in getting the full story and I hope that this put you a little bit in Papua New Guinea and has given you a taste of what we ... what we are trying to achieve. So basically you’d ask yourself how have we been able to do this? We’re just a small organisation but in 2015 we have 16 and almost 17 libraries across the country in five provinces. In Alitel we’re opening a second library, we just need this important thing called electricity and then we’ll get there. We have a head office in Port Moresby, we have our international office here in Canberra, I get now support from all over the world. We have regional libraries in Layan Geroca and we have more than 40 corporate donors and organisations that support us. So Buk bilong Pikinini was really started from the very simple premise of providing access to books and literacy materials within an organised framework and this organised framework was an extremely important thing for us because when I had a company with my husband around the country to visit various projects that have been put in place I had witnessed a lot of materials that had been donated to PNG that weren’t always appropriate and so those materials would sit in a corner and wouldn’t get used and so I thought you can’t just give books, you have to make sure that there is a framework around those books so what we did was we had the idea what about providing teachers who would then introduce the books to the children, read to the children and try to instil that love of reading.
So I met Anna Mukerjee whose husband was the Unicef representative to Papua New Guinea. She had been to Africa and had some prior idea of how organisations would work and together we got a group of committed volunteers supporting us to do what we do so this is ... this is Anna, my dear friend, who’s now in the US and we started doing basic fundraising. Very beginning was piano concerts. Actually the doctor that you can see there is a doctor at the TB ward in a hospital. He was a very talented piano player and so we did that, at the residence we sold cakes but very quickly this turned into something very serious and this was also because thanks to the opportunities I had through my husband’s work, when we would go out to official dinners or functions I could meet with company heads and other organisations and I could talk to them about our idea. And so we garnered support for the first library which was placed at Port Moresby’s children’s ward for kids with HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and tuberculosis and the children in that hospital are hospitalised for up to a year so we thought they would really miss out on all social interaction, all learning and we then also established that we would like to establish our libraries via a vulnerability criteria where we would say we want to serve the most vulnerable children in the country so that’s why our two first libraries are really special needs libraries. So the second library was at a school for hearing-impaired children and those hearing-impaired children were really lucky because they got the opportunity of having an education.
This is simply not the case for many children in developing countries. Sometimes it’s as few as 2% who have that opportunity so we felt it was extremely important for us to show that we wanted to be inclusive and we wanted to make sure that we gave the children that love and care and materials that they needed so this particular library is actually a very, very well resourced one now.
Our third library changed everything. That was our library in the city centre of Port Moresby and it was the op ... the first one to be opened to the general public and we decided that we would always try to establish the libraries next to settlements where many children were not involved .. you just saw a picture with lots of kids. That’s from a settlement called Runagoi Sigani. Right next to the actual Australian High Commission compound where all the Australians live in lovely houses there is a settlement of people coming from Gulf Province, a settlement of 3,000 people with three water taps and zero children enrolled at school so we are working with World Vision to get into that settlement as well but that was the idea, to make sure we always put our libraries where the most children are.
Again with the opening of all these libraries now also growing after Lei, to Lei and Tukaroka, we really needed to make sure that we had a proper program in place so we had to start talking to our staff about clear expectations, making sure that they knew how to put in place a little early childhood learning program and we ... thanks to one of my friends who was the head of a superannuation company called Nesfund, he gave us office space so before I left Papua New Guinea at the end of 2009 we’d established five libraries and we had our head office to continue with. I then came back to Canberra and met with His Excellency, Charles Lepani, the PNG High Commissioner to Australia, who welcomed me to set up a library ... a library ... yes, it sort of is ... an office at the PNG High Commission. And so I guess with this increase in staff numbers, increase in fundraising activities, we had to obviously pay our staff and we had to move away from the model based on the group of volunteers that had supported us and who had done amazing things to use their contacts to also help us you know make our first steps as an organisation. Obviously when you have volunteers they always come with time restraints and when you have big international donors and big companies willing to support you a whole heap of others things comes with that, proposal writing you know auditing and various reporting and also creating exposure for their support so you know setting up a website, having our Facebook page and later also Twitter and Pinterest so we moved on to becoming quite professional and to moving away to actually create a proper staff setup.
We have donors, as I said about 40 corporate donors from both PNG and Australia, very often Australian companies established in PNG. We were extremely fortunate that the Australian government through its then AusAID program provided us with a grant from 2012 and onward and it’s continuing and we also have the support of international INGOs such as World Vision and with World Vision we are establishing libraries inside settlements which is again a totally different ballpark, just as I was speaking to you about with the case of Ranigori Segani.
So I guess with this increase in our funding it also led to a new capacity for us as a small organisation. We were able to as I said increase our staff. We were also able to grow quite exponentially our libraries across PNG. We had a really vast growth in capacity and ... I don’t know where Adam is ... we were able to really get into very difficult areas across PNG to put those libraries at the forefront. I would just like to introduce you to a man called Jeffrey Bunch who will talk to you about what has actually just ... in this just one minute what has happened to libraries across PNG. He has been the Manager for the National Library Services for over 25 years and you can tell in his sort of serious way that this is actually quite a sad sort of state of affairs.
“At the time of independence we had public libraries in basically all centres in Papua New Guinea including two districts in Moresby ... sorry, district libraries as Glomo and wild public library. Up to now most libraries have closed because in 1978 the government went through a decentralisation process where the functions of the public libraries were transferred to the provincial government and so provincial governments were responsible for funding of public libraries in the provinces. Since then many public libraries have closed in most provinces and right now we have only a handful of public libraries operating. That is the Elado Public Library, Garoca Public Library in Eastern Islands, Oneowa Public Library, Rabau Public Library. I think that’s all plus the wild public library.”
So I get extremely sad when I hear this because as you know we all love a good library and it’s heartbreaking. So Buk bilong Pikinini set upon itself to build these libraries across PNG and so we’ve really had to become builders or understand everything having to do with building services and have access to land as well. And those of you who are familiar with all things Papua New Guinea would know that this is simply the most difficult issue in PNG, is to know who is the rightful landowner, do you have an entitlement to work on this land? And so we have ... we have always tried to make sure that we are on a clear land title but sometimes this is a bit difficult. I can give you an example of a library which also has brought multiple nations together and has created a beautiful library with a view. This is a library which was sponsored by the Swiss Government through their embassy here in Canberra, they gave us $50,000 for a building and then we had a local church who had the land provided us with the land and then we had a local supermarket and pharmacy owner who gave us the money to pay for the staff and for the training so sometimes it’s quite an involved process to establish a library.
But furthermore in addition to being able to grow these libraries we were also able to grow in programs and this was because we were very committed to actually providing a more holistic service in our libraries, not just focused on literacy but actually talk to the children about all the issues that they face on a daily basis. And so we have got a big program where we talk to the children about health and hygiene, road safety, the environment, we talk about virtues, we talk about respect for your elders and we talk about gender issues. Our tuberculosis awareness program is quite important because in Papua New Guinea the children that we serve are 30% more likely to contract TB than other members of the community so we do all sorts of activities with the children to actually empower them to have the knowledge of knowing what is correct and what’s incorrect, how do you protect yourself? In some areas of Papua New Guinea also people believe that sorcery is the cause of TB so we’re trying to dispel the myths and simply just to convey to them you know what would be the best way of looking after yourself and your family. So our awareness program also is a celebration time because we invite our donors and the media and our friends to come and see what’s going on in the libraries and what the children have learnt.
After that we have also been able to do a whole heap of training activity with our staff because we now have such ... that’s very funny pictures, that’s from Book Week. She’s Goldilocks and he’s Bob the Builder. So yeah so we have so much fun in the libraries but the staff training is obviously important to bring out the very best in our program and so we had ... have gone from having training once a year to now having training twice a year for two weeks at a time. We’ve also been able to monitor ... and this little dude is also extremely cool, he walked into the library on the first day we opened on Manus Island. I thought he was just about the coolest man around.
But through our monitoring and evaluations program we use a methodology called Most Significant Change and the most significant change methodology is based on interviews so you go and interview the parents and the children and the teachers and the community and together emerges a story and then you pick up on what has been the most significant change for those people. And so we have learnt so much from our monitoring and it’s also been a great motivational factor for us because we have heard from the parents that there has been a huge change in the children’s behaviour. Not only are they using words like please and thank you which we of course all love to hear but there has been an understanding of great respect within the families, the respect also for the mothers who I think ... and I think my very dear friend, Onoparm, will be able to acknowledge this as well ... PNG mums are the toughest in the world. They really have to care for their families, keep the whole thing together and also hold a fulltime job at the same time. So that has been a joy to learn.
What we also learnt from our monitoring was that the children were so proud in their sharing of what they had learnt in the libraries and they were showing off a bit to siblings when they had learnt to read and had grown about a metre in confidence which is really what you want to see with children in a learning process. And the most touching thing for all of us involved with Buk bilong Pikinini was really to hear the mothers say the word dreams, we now have dreams for our children, the children now have aspiration to become somebody, to actually take this opportunity to get a good start in life via an early childhood program and try to do their very best to get to school.
In Papua New Guinea getting to school is not easy and my very dear friend, Tekeli, who is here today, he works at the moment in the Department of Finance, he told me that for him to get to school he couldn’t go until he was 12 because before then it was not safe for him. He lives in Hela Province in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Southern Highlands, and a very dangerous place where it’s not always safe to walk through the neighbouring village. So in Port Moresby it’s another issue but of a similar case where sometimes you have to get on five buses to get to school or your parents can’t afford the school fees, you can’t afford the transport fees so getting to school in PNG is just so difficult but despite these challenges we now have cases of children going through this difficult time, walking for many hours just to get to school because they are so confident with what they have already learnt that they are willing to take this further.
Another thing which translated through this Buk bilong Pikinini ... through this monitoring was that we learnt that the mothers became very interested in how the kids were learning so we use a method with the kids call Jolly Phonics and Jolly Phonics is quite a fun phonics program because you sort of ... if you’re learning the word snake for example you will sound out the word so you know first you learn the sound and you’re going sssss and they’ll be shaking like snakes and so if the mothers would take their children around town and see you know signs ... the kids will be ssssssnnnnnnaaaaaaa and they’re like what’s going on with the children like what are they doing? And so they came to us and asked could they also perhaps learn to read. And so we created a program and we do this from time to time when we have the funding called Buk bilong Papamama where we have graduated about 60 mamas because the papas only come a bit later once it’s been tested by the ladies and so the mothers came and learnt to read and write also with our program.
And the other thing that happened was that we have had a collaboration with now a vast number of organisations and this also led to the fact that we had to have a board of directors, we had to have a big association where we meet and we make the strategic decisions for the organisation and that obviously also takes a lot of organisation. And then as I mentioned before we’ve also been fortunate to have a great number of patrons and ambassadors. We had ... Christine Anu was our very first patron. She came to PNG, invited by the Australian High Commission to come and talk about violence against women and so when I learnt that I quickly asked can you also just do a fundraising concert in the High Comm gardens? Just you know part of your program? And she was delighted to do that so we could invite the whole expatriate community to come and pay money to listen to Christine sing and then help us with the organisation and then she also went on to perform in a couple of the libraries and at Port Moresby General Hospital so she then asked us after if she could be a patron and of course we were not going to say no to that.
Our most longstanding patron has been His Excellency Charles Lepani who has been an amazing supporter in that he will sort of namedrop on a few occasions you know Buk bilong Pikinini is a worthy cause so that’s all our patrons and ambassadors do is just when appropriate they mention you know our work which is extremely important for us. We’ve also had Drusilla Modjeska who is a writer that I’m sure you all know. We’ve had Honourable Richard Marles in his capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to Pacific Island Affairs in 2012. He still went up to visit this year and is still very supportive. We’ve had the great former treasurer of Papua New Guinea that you saw before speak, Bar Philemon, who is quiet a legend in Papua New Guinea and we now have Alison Lester who is a fantastic inspiration, an Australian writer and illustrator. And we’re also very fortunate in that we get a lot of special visitors coming through our libraries and just in this past week we’ve had a number of Australian ... we’ve had Senator Ian McDonald, we’ve had Janet Price and Jane Prentice came through last week and we’ve had another group come through today. Julie Bishop has opened a library for us last year, she also did a lovely book launch, in one of our libraries in Garoca and we love getting visits so if any of you go to Papua New Guinea please let us know and come and see a library and meet the children, we love having visitors. And we also know usually what happens after people have visit and this was the case also for Julie Bishop who actually conducted a book drive up at Parliament House. This does not happen every day but we were extremely proud of that of course and very ... and very grateful.
And so of course the books are extremely important because what would Buk bilong Pikinini be without books? We have book drives across Australia, we have been extremely fortunate that an Australian company called Seafast has supported us with free shipping to Papua New Guinea. So since the very beginning we have had that happen and so that has meant that when a publishing company has 5,000 books that they are considering destroying they can come to us and we will gladly accept those books because there’s no cost involved for the publisher nor for us as an organisation. We also have the support ... and I would like the ladies and gentlemen to stand up from Lifeline Canberra ... Penny, do not hide, I don’t know where you are over there ... and Helen Dawson and also Penny’s husband there. I have ... I cannot say thank you to you enough, Lifeline is now our biggest donor here in Canberra. They provide us with everything that they cannot sell at their book fairs, all the children's books and Helen also has time in addition to volunteering for Lifeline to come in and help me pack my books because I’ve slightly destroyed my back in the process of sending half a million books to PNG.
So there's some great ladies but there’s also been schools and individuals, I don’t know if there’s a few individuals here who’ve conducted book drives for PNG who would like to put their hands up? I’m sure there are a few people around the place, I saw you walk in. So thank you to you, there’s been some schools, some children across Australia who really have supported us with books. And again once those books come to PNG they get put into our libraries and are greatly appreciated of course by the children. We put about three to 4,000 books now into each library so the kids really have a very good selection and choice to choose from. But we also make donations to quite remote communities ... yeah, there’s Senator Ian McDonald, they didn’t want to leave, they were like we’re not going anywhere, we’ve having too much fun in the libraries and Jane Prentice with the Acting High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Bronte Moules. So this was just last week in Garoca.
But our books, really are the envy I think of so many you know small communities across Papua New Guinea so what has happened since the beginning is that we’ve received handwritten letters from villages like where Tekeli is from of individuals saying can you please just send us one book? And we haven’t previously had the capacity to you know reply to that because how can we as a small organisation when there’s no roads in Papua New Guinea get the books out far and wide? So we’ve been fortunate now that we have a helicopter company that have come on board to help us and will be able to drop books in very remote locations for us and also this program which we will be calling Buk bilong Community Program will mean that if communities have access to a little bit of district administration funding they can actually get their people trained with us. We are also going to be offering this to big organisations who want to set up their own libraries where we just train the staff and ... but that we forget the hassles of having to deal with land rights because that is quite a challenging state of affairs.
Tekeli is also trying to make a difference within his community and has roped in both Penny and Helen from Lifeline to help him and has conducted a book drive at the Department of Finance so it is just so important to you know bring back something to your community if you have that possibility.
So other than sourcing the books here in Australia and you know receiving all these great books it has been on my conscience since the very beginning of Buk bilong Pikinini that all the books come from Australia with stories about Australian children and with white kids in them only. And some of you who have been to Papua New Guinea may also have experienced that when you go into quite remote villages and the children haven’t seen white people before they get quite insecure. And I thought I wonder if this would translate into the books as well so that we are actually supplying something which would be doubly foreign because a lot of the children when we come to them have never had a book before. So I have always tried to buy everything that was produced locally but quite frankly it isn’t much. So in 2014 I asked the wonderful Alison Lester to come to Papua New Guinea to help us run an author seminar and we worked with all the budding illustrators and authors to ... and we had Alison and a publisher here from Australia plus various publishers of various publications in PNG attend and we got talking about tips for writing and all this stuff but Alison also took the time to go to our little cocke markets and library and sit with the children and as a result we have produced a very beautiful book about the village so the children painted what they saw was the important bits in their village and then they told us a little story about it and then we put it together and again we feel that these are very PNG pictures. My favourite is this one, we think going to the library is cool.
So that was a wonderful experience and this is a book that has been very popular. We also ... Andrew Kelly who’s very hot there ... Wild Dog Books do some fantastic books and Andrew Kelly has donated many, many books to Buk bilong Pikinini. They produce books where there’s like big pictures of crocodiles and teeth and you get right into the mouth and there’s really big text and the kids love those books. So here’s a fantastic eye. This is a Bubu man enjoying himself, that’s my picture, I’m a little bit proud of that one. But ... so we produced a little reader about life in a traditional Port Moresby fishing village and we gave all the children a little digital camera and they took us around the village and introduced us to their families, their pigs, the pigs with a view because it’s a fishing village so they were out the back of the house over the sea which is quite an interesting way of keeping a pig and to the little shops and so again this will be a familiar book for a PNG child to read. And because those books have had such great success we are feeling a little bit motivated now to continue this production so in a partnership with Wild Dog Books we’re now going to producing a whole heap of books and many of them to support our awareness program. We will have stories about tuberculosis but we will also just have general stories.
One of the things that I also made sure that we did in 2014 was to support a very important initiative in Papua New Guinea which is a writing award program which is called a ... Crocodile Awards and the people in the Crocodile Awards had to be persuaded a little bit that children’s writing was important but I got there and so in 2014 we sponsored a children’s writing category and we’re now in the process of publishing the winner of this award so we’re very proud of that. It’s a little lovely story between ... a friendship between a caterpillar and a grasshopper so we’re looking forward to that. In addition to that we’re also going to be producing books about the environment. I’m particularly keen on this because Papua New Guinea just like Australia has many species that are becoming extinct every day but the big problem in PNG is also that animals get hunted and in some cases you know the children just might slingshoot them for the fun of it but I think if you are in a serious situation of trying to protect the animals you know the more messages the better. So we are going to be producing a book about the PNG wildlife where you ... we just introduce it and it’s actually really important because all the books that we get from elsewhere have books about giraffes and tigers but I think it’s so important that they actually know a hornbill, a cuscus before they know about you know giraffes and tigers. So this is an important program that we’ve got going and we also hope that people will buy our books and again the National Library have been very kind to put them up for sale so I would be very grateful of course if you would go and purchase a book after this talk.
The books are really applicable to any child anywhere wanting to learn to read and write and also gives you know children here in Australia a little picture of what a PNG fishing village looks like so we really think that it would be great if schools in Australia would also take them on. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation have already bought quite a few which is great for us.
And I guess you can see there from our statistics our mission has really been to foster a lot of reading and learning, to increase literacy rates across Papua New Guinea and also to raise children’s aspirations. And I hope very much that we’re doing that because again our monitoring is showing that the children are learning to read and write after six months to one year and when they graduate from our program now they get a little report card which will again help them to become enrolled in a public school. We’re now looking at a partnership with the Department of Education of Papua New Guinea to support them to establish early childhood learning in PNG that does not currently exist, they don’t have preschools. We believe that everything starts from a very young age so we’re doing what we can. We have also said to the Department of Education that we would love to also help them to re-establish school libraries and I hope with that ... with the Australian government we will be able to do this.
So what we’ve seen is that over five months period we have a 25% increase in literacy with the young children and people like Quentin Bryce, the Australian Governor General, when she visited in 2013 just couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She had two five year olds on her lap reading to her, she was like what? I usually read to my grandchildren, they don’t usually read to me. So the children do really seize the opportunity that we give them and really you know love coming in to read so it’s no you know surprise that we have such a long ... such a you know high increase in their literacy.
We also have more than 10,000 library visits every month. Some of the children do come many times and that’s counted so you know repeat offenders are included in this We’re very proud of our gender balance so we have more female attendance than male. We try to do a lot of awareness in the communities about the importance of sending the girls to our libraries. We also have in the programs where the children are enrolled, we have more than 64% attendance which is great because this is a program on a voluntary basis, we don’t force anyone to come and again as I said to you before you know we have become famous for being the only libraries with lines of kids standing outside so they know very well that if they don’t turn up someone else will take their place. And we also lend out about 1,100 books per month on average. We’re hoping to be able to do better but we think this is a ... this is a good start.
So how can you help? Some of you already have conducted book drives and have donated books to Buk bilong Pikinini which you can hear is greatly appreciated. You can also buy our books at the National Library bookshop and you can also make a donation through our website, all the donations go directly to our programs. And you can also spread the word via Facebook and Twitter and like our work and show your support in that way. So before we go to questions I’d just like to thank everyone who’s been involved in supporting us to get to where we are now and this is of course the whole of the Canberra community, Lifeline, the great people at Lifeline, I can’t love them enough, National Library and Anne-Marie who’s been supportive over a number of years now, ABC Triple 6 Alex Sloan is ... she loves everything PNG and loves to speak Tok Pisin at any chance. She’s done quite a bit of that this week. And then of course the PNG High Commission so again thank you so much, Deputy High Commissioner, for coming along today.
And I’d just like to finish my presentation with a quote from the former Secretary General to the UN, Kofi Annan, who said that he believes that literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. I feel that I have really seen this happen with my own eyes and I feel that this is the way that we should go forward in always seeking to support those who are the most vulnerable. So thank you so much for coming along today.