Horiuchi Yoshimi sees books as "friends" for the youngsters in the remote, rural areas she visits. The 37-year-old remembers how reading shaped her own childhood. Born with weak eyesight, Horiuchi became blind during high school. She had always loved books, thanks to her grandfather who read to her as a child. So Horiuchi taught herself Braille so she could continue to read. She says this helped her to learn about the world.
Horiuchi first realized that children's books were scarce in Thailand during her first visit as an exchange student in 2005. School libraries were stocked with old, outdated textbooks that failed to inspire.
In 2010, she decided to act by setting up an organization for her activities that became later the non-profit Bookworm Foundation. Its first project was to create the Rang Mai library in Chiang Mai province. Thanks to donations and corporate support, the Foundation now has more than 10,000 books.
The mobile library journeys deep into mountainous northern Thailand, visiting schools, temples, and homes. Once a month, it also stops at a small ethnic minority village. For the children there, it's always a special day. They even help set things up, before climbing the tiny ladder to pick out something to read.
"It's rewarding to see them waiting for our books," says Porntip Prompan, the foundation's officer. The library has a wide selection, including comics and novels, and she sometimes makes home visits to deliver special requests.
Waew Krasaejitsomphop, 25, has been using the mobile library for nine years. She has down syndrome and never went to school. Her mother says she's always excited to get new picture books.
"Before the library, she couldn't write or paint. She keeps asking when it will come," Waew's mother says.
The coronavirus pandemic has made the mobile library even more important to the small communities it visits. Horiuchi is temporarily back in Japan – "The situation means I can't go anywhere'' – but is delighted that people facing similar circumstances in Thailand can still enjoy the books.