BY EMMA MACDONALD
A CANBERRA MOTHER with a passion for reading has helped deliver more than 70,000 children's books to Papua New Guinea in an effort to combat the country's crippling illiteracy rate.
The idea for the charity Buk bilong Pikinini - roughly translated as ''books for children'' - hit Anne-Sophie Hermann in 2006, shortly after she arrived in PNG for a three-year posting with her husband, then Australian high commissioner Chris Moraitis.
Ms Hermann, a Danish-born self-confessed bookworm, was teaching her 14-month-old daughter to read and was disturbed to find there were no libraries in Port Moresby.
Ms Hermann banded with the wives of other diplomats and foreign contractors and put out the call to Australia for ''gently-loved second-hand books'' while securing free shipping and financial donations worth more than $500,000.
Four years later, Buk bilong Pikinini last week opened its eighth library in PNG, with another five in the planning stages. It employs 27 full-time staff and is teaching some of the estimated 680,000 school-aged children who are not enrolled in formal education how to read.
When PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975, there were 32 libraries in Port Moresby alone, but these have all but disappeared, with the state of school libraries also in steep decline.
While dismayed by the lack of books, Ms Hermann was heartened by the fact that the local children who played with her daughter were ''just as excited and switched on to the books I had for her as any child''.
A sponsorship deal with Oxford University Press has ensured new titles have also been delivered to the children.
A reading program is conducted in all Buk bilong Pikinini libraries, with a syllabus especially developed for PNG children. It focuses on letter and number recognition, phonics, pencil grip and attention skills.
Libraries have been established in locations where children naturally congregate - next to market places, health clinics and a hospital.
Ms Hermann said literacy and health issues were closely linked and the charity was also working with health organisations to promote health messages to children.
Donations can be made at www.bukbilongpikinini.org
Source: The Canberra Times, 31 October