Collecting English Books for a School in Thailand

In the summer of 2011, I received a contact form email generated at a site I run, Minnov8. The woman who wrote it, Lynn Brown, is an American who has lived in Thailand for many years and teaches a school program featuring English as a second language. She said they desperately needed books in English for their tiny library and they had no funds for the books or for shipping.

I've never been to Thailand, but because my wife has put on workshops for Thailand's Department of Export Promotion three different times, I've met many of her contacts from that country (and their kids) and they are incredibly delightful people. My bride has also told me so many stories about the country, its people, and how she loves them so much she'd move there. As such, I was atypically receptive to Lynn's request to help gather books for her students and replied to her that I'd help.

roi-et-thailandThe Thailand school she teaches in, Strisuksa (Stree-suk-sah | site translated | not translated), is located in a province called Roi Et. It is about a six hour drive from Bangkok which means they are internet-challenged, like many towns are outside of major urban areas like Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

It turned out that Lynn Brown and colleagues were bringing a student group to visit Minnesota in October of 2011. They would be at their "sister school", Cambridge-Isanti High School, in Cambridge, MN. Each student would be allowed 2 pieces of checked luggage, and their teachers hoped to make the most of that luggage allowance by returning with English books for their library.

Lynn asked if we could help. I said "yes."

I went to work getting the word out to multiple organizations about them possibly donating English books suitable for 7th through 12th graders learning English. We ended up with quite a response and collected more than 250 books, but that didn't seem like enough of an impact, especially since I knew of an incredible resource of free books in English: Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg is an online compilation of classic books (many with accompanying audio books) created by volunteers. During our several discussions with Lynn, I wondered out loud if gaining access to these digital books would be helpful. Lynn was intrigued and she, and another English teacher in the school, compiled a wish-list for me.

Ms. Brown and her colleagues in the English department ended up choosing 108 Project Gutenberg books! Discovering that their book choices were available in a variety of formats—and the over 49,000 free ebooks in ePub, Kindle, HTML, simple text and other formats—I decided to download all of them in those formats as well as two likely useful for a country in Asia at the time (i.e., Plucker and QiOO Mobile).

books-site1Organizing the titles, and all of their filetypes, didn't seem to be useful if they were just tossed in to a bunch of folders. Since I can do a lot online, I was compelled to create something that would present, and organize, all of this content in to a good user-experience. As such, I decided to make this mini-website for ease of use and downloading.

But how to deliver that mini-website to a school with pretty slow and bad internet access?

Then I checked to see how big the folder was that contained the mini-website and all the files. Gulp. The mini-website weighed in at a whopping 19GBs so I had to find another way to deliver it and get it to them in a way they could use.

I considered burning the entire thing to CD (they didn't have DVD readers) so they could take it back to Thailand and make it available throughout the school somehow.

To do so I'd have to break up the directories across a bunch of CDs which, of course, would likely break the links in the mini website front-end if it wasn't copied precisely. I've had enough experiences to know that this was fraught with problems and likely wouldn't work.

Even though they were a bit spendy back in 2011, I went out and bought a couple of good 16GB thumb drives, copied the entire directory to each one so they would have two copies.

Each book has this dropdown that exposes the files for a student to download or use.

Each book has this dropdown that exposes the files for a student to download or use.

We met at the Mall of America for lunch (the students, teachers and staff were having a lot of fun at this stop on their trip!) and, when I handed the thumb drives over, Ms. Brown and her colleagues were quite enthused about receiving them, "Oh my gosh...we can put this on the "school" server (vs. just the English department server) and make it available to all students!"

That made the effort all worthwhile. Wish I could have done more for them. At the time, I also wanted to find a way to get tablets in to the hands of students (or even cheap Kindles) and to figure out if there could be a reliable way for them to download ebooks.

Life has probably changed a bit in Thailand, and especially internet access, but I am unable to reach Lynn Brown so don't know what happened next. Hope I brought a little value to some young, Thai students.