World

Books on hooves

Horse saddled with book-filled boxes acts as a mobile library for children in Serang, Java

Astride his white mare, a wide-brimmed hat shielding his eyes, Mr Ridwan Sururi looked more cowboy than librarian as he wound towards a hilltop village, his horse Luna saddled with books.

Their arrival sent ripples of excitement through Serang, a quiet hamlet fringed by rice fields and a volcano on Indonesia's main island of Java.

"The horse library!" children shrieked, sprinting towards the mosque where Luna was tethered.

Slung over her saddle were two wooden boxes filled with books.

For many there, this unique mobile library is their only link to books. There is no traditional library near the serene hamlet, and stores are miles away in big cities.

Mr Ridwan, a 43-year-old professional horse groomer, devised a unique way to encourage reading in his district.

NOBLE: Horse groomer Ridwan Sururi started taking the books donated by a friend to the villages early last year. PHOTO: AFP

Armed with Luna, one of several horses under his care, and about 100 books donated by a friend, he began road-testing his novel mobile library early last year, unsure if it would succeed.

It was a hit.

In no time, the father of four was fielding requests from schools and villages further afield, eager crowds greeting him on arrival.

"The kids are always waiting for my horse and me," Mr Ridwan told AFP.

Ridwan Sururi. PHOTO: AFP

"Sometimes they even form a queue, willing to wait a very long time just to borrow a book."

In Serang, enthusiastic youngsters flick through picture books, young adult titles and even some classics in English. Some shyly pet Luna while waiting for their turn to browse.

Mr Ridwan believes the gentle nature of his six-year-old mare helps attract children and pique an interest in the books.

HAPPY

"The horse makes me happy," said 10-year-old Arif before settling in to read a book titled Wild Animals.

NOBLE: Children reading from their library books. PHOTO: AFP

But it is not just children who have found a love for reading via this charitable community library.

Adults are almost just as enthusiastic, many taking a break from work and emerging from their homes as Mr Ridwan and Luna pass through the narrow lanes.

Warianti, 17, perusing titles alongside elderly mothers, said villagers of all ages benefit from Mr Ridwan's visits, as many did not have time to source for the books.

"The horse library helps increase the knowledge of local women through reading," she told AFP.

Adult literacy rates in Indonesia have climbed steadily in recent years, reaching nearly 96 per cent in 2013, according to data from the ministry of education. But some provinces remain far behind others. Central Java is lagging in the bottom-third nationwide.

Nearly 5 per cent - or close to 1 million - adults in this mainly rural province remain illiterate.

Mr Ridwan is aware of this, growing up in Central Java without access to a great deal of books.

But the altruistic stable hand never underestimated the importance of reading, leading to his free-of-charge mobile book borrowing service.

Like a conventional library, books can be borrowed free of charge but cannot be loaned forever. In Serang, Mr Ridwan checked his notebook and told a boy he needed to first return an outstanding title before borrowing another.

"When I see kids chasing my horse, I feel so proud," said Mr Ridwan.

"I feel like I'm needed, and that's hugely satisfying."

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