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Community / Public space

This Indonesian man runs a mobile library from the back of his horse

What do you need to start a library? Ask most municipal governments, and the answer will involve some combination of money, a spare building and loads of books. (In fact, a more likely answer is: “No, you can’t have a library, we shut down the old one. Don’t you remember?”)

Not so for Ridwan Sururi, a horse caretaker (yes, really) in a small Indonesian village. In January, he decided to build a wooden box for the back of his horse, load it with books donated by friends, and visit local schools three days a week to distribute them. Here he is now, with his library-horse, Luna, and daughter, Indriani:

Ridwan and his family live in Serang, a village on Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. Unlike the island’s western coast (home to the urban sprawl of Greater Jakarta and two other large cities) the village is rural, and 65 per cent of its 1,500 households are farmers.

On the day these photos were taken, Ridwan was visiting Miftahul Huda Islamic elementary school. Here he is with some of the children there, looking a bit like a book-bearing cowboy: 

Ridwan runs his lending library much as any other – though he doesn’t seem to issue fines. He has a logbook where he notes who’s borrowed what:

Most of the books are stories, filled with bright illustrations, rather than textbooks: 


In general, Indonesian children receive about nine years of schooling. Due to poor harvests and the country’s exploding higher education sector (there were 10 institutions in 1970; by 2009 there were almost 3,000), many children from this village may go on to study or work elsewhere, so developing their reading skills could be key to their future.

While Serang isn’t particularly poor, its small size and distance from larger settlements mean children probably don’t have much access to children’s fiction beyond Ridwan and his library. No wonder they all look so keen. 

Images: Getty.
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