It is not important that items be new. Things thrown out in the West can be put to good use here. If you're coming to Laos, a notice in your church, temple, or community center might produce someone willing to donate one of these items.
Yes, our main focus is books, but we're also developing ways to improve education with a hands-on approach, something that's rare here. We spend considerable time and effort to give our staff, and other young people, the types of interactive learning experiences that are taken for granted in the west, but are still rare here. That includes opportunities to learn new things, and simply to play in ways that stimulate creativity. The following items are what we most welcome:
* Specific toys that encourage creativity and help learning. These are: Legos and Duplo blocks; Tinkertoys; and Lincoln Logs.
* Other educational toys. Walk into the gift shop of a big museum, and you'll probably find an interesting array of toys and games that have an educational value. We need toys and items like these: a microscope, prisms, anatomical models, small items for science experiments, sample rocks, minerals, and fossils, simple games that require various types of reasoning, thinking, or spatial logic, "Magnatiles", "Tensegritoy," a telescope; anything that helps children and young adults to see things in a new way is educational. Used items from your family, or your friends, are fine. Do you have a View-Master, which lets you see pictures in 3-D, that has fallen out of use? That, and View-Master disks, are very welcome.
We need the educational toys and items, described above, much more than we need English-language books. If you want to bring books, here are some guidelines:
* Easy, interesting non-fiction. We have many English picture books and story books. What we need much more are non-fiction books which (1) are written on about a 3rd to 6th grade level, with simple words; and (2) the subject and approach are interesting. Subjects can range widely: nature, (animals, plants, the solar system), history (esp. but not only ancient history and cultures), health, numbers, biographies of significant people in Asia. Anything with a focus on Asia is especially good. Books about modern suburban or urban life in the west are not needed. Many books from the now-out-of-print "Step-Up Books" series, which Random House published in the U.S., are good.
* Your favorite book. We don't need large quantities of books. But if you particularly loved one book as a child, or a child you know has a special favorite, we'd welcome a copy. We use these for inspiration by our staff. When you arrive, ask if there's an opportunity to talk with some of the staff about what makes this book special.
* Comic books. You may groan at seeing this on the list, but for someone who has no experience reading, a comic book is a more comfortable entry point than a book of mostly text. We'll use these for our staff to get ideas. Comic-style adaptations of classic stories, educational comics, and those with romantic themes, are especially useful.
* 3-D books. The kind with red-and-green glasses. They're a big hit at our village parties, but since only once person can wear the glasses, we need more.
* Art books. "How to draw" books, and picture books of good artwork, are valuable for our staff. Most of our artists cannot read English or other western languages well enough for the text to be helpful, but they've already improved their art skills considerably by looking at the pictures in such books.
* Used laptops. Many people in the west have upgraded their laptops, and still have one in the closet that works fine, but never gets used. We can use it! We don't need the lastest thing. A minimum 256 MB of RAM, a working CD drive, and at least 2 USB ports, are the main requirements. It's even OK if the battery is dead, we can keep it plugged in. (Yes, we can also use desktop computers, but you probably don't want to haul one along, do you?)
* Used digital cameras. Many of you probably also have an old camera in a drawer. We don't need lots of pixels, just something that works, with a memory card that fits. If you don't have the cables, memory cards, or manuals, no problem: We probably have accessories here, and can check the internet for a manual if needed.