The green, yellow and red cart rolls around as dozens of wide-eyed children gather to get a peek at what’s on offer.

There’s a buzz of excitement as they look through the many books on the wooden shelves until one catches their eye.

Books of different colours and sizes, and for all ages, deck the cart, and among the children’s smiling faces is cart driver Ayub.

“Before using the cart, I would carry the books in a backpack and I would travel to villages,” he says.

For the past six years the high school sports teacher has transported the reading cart to five villages –Wanga, Praikarang, Pambota Djara, Makaminggit and Homba Karipit – on Sumba island, eastern Indonesia, to encourage children to read and to help communities improve their literacy.

Three-year-old Ricky lives with his mother and father in South Sumatra, Indonesia, in a one-bedroom house, where the three share a bed under a mosquito net. Despite his humble home, Ricky has a collection of toys in a dedicated play area, and a mother who is learning about how she can help him develop to his full potential.

“Ricky loves playing with his toy trucks and cars, but he is most happy when his older cousins come over to play,” says Dewi, his mother. “They spend hours together running around the yard.”

Ricky’s father is a mechanic at the local motorbike repair shop. Dewi stays at home and looks after Ricky, and she also participates in a parenting program developed by the government and available in her community through ChildFund’s local partner organization, LPM Sriwijaya. The organization is currently working on expanding the program to reach more families in the region.

In workshops led by professionals, mothers learn how to manage childhood illnesses as well as practice better sanitation and hygiene at home. They also learn about the development of cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills, which are just as important to a young child as physical growth and maintaining good health.

“An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons. This will help him to develop his motor skills,” Dewi explains. “We also learned about the importance of breastfeeding. Many mothers, including myself, did not realize how nutritious it is for our children.”

Dewi is working to ensure that Ricky will eat healthy food both now and in the future. She has a veggie patch in their yard where she grows corn, tomoato and papaya, and has just planted spinach seeds too.

Ricky`s favourite food is soup made from katuk, a green, leafy vegetable found in the tropics as well as Dewi’s garden. She cooks the soup over an open fire on the floor of her kitchen.

ChildFund and LPM Sriwijaya have also provided Dewi and other families in the program with child development posters that let parents track important benchmarks like crawling, walking, playing and speaking.

“It is reassuring to know that I am able to check for myself whether Ricky is developing properly,” Dewi says, “and so far we haven’t had any concerns. The program has been so important in reassuring me that Ricky is growing up into a smart young boy. It would be great if all mothers could be part of the program, too.”