May, 06 2014 08:41:53

Young book lovers pioneer literary trend

Nguyen Hanh looks for a book she can get in exchange for one of her own. — Photo O Xinh Club

by Thu Van

HA NOI (VNS) — "Please keep the book carefully". Nguyen Hanh, aged seven, carefully wrote these words across a blank page in one of her favourite books, Two Cats Sitting on the Window. She then picked up a rubber stamp and embossed the words with the initials "BB", meaning Book Box.

She smiled, closed the book and put it in a box at the front of a house in Van Bao Street, Ha Noi. It was almost full. On the side of the box, the words "Take a book, leave a book" were written together with a saying, "Love a book with your heart".

Hanh then selected a book from the box, then sat on a small chair next to it, and started to read. The young girl has done this many times since the book box was set up at the club O Xinh.

The non-profit, Book Box project was started by a group of young people in HCM City, Viet Nam in March this year. Book boxes have been placed in cafes and other popular public places. Each of them contains 10 to 20 books. Anyone can take one as long as they leave another book in return.

Hanh's mother, Ha, said she had learned more about her daughter through her involvement. "My daughter keeps wondering who will become the new owner of her book," Ha said. "She really wants her book to carry a lovely thought."

The Book Box project follows a similar idea that has spread to many countries, the Little Library, according to Phuong Thuy, one of the founders in Viet Nam. "We felt that this community spirit based on a love of literature and learning should be introduced to Viet Nam. For many students, buying books is something neither they nor their parents can afford," she said. "Also, we want to help spread the habit of reading and sharing books.".

Thuy, who grew up in the small town of Nong Cong of Thanh Hoa Province was lucky to have a father who understood the importance of good books. "Maybe I was the only child in the town to have my own bookshelf," Thuy said.

She wished to create a free library for everyone to share, but she couldn't afford it. She talked to her friends, who supported her idea and collected 60 books to start the project in HCM City from a group of friends, she knew it was time she took the step.

Thuy and three of her friends provided the money to make the first box. Then she posted her idea on Facebook, alerting hundreds of her friends to join in. "Contributions flowed in and many people volunteered to help," she said.

The community reaction was better than we expected. Within two months, the project team had set up four book boxes in HCM City and two in Ha Noi. Now many cafes want to have one. Other people made their own book boxes - and there were many people who donated books.

Thuy said she was asked about the feasibility of the project when she started her group. People told her they were afraid that the books, and even the box, might be stolen. "But my answer was: ‘It's fine. If someone steals the books, they will read them, and that's what we want: people reading books," Thuy said.

"My personal feeling is that the lack of trust in people has been hindering us from doing good things. I believe in people and the goodness within them," she said. She nominated one "great book" from her childhood as an inspiration to do good things.

"The principle of a special school in Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, always tells Totto-chan that she's a good girl though her teachers disagree. I think we just need to believe in people's goodness and always try to encourage them to express it. That's also what I want with the Book Box project," she said.

Nguyen Linh, a member of the project who lives in HCM City, can't hide her excitement when talking about the impact. "I also love to hear personal stories from people. That's also a part of the values created by the Book Box project. People come to our Facebook page and share their stories," she said.

"What I feel is the eagerness of everyone who cares about Book Box. They contribute books, they leave beautiful messages on books. It's all very encouraging," Linh said.

Book Box, started with 10 members, now has more than 100 young volunteers and contributors. And these young people do not want to stop there.

Members of the project plan to place Book Boxes in as many places as possible, especially in remote areas where people have less chance to access or afford books. They also plan to call on individuals to create their own Book Boxes to share.

"My mother always told me to aim for things that make other people happy. You should always do something and aim for something. I'm following her advice," Thuy said. — VNS

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