by Thu Hien
HA NOI — The 38-year-old Do Thai Thinh, living with HIV/AIDS, is carefully turning a page of a book titled Stories about Uncle Ho. His thin fingers glide over every word as if he were afraid to miss some detail.
|Members of the Niem Tin Xanh (Green Hope) Club draw pictures to share their opinions about a book's theme. The operation of small libraries and gatherings helps disadvantaged people improve their reading skills and sharing ideas with others. — Photo Courtesy of Research and Communication Centre for Sustainable Development.
He said, "This book helps me understand how Uncle Ho overcame all his difficulties and then to do great things for this country. It also helped me understand how he could live such a selfless life and keep a heart full of love for his people. I've read the book several times and tried to notice every detail. The stories make me re-evaluate my own life and offer useful tips for everyday situations."
Looking at Thinh now, one would never imagine that he was a drug addict for 10 years, and stole money to satisfy his habit. Even after going through a number of rehabilitation programmes, drugs still dominated his life.
It was one particular family gathering that made him determine to kick his addiction. He said, "At that moment, I wondered why their family members were happy even though they were poor. My life was miserable then."
Even after he managed to get off drugs, Thinh found numerous obstacles in path, not the least of which was the social stigma.
Reading became a way for him to get over these daily difficulties while trying to earn a living for his family. At one point literature seemed like a luxury for him, something reserved for people with a lot of free time - not for people living with HIV/AIDS. "Many of my friends with the disease had a desire to read, but our condition made it difficult."
Nevertheless, Thinh and the members of Cat Trang Club, have been reading regularly for nearly a year. The small library, with only a hundred books or so, set up with the assistance of the Research and Communication Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), has been a boon for the group. "Our small library includes books in such fields as science, health, environment and even love. This really inspires us to read books to broaden our knowledge."
Even after a hard day of work, the members come to the library to explore new avenues of knowledge. There are several other small libraries available to similar stigmatised groups.
Ha Le Phuong Linh of CSD says, "Disadvantaged people also have an interest in literature, and can profit from access to books. Some of them need help with reading skills, or don't dare to express their interest. This is why guidance and encouragement are needed."
So, coupled with libraries, book clubs are also set up so that people who might not otherwise read can discuss their interpretations and ideas with each other. CSD volunteers, many of them university students, choose the reading material based on themes, such as gender, health and morals.
Linh said that there were a number of activities and games that helped the members of the group discover and discuss themes from what they have read. "These are ways to encourage a natural love of literature," she said.
She added that this was a way to help certain groups more easily integrate into regular society and gain confidence.
Thinh said, "The last book we read was called Green Life, Healthy Life," adding that the book focused on nutrition and diet, which was particularly important for those living with serious diseases. "I'm going to use what I learned to cook a healthy dinner for my family tonight."
Club members also have an online forum www.songchung voih.niemtin.vn.
Le Thu Ha, a student of the Foreign Trade University, introduced some effective reading methods. She commented, "I am willing to share everything I know with them, with the hope that it will nurture their passion for reading."
She said that she also learned some lessons from the group. Not only did their individual stories broader her mind, but their ideas about books familiar to her were quite enlightening. "It's a good chance for me to get insight into the lives of others. These people do not need pity, but empathy," she said.
Thinh said, "Each book can be a sort of spiritual medicine if you pay close attention. When you turn the last page of a book, it can serve as inspiration to get over the obstacles of life, both large and small. It is only right that we share this ‘medicine' with each other". — VNS