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Helping many children turn the page

Update: March, 16/2015 - 19:32
Our turn: Students raise their hands to ask for new books at a primary school in the southern province of Binh Phuoc. They have shown keen interest in reading.

Disadvantaged children in remote mountainous areas are seeing new worlds open thanks to more than 160,000 books donated to a project called Bookshelves for Entertainment and Education. Luong Thu Huong has the story.

Children from the remote mountainous provinces across Viet Nam are now able to access a new world of knowledge.

This is thanks to the more than 160,000 books donated to a project entitled Tu sach Giai Tri va Giao duc (Bookshelves and Libraries for Entertainment and Education).

Carrying the motto 'Our small contribution today will significantly change the lives of children tomorrow!', the project has established more than 800 libraries, including one in Ethiopia, for disadvantaged children in the past 15 years of its existence.

'Entertainment and Education Bookshelves' was initiated by Dr Ho Dac Duy and his friends, who were students of the Hue High School for the Gifted from 1961 to 1964.

Duy recalls that he came up with the idea of the project during a sightseeing tour of a border area in the southern province of Long An about 20 years ago, when he and his friends saw several 10-year-old children reading a torn comic book excitedly. The book had been sent from the city by one of the children's mothers.

"We have been reading this book over and over again. It is so interesting," said one of those children, which occupied Duy and his friends' minds on the way home. The project was born then, with four initial members.

"We understand that books will open a new world for the children and give wings to their dreams. And we are proud to learn that every member of the project shares the same will," says Duy.

Since 2009, the books have been handed over to and developed by a group of young volunteers, 40 of whom reside in Ho Chi Minh City, while 10 live in other provinces. As its name suggests, ‘Entertainment and Education Bookshelves' aims to fulfill the mission that "everyone must have opportunities to read books", or to offer poor communities throughout Viet Nam with wholesome means of entertainment and useful sources of knowledge.

"I accidentally learned about the project after reading an article about it," says Tran Thi Kim Thoa, the current director and one of the first members of the project.

Stacking them up: Young members of the Bookshelves for Entertainment and Education Project arrange donated books in their store. — Photos courtesy of Nguyen Thi KimThoa

Having grown up in the poor rural areas of the southern province of Binh Phuoc, Thoa clearly understands the difficulties that rural students encounter, especially in the thirst for books for both education and entertainment purposes.

The wish to enrich the spiritual life of poor children encouraged her to apply as a volunteer in the project. The success of the first trip to give books in the southern province of Dong Thap has significantly raised Thoa's enthusiasm and determination for that meaningful activity.

According to Thoa, the project has received great contribution from the community.

"We received support from our friends at first, then from several bookstores and publishing houses, as well as domestic and international sponsors. They have helped us with finance, books and even advise us to increase the quality of the project."

Additionally, ‘Entertainment and Education Bookshelves' has drawn the participation of several young people from various career backgrounds and of different ages, who contribute their own skills to implement successfully important programmes such as "1,000 ambassadors to contribute books to Viet Nam's rural children".

"Moreover, I think that the sincerity and efforts of all the project members have touched the humane hearts of the society, which explains why we have received sustainable support in the past 15 years," Thoa says.

Bookshelves or libraries were set up in local schools at first. However, difficulties arose when the students could not access the books as there were no book managers.

Then the project members came up with the idea of asking former teachers to open and manage free bookshelves in their homes, which is surprisingly effective. The number of young readers is rising constantly, and the former teachers are also happy to introduce interesting books to their students.

Each bookshelf consists of about 400 books, classified clearly into 6 book groups including soft skills, literature, history and geographics, comics, health care and horticulture knowledge.

The whole team has also collected several unforgettable memories in the past five years, especially regarding the voluntary work trip to the remote Dang commune in the southern province of Quang Nam.

"The commune is located in the mountains, 40km from town, and seems to be isolated from the outside world," Thoa recalls.

"The students of three classes in the local school were grouped together and taught by only one teacher. They were a bit nervous and shy on seeing us enter the class to introduce the library and give them several books to warm up. "

Then the students were very surprised to hold new books in their hands, and became absorbed in discovering the new world in front of their eyes. They even bravely asked the project members about the characters in the books.

"I suddenly realised that it was the first time they learned about the ocean, rivers and boats floating on the sea. They ventured into a whole new wide world with the books in their hands, from which their dreams might germinate and be realised," says Thoa.

"The small library has finally been set up after days of anxious waiting," says Nguyen Thuy Tien, a book keeper.

"We were full of so many feelings and were lost in a children's book paradise.

"We would like to thank the project ‘Entertainment and Education Bookshelves' for building a bridge, connecting our local children with books.

"Seeing them absorbed in reading books, I just hope that they will maintain that excitement for reading and form a reading habit as soon as they enter primary schools.

"The next step is to develop those small libraries so that they can truly become 'libraries of dreams' where the children can finish drawing the pictures of their own dreams," Tien says. — VNS

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