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Volunteers lend wings to kids' imagination

Update: July, 26/2015 - 21:48
Having fun: Volunteers from Vietnamese Dreams Voluteers play with children at Ta Ngao Primary School. — Photos Courtesy of Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers

Enthusiastic teachers and students in disadvantaged areas are benefitting hugely from an initiative to set up free libraries that give them access to books and other reading material. Le Huong reports.

One summer morning, Vu Xuan Dang, vice chairman of Ta Ngao Commune in the northern province of Lai Chau, visited the local boarding junior high school as usual. He had brought along some newspapers, intending to paste them on the ramshackle walls of the students' bedrooms.

But before he could paste the newspapers on the walls, the students asked for his permission and eagerly passed the newspapers to one another to read, as if they had received candies, cookies or clothes sent from cities.

They then asked him and their teachers questions about what they had read in the newspapers: How does one become a doctor? What is a social media network? What is the difference between a bicycle and an electric bike?

"The questions made me feel pity for them, as all their knowledge so far had come only from course books," Dang recalled.

He then thought of bringing in more newspapers and books to enrich their knowledge.

At that time, there was no public library in the remote Sin Ho District.

Dang decided to open a public library at the local post office, an idea that elicited support from the local authorities as well as the post office.

Dang was then put in touch with Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers, a group that had been active in setting up libraries for children living in mountainous areas.

The group donated hundreds of books for the children, while one of Dang's friends helped raise funds to renovate the reading room at the post office.

The library has become a gathering place for the local children since early this year.

"The books broadened my horizon by teaching me things I did not know before," said Thao A Luoi, a local 13-year-old. "The library is an attractive meeting point for me and my friends after school," he said.

Dang said he intended to open one more reading room at the post office for younger children. In the longer term, he intends to pass on his experience in setting up a public library to neighbouring communes.

Realising dreams

The Ta Ngao Public Library is one of several projects that Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers has carried out, apart from the Dream Bookshelf project in the three regions of the country and the Multiple Intelligent Class - iTeach project in the northern province of Hoa Binh.

"Based on the idea that everyone should have his or her dreams, I and the other founders of the group have worked to foster the dreams of children living in difficult areas," said Nguyen Hoang Viet, head of Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers.

"At first the group had only 10 members, who were my friends at a martial arts class I had joined. We gathered warm clothes for school children in Si Ma Cai District in the northern province of Lao Cai," Viet said.

Four years later, the group expanded its activities to all the three regions of the country, aiming to help children in difficult areas.

We love this: Children enjoy reading at Ta Ngao Public Library.

In the north, the book project has benefited children from ethnic minority groups in Hoa Binh, Lao Cai and Lai Chau.

In the central region, the project has been carried out in Hue and Quang Binh, while in the south, the project has been implemented in Tay Ninh, An Giang and Ca Mau, where the children have fewer opportunities to access information due to geographical, economic and linguistic barriers.

"Volunteer groups often have trouble with human resources, but in my group this is our great advantage," Viet said.

"Many of the founding members have worked with the group since the beginning. Volunteer students can enhance their capabilities by working in our projects, and this is why Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers offers an active and attractive working environment for young people."

Viet said he had his most remarkable experience during the first volunteer trip to Si Ma Cai District in January 2012 to give children warm clothes and books.

"It was raining and freezing cold, while the zigzag roads to the schools were full of mud," Viet said. "We could not sit in the car anymore and walked. The local teachers were so enthusiastic that they drove their bikes along 20km of mountain roads to carry our gifts and all of us to remote schools."

"Each of our trips since then has left a special mark, but the impression left by teachers in the northern mountainous areas has been the strongest. They must be the most enthusiastic teachers in the country."

iTeach class

Last August, Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers and Saving Innocent Lives Amidst War Inc (SILAW) of the Philippines won a grant at the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative's "Seeds for the Future" contest for their joint project named iTeach, which aims to support the education of students in remote areas by using the "multiple intelligent" method.

The theory of multiple intelligences differentiates intelligence into specific (primarily sensory) "modalities", rather than seeing it as dominated by a single general ability. This model was proposed by American scientist Howard Gardner in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Gardner chose eight abilities that he held to meet his criteria: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.

Viet's group has chosen the Yen Lap Primary School in Cao Phong District in Hoa Binh to implement the project.

In the first stage of the iTeach project, the school's third grade was chosen for experimental teaching, with five teachers being responsible for a class of 40 students.

The curriculum is divided into many topics, each having several lessons. For example, for the topic "Tree leaves", students are guided to conduct chemistry experiments with leaves to find out leaves' ability to absorb water (which develops mathematical intelligence). The students then have to talk about their results (to develop their language skills); they are then divided into groups to collect dry leaves (to learn about nature); and then they cut the leaves and make paintings (to develop spatial intelligence).

"The new method has attracted students and enhanced their self-confidence and ability to work in teams," Viet said.

The group, together with SILAW, will soon perfect the method and apply it in more schools throughout the country.

Viet said he intended to develop Vietnamese Dreams Volunteers into a professional social enterprise working for the cause of children's development. — VNS

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