Human library aims to create understanding

August, 28/2016 - 09:00

The first-ever Human Library project has just opened in Hà Nội’s Labour and Society College.

During the two days it ran, the “living library” attracted more than 500 “readers” and received encouraging feedback.

Erasing prejudice: Lê Anh Thư, initiator of project Human Library Vietnam. Courtesy Photo of Human Library Vietnam
Viet Nam News

The first-ever Human Library project has just opened in Hà Nội’s Labour and Society College.

During the two days it ran, the “living library” attracted more than 500 “readers” and received encouraging feedback.

Instead of displaying books, the library gathered people, who could tell their own stories to the audience.

The project was first kicked off in Denmark in 2000. It has spread to more than 70 countries all over the world.

In July 2016, Lê Anh Thư, a Vietnamese student who is a second-year student at Oberlin College in Ohio in the United States, asked for copyright permission to bring the project to Việt Nam.

“I wanted to implement the project in Việt Nam as I really want to erase all prejudice and discrimination concerning sensitive issues like drugs, homosexuality, transgender and domestic violence,” Thư said, “Through that we can help to enhance people’s awareness on the right to freedom, equality and sympathy in life.”

Thư said that after careful selection and interviews, the organisers decided to choose 20 “human books”.

“Books at this library are not fiction, they are real experiences, real pains, real feelings,” Thư said.

Living books

Linh Nguyễn, a representative of bi-genders at the library said, “Each person was born with both genders, it depends on him/her whether they grow up to be more male or female.”

“I am a victim of a society in which children are taught to avoid speaking out and rarely speak up when being sexually abused. We were not taught about sex,” noted Nhữ Hương Trà, who spoke in the role of “sexual abuse” book.

She continued to give the example of an old man touching a little girl’s body, and how she would react in some way. Yet people around would say, “What a girl! What is the matter if someone touches you?”

Real stories: The “living library” attracted more than 500 “readers” and received encouraging feedback. Courtesy Photo of Human Library Vietnam

And the message that Trà shared at the library was: Act to change Vietnamese people’s awareness so that they teach their children sensitive things.

A man transgendered into a woman called La Lam, who is of the Thái ethnic group, said she dreamed of being a girl since she was small.

She was happy to be transgendered and get her new name.

“When I was at school, I used to be poked and people behaved badly with me both at home and at school,” she recalled. “I wrote a story on my life and my mum burnt it.”

She desired to capture her life on film and entered the College of Theatre and Cinematography. She has now fallen in love with a man.

“I would like to contribute to a channel for the LGBT circle,” she said.

Real efforts

Mentioning the selection process, Thư compared it to a delicate approach.

“The more intricate their stories are, the more people want to hide themselves,” she recalled. “At first I talked to them, slowly made them trust me enough for them to pour their hearts out to me. Then I persuaded them to appear at our library to tell their stories to the public so that more people would know, sympathise and act more properly.”

“We are sad to learn that if the ‘living books’ themselves were equipped with better knowledge, if the people surrounding them were more open, there would not be so many sad stories to share here,” Thư said.

Thư gave an example of a sex worker, who was forced to marry when she was only 15 years old.

The couple did not get on well together. Her husband treated her badly, even beat her up. Totally frustrated, she left home and was cheated and sold off to someone in China to work as a sex slave. When she returned to Việt Nam, she continued to work as a sex worker.

“Both the woman and me agreed that if her parents had not forced her into marriage so early, if she was better educated, her life would not have been so frustrating,” Thư said.

I persuaded her to tell her story at the library so that no young woman would be trapped in tragedies such as hers, she said.

Thư said she called for volunteer aides to work as organising members mostly through Facebook.

“This is a non-profit project,” organising member Phạm Huy Anh, said. “It is difficult for us to arrange people to work at the library to tell their stories because they are real people with different jobs.”

The library has gathered hundreds of such examples for dozens of “book titles”.

The library will travel to HCM City and Đà Nẵng before moving out to other localities in the country. — VNS


Creating understanding: La Lam, a transgender shares her story at the library. Photo of Human Library Vietnam