April 05, 2017
“Books weren’t in my parents' budget, so I have craved them ever since. Becoming a mother, my mission was to give my son a shelf full of books,” says Thuy.
Without a local library Thuy could only afford to buy books via a mobile bookseller who drove through the village by motorbike toting a wagon full of used books, cartoons and magazines. The catch? He only came once or twice per year. But, one afternoon her fourth-grade son, Hieu, ran home thrilled about talks of a community library underway.
Moved by his excitement, she went to a meeting, where Mr. Hung, a Room to Read collaborator and representative of the schools’ parents, encouraged the community to get involved in the creation of a library, which would be supported through Room to Read’s Challenge Grant. Through this model Room to Read covers 85 percent of the project’s costs and encourages local parents to cover the remaining 15 percent through donations, leadership organizing and decision-making. By contributing to the library in its early stages, Room to Read finds that parents feel more committed to utilizing and maintaining the space for the long term.
“Before the meeting, I was afraid local parents wouldn’t be willing to participate in the Challenge Grant. It is tough to make rural villagers who haven’t been to a library trust its power to transform their kids’ lives,” says Hung. "Yet, what happened was stunning. More than 400 parents were there. The room was not spacious enough, so we had to borrow the ward’s head office."
After a flurry of questions, the room boomed with excitement. Many offered donations immediately; others were eager to learn how they could help. To make up the 15 percent, each parent was encouraged to donate $5. With $5, Thuy can buy 10 kg. of rice, 10 breakfasts for her son and enough food to cook for the entire family for four days. To Thuy, $5 is a fortune.
For others in deep poverty, it simply wasn’t possible. In those cases, parents were encouraged to donate only $1 or $2. Ultimately, the goal was participation, which came in many forms. Some brought construction materials and others volunteered labor for a few days. Their contributions varied in form, but the dedication remained the same.
The day of the library’s inauguration ceremony, the district beamed with excitement. The school yard overflowed with attendees, attracting more attention to the school than ever before. Thinking back to that day, Thuy still smiles.
“That was my first time getting into the library. I never thought the inside could be that wonderful,” she said.
Children weren’t the only ones transformed by the new literary hub. Since its inception, Thuy visits the library daily - sometimes even twice a day. Her husband also noticed her rising interest and took his first trip to a bookstore to buy her two books of her own.
“Those books were the best gift I have ever received from my husband."
Yet, Thuy is not the only one flocking to bookshelves. Since the library’s arrival, parents stop by daily to read while waiting for their children to finish school. This boost in literary morale not only encouraged stronger at-home reading habits – it turned parents into heroes, opening young minds to the limitless world of storybooks.
Three years since its founding, the library has brought mothers like Thuy so much more than a single bookshelf. It birthed a priceless resource for generations to come. Do you want to help us bring more libraries to places in Vietnam and beyond? There’s no better time than now.