For many, family trips are about creating memories. For the Hoffmans, it was about building a bridge between cultures through song. Jon and Susan first traveled to Vietnam to adopt a daughter in 2006. During their time in Hanoi, they met a man who would later become a dear friend and their introduction to Room to Read.
Inspired by Room to Read's mission, the Hoffmans rallied their friends to fundraise for a new library in rural Vietnam. Once the building was complete, the whole family visited the school site to both meet the children benefiting from their generosity and connect their daughter to her country of birth.
What followed was a day that would forever remain in their hearts and minds.
“The initial greeting blew us away. We pulled up in the minivan, got out, and the kids were lined up on both sides of the walkway. They started cheering us. Drums started pounding as we walked down the path. I’ve simply never had such a greeting in my life,” says Jon Hoffman, Room to Read supporter and senior partner at MB Law Group LLP.
A songwriter with four CDs under his belt, Hoffman also brought a special tune to share. With the help of local students, he and the school community sang his song in both English and Vietnamese in the very library he helped create.
“When we went into the library with the fourth grade class, the enthusiasm of the kids and the teachers was infectious. It was such a vibrant, exciting thing to see kids so engaged and enthusiastic," says Jon.
Yet, he and his family saw much more than the beaming students and welcoming library. They also came to know the reason this particular school was chosen. Located in a rural, low-income community, Truong Tho B Primary School dwells in one of the most impoverished regions of Vietnam. The vast majority of the population are Khmer farmers and speak Vietnamese as a second language.
Motivating these students to develop strong reading habits creates the opportunity to excel in school, pursue higher education and break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.
“By engaging the kids with fun, attractive books in their local language and training teachers and librarians, Room to Read is doing a lot more than merely dumping a bunch of used books in a school library somewhere,” says Jon. “It’s making sure the library is accessible to the children and sustainable. All of these services seem far more effective in breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in developing countries.”
Looking back on their trip, the Hoffmans are grateful for the hospitality they received and the chance to witness all the good that comes from an abundant and accessible library.
“Seeing a photo of a library cannot compare to seeing how vibrant an experience it can create for a community when it is well-planned, well stocked, and the people are well trained," says Jon. "And nothing can compare to seeing what such a library is doing for the kids."