Fittingly, on Christmas Day, we were able to deliver a collection of books, installing a micro-library for the schoolchildren of Pu Bin community in the Mai Chau district of northern Vietnam.
This was the 10th such ‘Happy Library’ we have provided in the area, with an 11th in the pipeline.
This takes the total amount of books delivered since the start of the project to over 5,000.
We could not have achieved this 10th library without the ongoing support of our partners who continue to contribute funding to the project.
While Christmas may not be a significant celebration for these north Vietnamese villagers, the spirit of sharing and gift-giving is universal.
Let’s take this opportunity to provide a little context on the roots of the Happy Library project and explore why books matter at all in the first place.
We have spoken elsewhere of how we have an obligation to support the communities we work with. It’s part of our ongoing reciprocal relationship.
Part of the Discova Educational Travel Team’s responsibility is to cooperate with local village groups to assess needs, establish priorities, and allocate funds to alleviate the issues they face.
The Happy Library Project is one manifestation of this.
The project raises funds to provide books for the schoolchildren of these small, remote communities in rural Mai Chau. Around a four-hour drive from Hanoi and an area characterised by small farming villages, the average household income is around 60 USD per month. It can be challenging for local families to make this stretch beyond basic needs.
In discussions with our teams over the years, meetings with several villages have highlighted that the lack of books in schools is a significant issue.
The nearest and only bookstore in the Mai Chau district is over 30 kilometres away – a long distance across difficult roads. And, even if books were more accessible, there isn’t much room in family budgets to cater to reading materials.
And so, the provision of books seemed a feasible undertaking. The first library was set up in November 2016. Over the several years since, we have installed 10 micro libraries at local community houses in several villages.
Open 2-3 times a week, these libraries give over 500 children access to a wide range of reading materials, providing not only the entertainment of picking up a fascinating book but also much-needed materials to support their reading development.
The 10th instalment in Na Phat village within the Pu Bin community amounted to over $1,000 worth of books, including the bookshelves and other set-up costs.
Vocal about their desire to read, the children can now delve deep into books for all ages, in both Vietnamese and English.
The books cover non-fiction learning materials related to their school subjects, but also comics, cartoons, and other more playful stories; every child has the right to fritter away their spare time, their nose in a frivolously fun non-educational book!
Around International Youth Day of 2021, we announced our scholarship programme in Mai Chau. A significant aspect of International Youth Day is the continual drive for children’s rights to education.
This theme resonates with us and our social responsibility goals – the scholarship programme is one way we can help these students fulfil their potential.
Too often, for a web of interconnecting reasons, children from low-income families in northern Vietnam are educationally disadvantaged, whether through readiness for schooling, access to materials and facilities, or through insecurities related to their economic situation.
It’s in this context that we can view the Happy Library programme.
It has repeatedly been shown that access to books and the procurement of reading skills are integral to a child’s development – socially, emotionally, and educationally.
Because of this, what may seem like a small gesture can have a tremendous impact on a community.
Providing a well-stocked place to read is a meaningful contribution – a place for children to learn at the weekend, congregate with friends, foster ambitions, and continue their development.
Our next library location has already been confirmed in the first few weeks of January 2022. Quyet Thang, an idyllic, charming village in Bao La commune, will be the beneficiaries of a bucketload of books in the not-too-distant future.
It is home to over 50 school-age students, all of whom share a relatively small stock of books within the local school. For further reading, they have only that single bookstore in Mai Chau many miles away or must face lengthy bicycle rides to other villages in which we have installed libraries.
After a discussion between our staff and the village head, Mrs Tran Thi Hanh, we have established the location within a local community house to receive the books. In this way, it won’t be long before the children have access to a much broader range of books to aid their intellectual development.
While it is pleasing to see another community’s schoolchildren benefiting from the blessing of books, we know that the issue of a lack of reading materials is replicated across many other villages in Mai Chau district. In other words, there is plenty of need for further Happy Library locations.
This is where we need your help.
We always welcome partners to get involved with our community projects. Learn how you can sponsor the setting up of a new library, either in your name or on behalf of a client, or find out how you can contribute in other ways to our work in Mai Chau.
If you’d like to hear more about the Happy Library project, or the work of our Educational Travel Team more generally, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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