Bibliophile brings books to children

10:55 | 16/03/2018
On Lunar New Year’s Eve in 2018, a group of six walked from Dong Ha city’s Cultural Centre to Le Duan Park, presenting books to every child they met on the road. The 300 books distributed in just one night, the walkers hoped, would motivate children to cultivate a life-long habit of reading.  
bibliophile brings books to children
Le Minh Tuan (second, left) joins a reading session with students.

Le Minh Tuan, 27, isan engineer at Quang Tri province Irrigation Management and Operation Limited Company and an co-owner of a privateartificial turf football field. On Facebook, however, he is widely recognised as the initiator of "Countrysidebookshelves inQuang Tri province" program, following the ideawhich was first conceived by a man namedNguyen Quang Thach from Ha Tinh province.

Located in the former demilitarised zone during the American war in Vietnam,the northern central province of Quang Tri suffers the highest contamination level of explosiveremnants of war—more than 80 per cent of the land area is affected. Construction efforts, therefore, focus mostly on unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance and poverty reduction.

Beyond basic amenities, Tuan has taken an initiative to raise public attention on literacy, first and foremostwith a habit of reading. That goal has raised in him questions of how to accelerate civic engagement and promote public-private-partnerships in policy advocacy.

In August 2015,Tuan started the program of Countrysidebookshelves in Quang Tri province by buying books, aiming to present them to local primary schools. However, back then, potential receivers did not seem interested.

“I was unprepared. My charity group distributed free meals for poor patients at four provincial hospitals every week. As people visibly enjoyed and benefited from the activity, I thought that giving away a book was as easy as providing a meal,”recalled Tuan.

The indifference of schools, he thought, was due to the programme’s lack of reputation.

“How could they receive my books without knowing who I was. The goal of presenting 3,000 bookshelves for local schools,therefore, was too ambitious,” he said.

Tran Quoc Toan Secondary School inDong Ha city became the first recipient in Tuan’s project,thanks to an alumnus’s introduction. The initial success made him pay more attention to seeking support from reputable individuals and related public agencies.

"Countrysidebookshelves in Quang Tri province"does not follow a model of a public library. What we want is to increase the access of children to good sources of books by setting up bookshelves in their own classrooms. Therefore, to promote the reading habit, it is essential for schools and related public agencies to cooperate and organise reading time for students,” he said.

While some district authorities pay no attention to the programme, others are willing to take part, including Trieu Phong and Hai Lang districts. Principals of schools in those localities even approached him, asking for cooperation in setting up classroom bookshelves. The provincial Department of Education and Training, in the meantime, issued a regulation demanding local schools to have bookshelves at every classroom. This created favourable conditions for his project to develop.

Hundreds of students at more than ten schools in Quang Tri province have benefited from the program. But more remains to be done.

Systematic procedure

Tuan describes the process of book donation as sensitive and complicated as it involves many stakeholders and has significant impacts on children.

Only brand new books which are highly recommended by publishing houses are chosen and divided into different categories such as classics, life skills or sciences. The books then will be checked, stamped and sealed by staff of"Countrysidebookshelves" and delivered to schools. Representatives ofschools have to sign in lists indicating books’ titles, publishing houses and barcodes.

“As an independent group, we have to be careful in every step to make sure that books are useful for students,” he said.

Cooperators highly appreciateTuan’sprofessionalism.

“Embracing transparency helps the project to develop sustainably. It reinforces the belief of volunteers and donators inTuấn’s initiative and spreads the value of reading,” saidĐào Tâm Thanh, a journalist of Quang Tri newspaper who is also a project supporter.

Transparency and professionalism have helped the project turn a new page with the cooperation of the Quang Tri province Department of Information and Communication.

In 2018, the department chose"Countrysidebookshelves in Quang Tri province" as a major partner to implement classroom bookshelves atTrieu Phong district’s Trieu Long 1 and 2 primary schools. Events celebrating Vietnam’s Book Day in Aprilwill also be conducted by the programme.

“Cooperation brings positive impacts on both the department and "Countrysidebookshelves in Quang Tri province". While the book day will be better organised, the programme will gain more attention from individuals and local authorities. The reading habit, hopefully, will be strongly promoted,” saidĐoàn Nam Phương, the department officer.

After granting books for children, in the near future,Tuan aims to encourage all people to read more. Besides"Countrysidebookshelves in Quang Tri province", he owns a private library of more than a thousand books, freely open to public, and conducted the book distribution event on New Year’s Eve.

“Reading habits can be only cultivated when people have free accesses to books. With a model borrowed from "Countrysidebookshelves in Quang Tri province", all I do is to modify and apply it flexibly based on the local conditions,”Tuan said.


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