Vietnamese man's rural library revolution gains US kudos

By Bao Yen   September 2, 2017 | 09:11 pm PT
Vietnamese man's rural library revolution gains US kudos
Nguyen Quang Thach in one of his trips to a rural area in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of "Books for rural areas of Vietnam" project
One man's initiative to bring books to Vietnam's poor areas has earned him an award from the U.S. Library of Congress. 

A community program started in 2007 has been honored by the U.S. Library of Congress for its efforts to build libraries and make books available in poor and rural parts of Vietnam.

This year's Literacy Awards named Nguyen Quang Thach and his "Books for rural areas of Vietnam" project. It is hailed for "applying research-validated practices to promote literacy" and as a model for other organizations and literacy initiatives, according to an email Thach received from the U.S Library of Congress. 

The award is a public-private partnership created in 1977 by the Congress in order to "stimulate public interest in books and reading". It has since been sponsoring educational programs for readers of all ages not just in America but also abroad. 

The award for Best Practice Honoree in literacy promotion comes with a $5,000 cash prize and a profile of the organization in 2017 Library of Congress Literacy Awards publication, set to be distributed to around 1,750 literacy organizations and educators worldwide. 

Thach's passion to make books accessible for children living in rural areas led him to quit his job at the Ministry of Transport and later World Vision to found the Center for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development in 2010 in order to enlist more public support for his initiative.

He has walked across Vietnam calling for funds and book donations, carrying a banner that says "Books bring opportunities to all. Please donate books to develop clan bookshelves in the Vietnamese countryside."

During his travels, he meets with local officials to introduce the library model and mini libraries for children and marginalized groups.  

His efforts have resulted in more than 9,000 libraries in 26 provinces across Vietnam, making books accessible to more than 400,000 readers in rural areas.

More importantly, the program has received overwhelming support from local communities, particularly by engaging more than 100,000 people, mostly farmers, to join his initiative and help crowd-fund the libraries.

The program has since provided training to the communities on how to run the libraries and hold activities to encourage reading. Thach wants to expand the progam to bring books to as many as 20 million people in rural areas by 2020.

Last year, Thach was awarded the King Sejong Literacy Prize by UNESCO for his fight for literacy.

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