UNESCO honors Vietnamese man for his rural library revolution

By    September 4, 2016 | 06:00 am GMT+7
UNESCO honors Vietnamese man for his rural library revolution
Nguyen Quang Thach on his journey across Vietnam to bring books to rural areas. File photo

Nguyen Quang Thach is recognized for bringing books to rural areas in Vietnam over the past 19 years.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has honored Nguyen Quang Thach and his brainchild Center for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development for having built more than 9,000 libraries in 26 provinces in Vietnam.

"While realizing 'Books for rural areas of Vietnam', despite many difficulties, I've felt really happy to see my efforts welcomed and recognized," said Thach.

Nguyen Quang Thach started his work in 2007 with three libraries after 10 years of studying library design and applying library models.

Thach was so passionate with the idea of making books accessible to people living in rural areas that he gave up his high-paying jobs at the Ministry of Transport and then at non-governmental organization World Vision.

He went on to found the Center for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development in 2010 with the help of public funding. He used donated and discounted books to set up different types of libraries, including clan bookcases where a group of families related to each other set up a mini library for their children, or parish bookshelves where readers are Christian and other libraries for marginalized groups.

Thach traveled around the country carrying a banner with a message saying "Books bring opportunities to all. Please donate books to develop clan bookshelves in the Vietnamese countryside."

During those trips, he met with local cultural officials to introduce the cheap and practical clan library model.

In 2015, he walked 1,750 kilometers from the northern Hanoi to southern Ho Chi Minh City to raise funds and awareness for his library revolution.

The program has engaged more than 100,000 people, most of them farmers, who crowd-funded the libraries.

Beyond building the libraries, the program has also provided training to local communities on how to run them and created activities to encourage reading.

The library system has so far made books accessible to more than 400,000 readers in rural areas.

And with the help of millions of Vietnamese both at home and abroad and the support from the Vietnamese government, the program is expected to expand nationwide to bring books to as many as 20 million people in rural areas by 2020.

The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize offers two awards each year to honor the work of governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations for their fight for literacy.

The prize is funded by the South Korean government, hence the prize is named after Korean King Sejoing who created Korean alphabet ‘Hangul’.

The winners are awarded with $20,000 along with a medal and a certificate.

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