Six years ago a Room To Read library opened in Tra Vinh, Vietnam in celebration of my brother’s life. This morning I had the great honor of visiting the library, and the children and teachers who use it every day.

The visit was months in the making.  It takes a community to teach children.  You don’t just let an outsider visit—even if their family sponsored a library.  I was impressed by how thoughtful the Room To Read staff were throughout the planning process.  All of it made for a wonderful day.

I met Chau, Quoc, Thu and Linh from RTR  early in the morning at a hotel in Tra Vinh.

Meeting in the Lobby (1)

By 7AM we were on the road, biking the 10 miles to the Hieu Tu A school. Along the way I had a chance to speak with Linh Truong, the Room to Read Tra Vinh Field Officer.

Linh Gesturing While Cycling (1)

We exchanged stories about our respective countries, and their long and complicated relations. We also kept our eyes on the road (traffic was hectic, as ever) and the time. We had an 8:30AM meeting with the school’s leaders.  We were not to be late!

When we arrived we received quite a reception. The students were lined up at the entrance waiting for us.

Arrival

The Vice Principle greeted us.

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Then (after a quick change of clothes), I joined the children, who paraded with me into the school yard. Some played drums!

QuocJennyWalkingIn (1)

All seemed genuinely excited about my visit.  I think they were impressed that someone biked from Siagon to visit them.

The first order of business was a meeting with the school leaders and local school officials.

MeetingWithSchool (1)

The school’s principle explained to me what a difference the library had made.

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Chau Doan, Room to Read Communications Officer, translates.

Before the Room To Read library, the school library was very narrow and in the same room as the equipment. It was not easy for students to access the books, and they had no space for reading.  Today the library is a large, bright and cheerful space with 42 mats to sit on, and over 6,000 books to read.

ReadingRoom

When I arrived the students were in the middle of reading a book together.  Soon they were all drawing characters from the story they had chosen.  There were some quite talented artists in the room! This ant was very charming.

AntDrawerMyPhoto

I had a chance to join in.

DrawingWithTheKids

I learned from the boy next to me how to draw a chicken.

Chicken

Some of the students presented their drawings.

GirlsPresenstingStory

My favorite part of the visit was playing games and speaking with the students.  One game involved singing a song and passing a lollipop. Whoever had the lollipop when the song concluded had to pop a balloon in order to access a question for the group. One time the song ended with me.

PassingTheLollipop

But I could not pop the balloon!

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In the end, I received help (in the form of a pin) from Quoc, who manages the Room To Read’s efforts in Cà Mau. After the game, we played Duck Duck Goose to decide which of the children I would interview.

 

ExplainingDuckDuckGoose

Explaining Duck, Duck, Goose

However, all the students wanted to join in, so pretty soon we had a class discussion going. When I asked the students what they liked most about the library, they all responded in unison: “Sachs!” (Vietnamese for “Books”).  They had a variety of reasons for why they loved books, from learning new things to the quiet time books created.

The students also asked me questions: What sports do I like?  (Biking, of course.)  How many countries had I visited?  They also taught me how to say “school” in both Vietnamese and Khmer: trường học and សាលារៀន (salarien).

The most moving part of the visit was a story a parent told me in the opening meeting. His nine-year old daughter loved the library and went there every day.  However, he too enjoyed the library.  It was, he explained, the only place where he could find books to learn about things happening in places beyond Tra Vinh.  The library, he wanted me to know, was not just teaching the children, it was creating a culture of reading and learning in the community.

At the end of the morning, I was sad to have to say goodbye to the children, and the teachers and staff.

ShakingStudentsHands (1)

However, there are many more miles to ride (50 miles alone today) to get to Cà Mao where I am raising money for another Room To Read library. (For those of you who want to support the effort, the story and link is here.)  So after a feast at a local restaurant, we got back into our biking gear, and were off!

JumpRtRgang

With the Incredible Vietnam Room To Read staff: Thu, Linh, Quoc, and Chau

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