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A library in the center of Vietnam’s floodplain

Saturday, September 15, 2018, 10:16 GMT+7

A special library has been opened in a flood-prone village just outside Hanoi, working to develop a love for reading among children, as well as keeping them safe whenever the area is inundated.

The library is located in Nam Phuong Tien Commune in the outer district of Chuong My, one of the floodplains in northern Vietnam.

Nhan Ly is also known as the center of floods during this period as the village always suffers greatly when nature starts pouring rain in summer.

During this period of time, it is rather dangerous for children to spend time outdoors as there is a high risk of falling into water, leading to drowning, or being swept away by the stream.

Hence, in the summer of 2018, Hallo World Library was established so as to ‘keep’ the children indoors without boring them, but rather ensuring their safety, according to its founders.

‘Inspired by floods’

During the flooding season in October 2017, co-founder of Hallo World Library Nguyen Quoc Tuan came to Phung Xuan Truong, an ‘unofficial’ teacher of the village, to propose the idea of creating a small reading corner for children in the neighborhood.

Phung Xuan Truong, who only finished eighth grade in Vietnamese 12-year education system, teaches local children, thus considered their teacher, even though he has never taught at school.

The two began a ‘trial mode’ for Hallo World in early 2018, and officially opened the library on March 16, 2018, shortly after the founders obtained the permit from the village’s authorities.

Ever since, the library and its supporters were always doing their best to provide children with books and make books more accessible.

Hallo World Library was inspired very differently from what most people would expect.

It was inspired by floods.

Having grown up in the village, Truong has experienced countless flooding occurrences.

Whenever flood reappears, the electricity is cut, leaving children in boredom within four walls of their own house as schools close during this period of time.

“There have been many children who unfortunately drowned because of carelessness, which inspired me to do something so as to keep these children indoors,” Truong said.

In 2015, a charitable program run by national broadcaster VTV came to the village, and Truong told them that he wished the neighborhood would have a bookshelf.

“VTV realized my wish and my house then turned into a place where children would gather to read,” he recalled.

It was that single bookshelf that has become the Hallo World Library today, following the meeting where Truong listen to, and quickly agreed on, the proposal by Tuan last year.

“That’s how Hallo World came to live at my house,” he said.

Building the love for books

Just like any other library, Hallo World aims at teaching children to love books and find pleasure in indulging in reading as the founders believes it is a matter of habit.

Most Nhan Ly children cannot afford buying books they are interested in, so it should come as no surprise that they grow up being ignorant towards books and not having a reading habit.

According to Truong, it is crucial to develop the habit of reading for children from the very beginning, even though one cannot just give children these books but also needs to have tricks to lure them into the world of books and stories.

Hence, during the first days of the library, the two founders had to use their own money to hold activities, such as painting competition, weekly “Read and Tell stories” sessions, and English camps, among others, to attract children to visit the library.

Most books at Hallo World are donated by charities and social organizations.

The supporters of the library not only aims at helping children in Nhan Ly, but also have a desire to help as many children of other poor villages as possible.

According to Truong, it is important for books to achieve their “destiny”, meaning they need to be read and used by others rather than just be put away in storages and boxes.

Hence, Hallo World also has plans to give away as many books as possible so that public reading corners could be opened in other villages as well.

For instance, before the flood came to the village, the library gave away seven bags of books, which contain over 1,000 textbooks contributed by charitable organizations and members of the society, to other villages in northwestern Vietnam. 

Supportive community

Hallo World Library’s activities have been receiving significant support from community, volunteers, and other individuals.

Organizations, as well as individuals, have donated textbooks, books, stationery, and money, to the library.

Nhan Ly villagers, on the other hand, contributed by providing necessities such as rice, beverage, or vegetables.

For instance, a local teacher named Hiep donated pork and tofu when Hallo World Library was holding summer activities.

“We are farmers so whatever tasty we make, we give it to Truong and the library for support,” he said.

“He is disabled but has a great heart.”

On the days with high levels of flood, one can easily find a great number of children having their heads in books at Hallo World.

Even though the library is yet to celebrate its first birthday, it has already experienced one of the most severe floods in the history of the region, which lasted from end of July until early August this year.

Books from Hallo World library brought to children’s houses while the city was suffering from severe flooding. Photo: Hallo World Library
Books from Hallo World library brought to children’s houses while the city was suffering from severe flooding. Photo: Hallo World Library

When the water only reached ankles of pedestrians, the library was still opened and welcomed children of the neighborhood to come over and read.

On July 22, the water level was too high for the library to open, or for children to be able to come.

However, the unfavorable weather conditions could not prevent volunteers from delivering books to children during that day. Instead of having children look for the books, Hallo World Library supporters had books looking for children.

On those days when the water level was too high, Hallo World Library would stack books on boats and carry them to children’s houses so that they do not get bored.

“We usually say the books ‘sneaked out of the house’ to hang out with the children,” Tuan said.

“The volunteers are from the village so every morning and every afternoon they have to cross the flooded streets to bring books to children.

“We believe that wherever children are, there will be Hallo World books!”

A unique 'librarian'

Having been diagnosed with muscle entropy, a condition in which patient loses great masses of muscle, Truong, born in 1979, had to give up his studies right after finishing Grade 8.

Being surrounded by nothing but four plain walls, the young Truong asked his parents to open a shop where he can sell some necessities so as to make his life slightly more eventful.

It was during this time that the unfortunate teenage Truong learned to write with his mouth to be able to keep record of the money others owe him while he was selling the goods.

After spending days, weeks and months practicing, his teeth managed to hold the pen still and the neck adjusted to the right movements required for writing, helping him to attain beautiful ‘handwriting.’

Having found his own interest, he started thinking about unfortunate children in his neighborhood who did not have anyone to help them with their studies.

Hence, he gathered children in the neighborhood and offered them with free lessons to read, write, and do math whenever they have free time.

Some parents from other villages also bring their children to “teacher” Truong after hearing rumors about his wholeheartedness and dedication to teaching children.

Many students have difficulty following the lessons at school, but thanks to the help from Truong, they quickly learnt all the necessary skills.

In some cases, students are disabled and unable to attend school so Truong offers to come straight to the children’s houses to teach them everything he knows.

For the past year, with Hallo World Library, Truong became both a teacher and a librarian of the children.

Right after math, reading, and spelling class, the children look for books they might enjoy or receive textbooks donated for students.

Even though being a librarian is usually not a simple job as it requires constant categorizing of the books, Truong enjoys his relaxing ‘job’ as he already instructed the children to categorize the books.

Hence, even if the room might seem messy with different books lying around the room, all of them are put in their place at the end of the day under various categories including education, comic books, science, and geography, among others.

“Librarian” Phung Xuan Truong reading books with children from Nhan Ly Village. Photo: Tuoi Tre
“Librarian” Phung Xuan Truong reading books with children from Nhan Ly Village. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Truong not only is a great teacher, he also contributes greatly to society.

However, as Truong’s health is getting worse, he is already thinking about how to sustain the library when he can no longer be there on daily basis.

Truong believes that the best solution would be to seek help from the local culture house, or the elderly in the village.

Even though Hallo World Library is adored and favored by children in the village, Truong still has hopes and plans to further develop it.

“I really want for the library to become a place for farmers to come to if there were other categories like law or agriculture,” he elaborated.

“I also desire volunteers good at foreign languages to come to help children of this poor village so that they can know little English and not fall behind the developing society.”

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Ha My / Tuoi Tre News


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