A young Vietnamese woman has been recruiting volunteers to read books to patients at a children’s hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, hoping that time spent getting lost in the pages of a book will serve as an inspiring distraction for the kids.
Founded by Nguyen Thanh Hoa, a graduate of the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, the Reading Ambassador Program at the Department of General Internal Medicine, Nephrology, and Cardiology at Children’s Hospital 2 offers sick children relief from the longing they feel to be reunited with friends and family.
The program’s volunteers hold 30-minute reading sessions for children at the hospital, either individually or in groups, every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.
They also organize dancing, singing, drawing, and role-playing activities for the patients, bringing a sense of camaraderie and enthusiasm to the infirmity.
But it is not just the children who are inspired by the program.
The energy and joy the children feel are so contagious that Hoa and her army of 50 ‘reading ambassadors,’ most of whom are university students or fresh graduates, have been willing to trek through storms and heatwaves to visit the young patients since the program launched in February.
On rainy days in particular, when it is too wet for children to play outdoors on the hospital’s playground, many of the kids, some still attached to IVs, head into the hallways and eagerly listen as the volunteers read from books that have been donated to the project.
Those who are able to read are allowed to borrow the books to read on their own.
The volunteers not only read illustrated versions of literary classics such as Tom Sawyer, The Little Prince, and History of Vietnam but also reenact their stories so that the children both understand the works and their underlying messages.
“At our reading sessions, each volunteer reads the books, summarizes them, reenacts them, and helps explain the underlying message,” Tran Thieu Giang Linh, one of the lead volunteers, shared.
Founded ‘by chance’
Whenever Hoa, the founder of the Reading Ambassador Program, recounts how the program was established, she cannot help but repeat that it was “all by chance."
The idea to create a free reading project for sick children first popped into Hoa’s head after several visits to patients at Children’s Hospital 2.
She posted the idea to her personal Facebook and, to her surprise, the management board of the hospital found her post and decided to help her turn the idea into a reality using the hospital’s existing book collection.
“At first it was just me and some of my friends volunteering,” Hoa recalled.
“But we used social media to recruit other university students and the number of volunteers kept increasing.”
So far, the sessions have been hailed as a major success, with both parents and patients commenting on how much of a relief they provide from tiring and painful treatments.
“The volunteers read books and encourage me. It makes me feel more relaxed,” said Nguyen Trong Kh., an 11-year-old patient from the southern province of Dong Nai who has spent the last month in the hospital.
“It is sad to be in the hospital, but when I am reading, I pay attention to the text and forget about how much I miss my home and friends.”
Similarly, To Dang Huy, a sixth-grader from the southern province Ca Mau, said he rarely reads books at home but really enjoys the reading sessions at the hospital.
“The volunteers come to read for us and then we play games. I really like it,” Huy said.
“When I read or am read a book, I feel less pain.”