Literacy prize-winner answered the call of his ancestors to start library revolution in rural Vietnam

UNESCO : Young Vietnamese man Nguyen Quang Thach thanks two generations of his family for his passion and drive to bring books to the most rural areas of his country

His brainchild, The Center for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development (CKACD), has been awarded the 2016 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its programme “Books for rural areas of Vietnam.”

Vietnam has made impressive progress in education in the last 30 years but rural and mountainous areas of the country still suffer from a great shortage of books and an undeveloped library system. Some children’s only contact with literature is in the form of textbooks.

Thach, who spent 19 years studying library design and applying library models, started his work in 2007 with three libraries and expanded with the help of funding to build 28 libraries in 9 provinces.

In 2009, using money he won in a social initiative competition, he gave up his job to devote his life to establishing libraries. In 2010 he founded CKACD using donated or reduced rate books and offering different library models: clan, parish, classrooms, and community for marginalized groups. One truly innovative aspect is the way the scheme mobilizes and engages civil society of all ages. Girls are some of the most enthusiastic borrowers of books

He says the seed was sown when he was a child and that the reading habit is cultivated in families. His father spent 20 years teaching maths and English to 300 children in his village without asking for payment.

“In my family my grandfather and my father made huge contributions to education in their communities and I felt a responsibility to do the same,” he said. “They had huge collections of books and I grew up knowing how important they were for increasing knowledge. I want to continue my ancestors work. I want all children in Vietnam to have reading books.”

Long walk to raise funds and awareness

So passionate was he to see his idea come to fruition he gave up his job in the Ministry of Transport and other INGOs and set off to start his library revolution with a 2,700-mile walk to raise funds and awareness. As a result, the programme has engaged more than 100,000 people with most of them are farmers, who help to finance it through crowdfunding.

The programme has also changed the structure of the country’s library system offering models that are cheap and practical. Beyond building infrastructures, it also provides hands-on training and collaborative teamwork to operate the libraries and create activities to encourage reading.

The prize win means Thach will be able to extend his idea to other countries.

“Before I even heard that the programme had won I had sent a letter to many Indian organizations explaining the benefits of the idea. I want other countries who have large poor populations with little access to books to apply my library system too. I want to walk in India to call Indian people to build libraries for all children” he said.

To date, the civil library system has made books accessible to more than 400,000 readers in rural areas and built more than 9,000 libraries in 26 provinces. With the support of the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and engagement of million people of middle class, rural people and Vietnamese oversea, the programme will be replicated nationwide to cover all 63 provinces reaching around 20,000,000 rural people by 2020.


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