This guest blog is from Erin Ganju, Room to Read’s CEO, who is currently traveling through Asia with her daughter and mother to visit several Room to Read's offices and educational projects. This entry is from Vietnam, where Room to Read has been working since 2001 and was in fact, the country that brought Erin to Room to Read. After living in Ho Chi Minh City for more than two years, Erin developed a passion for the development of Vietnam and managed the launch of Room to Read in Vietnam, which marked Room to Read's first operation outside of Nepal.
Seeing your work through the eyes of your child can be an invaluable lesson in perspective. Last week, my four-and-a-half year-old daughter, Julia, joined me for her first visit to a Room to Read library, and as we drove up to Long Hoa Primary School in Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, she yelled out, “Yeah, Room to Read!” while pumping her hands in the air. Her enthusiasm was contagious and stirred up mine -- albeit a little less vocally.
As the van stopped in front of the school gates, we could see children lined up with flowers for us, along with the mandatory Vietnamese drum corps ready to alert the entire neighborhood that we had arrived. Our hands filled with flowers, we were then treated to a dance routine by the children and songs by the teachers about the value of education. I’ve had the honor of being part of these elaborate welcoming ceremonies dozens of times, but to see the twinkle in Julia’s eyes and her excited clapping at the end of each performance reminded me how special these events really are.
We were here attending one of Room to Read’s "Reading Summer Camps" in Vietnam, a new program designed by our Vietnam library team. The camps are designed to gently ease kids back to school for a few hours each day during the summer with a mixture of reading skill practice and fun activities. We spent a wonderful couple of hours exchanging drawings with some kids, reading aloud to a group of children in the library and then having them do the same for us, and teaching each other songs. The Itsy Bitsy Spider was a big hit!
When I later asked Julia what she thought of the school and how it differed from her school in San Francisco, she replied, “Those girls dancing got to wear make-up to school.” (Yes, I have a four-and-a-half year-old going on sixteen.) Then she said, “They sure do have fun in school here.” I explained how it was summer camp, and that actual school was much more serious.
I then realized that Julia and I didn’t see the school in the same way. I walk into schools and think about how much more we need to do and all the things that can be improved. But for Julia, it was not about the physical environment, but the experience. And I was excited to think that, like Julia, maybe these students in Vietnam were returning home every day telling their parents, siblings and neighbors that school is fun and that they can’t wait to go back. From the perspective of a child (and her mother), that is success and something to celebrate!
To learn more about our programs in Vietnam, click here.