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An Open Letter To The Hô Phòng / Cà Mau Community:

When my Grandfather, Alex Szabo was the son of a farmer who wanted him to do anything but farm. Smart and curious, he had a gift for machines and would disassemble every one his family had.

His teachers made him show his hands each morning to prove he’d washed the dirt from under his fingernails from his work on the farm because farmers were seen as slow or stupid. Although he attended school he learned as much through trial and error, and in books he read at the library.

The availability of free books has allowed people, who would never have the opportunity otherwise, to improve their lives, and to experience new places and new ideas.

Alex believed the world was full of answers. His motto was, "If Man did it, I can do it." He taught himself electronics, metallurgy, woodworking, engine repair, machining, and many other skills. He had no college degree but he retired as a Master Machinist, with knowledge equivalent to an electrical and mechanical engineer.

After World War II his first job was shoveling coal, but one day he applied for a job running a milling machine on the factory floor. The foreman let him use a spare machine for one day, to show what he knew. He'd lied and didn't know how to use the machine so he watched the man next to him and copied him. He read the manual. At the end of the day they gave him the job, and for months afterwards the factory owners had every other coal-shoveler in the plant applying for machinist jobs.

He believed, and I believe, that what people most need to improve themselves is opportunity and information. When we visited Viet Nam we were amazed at the energy and the sheer resourcefulness of everyone we met.  They made me think of my Grandfather, these people who achieved so much with so little.

In southern Viet Nam there is no shortage of ability or desire, but there is a critical lack of information. Without access to good sources of information I am certain these self-motivated people will eventually achieve their goals, but with access to it they can do so in a fraction of the time. They will have more options, more resources, and more opportunities with access to free books, educational programs, and technology training.

There is a common belief that education is wasted on the poor. On farmers who can barely read, on children like Alex. But who better to give these tools to than the people who have proved their tenacity and willingness to do whatever it takes to provide for their families, generation after generation?

The Vietnam Learning Association will provide more than books with the libraries we build. We will make knowledge available to anyone willing to walk through the doors. Some of the services we are planning to offer to the community through the library system include:

  • ESL Training - Both English As A Second Language classes and computer self-guided training

  • Coffee Café - As a place for people to come and relax, and read the newspaper while their children are in the library.

  • Legal Forms - On computer with access to a printer and advice from the librarians on filling them out

  • Health Forums - Talks on common health issues like women's health, exercises for back pain, or dietary issues.

  • Agricultural Forums - Talks on running your own farm including marketing and selling products, and tips on new farming processes.

  • Readings - Children's story hours.

  • Educational Garden - Plant treasure hunts of the labeled gardens around the library. Books and pamphlets on plant care and identification.

  • Software Training - Self-paced computer training in software like operating systems, business software, and programming.

  • Typing Training - Touch Typing self-guided training

  • Newspapers & Periodicals - Access to free newspapers and magazines

  • A Quiet Space to Work - On homework, or just somewhere away from home to read.

We will begin by building a library near Ho Phong, and we intend to continue building libraries at a rate of at least one a year until everyone living in the southern region of Viet Nam has access to quality information resources. Although much of the funding will come from the United States it will require the efforts of our friends and family in Viet Nam to get these libraries built, and to make them a success in the years to come. We are very excited to begin. Thank you for all the support you have already given us, and thank you in advance for all your help in the future.

Christopher Donald
Vietnam Learning Association

Vietnam Learning Association
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