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Vietnam’s Economic Position

Vietnam’s rapid development was globally recognized with a January 2007 induction into the World Trade Organization. The country impressively increased its GDP 68% within five years (2000-2005).

At 52.4 billion, however, their 2005 GDP was equivalent to 1.7 Harvard University endowments. (1)(2)

VLA Focus Area: The Rural South

Though Vietnam has relied heavily on its shrimp and rice exports to propel the country, globalization and development remains the province of urban areas.

In 2002, the 75% of the population that lived in rural areas experienced 45% poverty rates (compared to 9% in urban areas). Of the urban poor, a significant percent are thought to be migrants from rural regions. (3) Investment into resources for Vietnamese in rural regions is crucial to reducing overall poverty.

The difficulties of opportunities in the rural areas are compounded by the lack of affordable schooling. Public education is available only until the 6th grade causing many literate 10 year olds to end their formal schooling and thereby lose their primary access to books.

Libraries in the Rural South: Ca Mau and Bac Lieu

The poverty of the south does not signal a lack of appetite for books. The country's 90% national literacy rate is a manifestation of the respect accorded education. (4)

However, access to books is severely curtailed by both their expense and availability. A single paperback book can represent 15% of one rural family’s monthly salary ($3 USD per book, $20 income per month).

Ca Mau’s and Bac Lieu’s two million people share 14 libraries. (5) 19% of this population are primary and secondary education students. Compare this to West Virginia's two million sharing 60 libraries. It is not unusual for communities to have no bookstores or libraries for a four-hour radius.

Political and Community Will

Vietnam has encouraged international nonprofit investment to further its literacy and education goals. As a signatory of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, the Vietnamese government has made an international commitment to increase both literacy and rural access to resources. The presence of other nonprofits working within education supports the government’s official stance.

The rural communities recognize that in order to keep pace with Vietnam’s development, they will need more opportunities to learn new technologies (e.g. computers) and provide alternatives to educations prematurely ended. The verbal support the community has voiced for libraries with technology labs has been encouragingly strong. VLA has received commitments for two lots of land to build upon. Given the poverty of the region and the dearth of land for sale, land donations are a significant show of faith.

(1) World Development Indicators (World Bank, 2005)
(2) “Harvard’s endowment grows to nearly $30 billion” (Boston Globe, 9/1/6/07)
(3) DFID Rural and Urban Development Case Study (Oxford Policy Management, 6/2004)
(4) Includes only those 15 years and over who can read and write. CIA World Fact Book.
(5) Vietnam Government Statistical Office (2005)

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