UNESCO Literacy Prize laureate promoting children’s right to read and climate change awareness

Vietnam has made notable 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.

Nguyen Quang Thach who spent 19 years studying library design and applying library models, started establishing three libraries in 2007 and expanded with the help of funding to build 28 libraries in nine provinces in Vietnam.

To date, his designed and applied program has had a positive political and social impact. It has contributed to creating thousands of libraries and the possibility for children and adults to access books in rural readers.

When Thach and his passion project won the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize in 2016 for the programme “Books for rural areas of Vietnam”, he was inspired to extend it to countries that have large poor populations with little access to books.

“We can pave the way for a democratic, peaceful, humane and innovative world by reinforcing the right to read for children all over the world,” he said at the Prizes Ceremony. “I want to walk in India to call people to build libraries for all children.”

On 11 to 12 February, his dream came true. Thach and a group of Vietnamese and Indian partners, therein Pradeep Lokhande, Atish Chordiya, Vu Van Thoai, Phung Minh Chau, Tran Van Loi and Pham Manh Cuong among others, organized a 2-day international walk in  Maharashtra, India.

They walked for ‘Books for rural India’, ‘Books for World Children’s Right to Read’ and ‘Books for Fighting Climate Change’.

Along the way they created three new libraries in addition to the 37 already created in November, and with the help of secondary school children they got to plant more than a hundred trees to raise the awareness of climate change.

Promoting literacy in India’s rural areas

India has more than 200 million rural children who have a shortage of book access compared to their peers in urban areas. Rural India holds more than 68% of the total population. Due to its high poverty, it is still behind the urban India in terms of both education and economy. There is a need to creating more opportunities for children of rural India.

With great support from Indian change makers such as Arham Foundation and Gyan-Key, two NGO’s that are devoted to supporting millions of rural children through books and education, the walk raised awareness about the importance of accessing books in rural areas.

Emphasizing the need to building more classroom libraries and engaging in solving illiteracy problems, the walk attracted attention from civil groups, local governments, school systems, media and international communities.

The international walk in Pune and Saswad opened a way forward for Thach’s library model. The next steps include walks in other Indian states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in the coming months.

Gyan-Key’s target itself is to create around 8 million classroom libraries/parent-funded libraries for kindergarten, primary and secondary schools in the coming years.

“I, along with my Indian change agents, also want to visit villages and talk to the local people and village representatives. We plan to visit Bodh Gaya which is a place of enlightenment of ‘Budhha’ and visited by foreigners from across the globe, to create awareness about our initiative,” said Thach.

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