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Published: January 13th 2008
The Unification Library Board
And, Kent Converse, Professor Trung of Cantho University
The Unification Library
The Unification Library is built on the North side of Canal B, Cần Thơ City Province Vietnam. This area has quite a history. Just over 50 years ago it was native grassland. It was too far south to be considered part of the Plain of Reeds but still grass land.
Then came 1954, the split of Việt Nam into the North and South and about one million, mostly Catholics moved south for religious freedom. I talked to one of the survivors of this exodus south. He told me he escaped the North with only his clothes on his back. He was taken south in a French freighter. Upon their arrival in the south they were taken to an area near Saigon where they were kept alive by the South Vietnamese government. Then the government moved them to the Canal B area. Then there was no canal. They were taken to this virgin grassland and told to start farming. They did and with the encouragement of the government they dug Canal B, 15 kilometers by hand. The canal joins another larger canal that runs to the sea. You can if you want to get on a boat
The computer was returned while I was there. It is behind me in the corner.
in Canal B and go to the ocean. Since the canal is straight and doesn’t twist and turn like so many canals do in Việt Nam it looks more orderly. The houses line up neatly along the banks. Behind the houses are big broad rice fields that go all the way to the next canal. Actually they are a series of small plots of rice land about as wide as their house that runs half way to the next canal. During the monsoon season when they get 200 inches of rain in three months the whole area is under water with only the dike from dirt from the escavation of Canal B, where their houses are built is out of water. The rest looks like an ocean. The rice farmers turn to fishing for a living. The area fed by the great spawning areas of .Tonie Sap Lake in Cambodia is rich with fish.
They consider themselves very poor and that was proven in 1975 when the communist government came to power. They determined that the farmers were so poor they had no excess land to confiscate.
Trang Nguyen was born here in a dirt floor, bamboo, thatched
house. It is just a few houses down from the library and on this visit I walked over there to take a photo of it. It wasn’t there anymore. It had been replaced with a new, brick, concrete construction of modern design.
We used say that the Unification Library was in Tan Hiep, Kien Giang Province. That is not true anymore. With the growth of Cần Thơ City it has become a city province. So here is the Unification Libraries address:
Thư Viên Thống Nhất
Nhà thơ Vạn Đồn B 1
Kênh B 1
Xã Thạnh Thắng
Huyện Vinh Thạnh
Thành Phố Cân Thơ
On my previous trips to the Library I was the guest of the Nguyen family or as a board member of the Library Project of Vietnam. Either way I got to spend little time at the library. We would be entertained by some cute kids doing a program, then have some speeches and then hustled out of the library to either meet family relatives or have a dinner, go to the nest library, etc.
This time was no different those other times. We left Danang at six in the morning
By Cha Phuong
by plane, were hustled in a bus when we got to HCMC and a long bus and boat ride to get to the library just at dark. They had lost their electricity so they quickly put batteries in the electric piano and the show began with no lights.
This time during the entertainment I left the outdoor presentation to look at the library. What I found was so disappointing.
1. The card catalogue system was never started. All the cards were blank in the cabinet.
2. I could not find the computer. A library Project supporter had bought the library a
a new computer a few years ago.
3. The magazines all seemed to date back to the founding of the library.
4. Many artifacts of the dedication where missing or could not be found.
5. No evidence what so ever of the library having any programs.
6. Some drawers could not be opened.
7. Church pews cluttered up the building.
This was a terrific blow to me because if anybody is responsible for the Unification Library it is me. I involved 23 Rotary Clubs, numerous Church Groups and about
by Kent Converse
50 individuals to come up with the 7500 dollars to build the library. I had involved the Rotary Foundation to buy the books and furniture. I did so many things right, getting the right agreements, legally and other wise. The Vietnamese for their part built a terrific structure to this day has only one minor repair needed. A broken drain pipe.
How could they be so smart building the library and not have a clue on how to run it. I found out on my second visit to the library. Half of the board can not read. Talking to many educated people since that visit I learned that very few Vietnamese know anything about running a library. This might be a carryover from the Mandarin and French system where only about five per cent were educated. Now, you have mass education but if the kids aren’t scrapping for food they are only interested in the books supplied by the school, video games and music. L.C. Chandra of Cambodia who built a library at his own expense knows this. “Our children do not have a history of reading books. Then the war came and what books there were available were
burned. L.C. had all kinds of innovative ways to attract kids into libraries.
The more I learn about Vietnam makes me realize how little I know about Vietnam.
I have a friend in Saigon who told me this: “Everything in Vietnam is impossible: Any thing is possible.” Just give the Vietnamese time.
So, my second visit with the library and this time with just the board was painful but somewhat productive. First, I made it clear I did not represent the Library Project of Vietnam and that I intended to resign from that organization.
I did say I represented the investors of the project but once we give something we have no power over it. I made it clear the power to run the Library was in their hands.
I told them I was there to help if I could:
1. Decide whether they wanted to keep the library or give the books to some school and give the building to the Church.
2. If they did want to continue the library I would be willing to help them develop a budget.
3. Help train a librarian.
4. Help develop programs for
The only repair needed in five years. A broken drain pipe caused this.
the library. Their sister library in Kansas, the Kinsley Library will be of great help in that area.
5. They also had a very talented smart girl who was the star of the Unification Library dedication who I offered to try to get her in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. If she is successful, she could work with a US library as a volunteer and get some idea how to work a library. She will have three years left in high school when she comes back and lives just across the canal from the library. They appointed her Assistant Librarian.
They decided they wanted to keep the library. So, I asked them if they could come up with the money to run to operate the library. No they couldn’t. They didn’t want to come up with one dollar. I told them when we built the library they had stated that they had money to run a library and I had no intention of asking anyone for support of the operation of the library. We were at a standstill. I finally told them I was taking a break and when I came back in they somehow found a way
to come up with the money.
They hired a librarian when I was there. She is a 1st grade teacher and knows nothing about libraries. I am in Can Tho as I write this trying to get the University of Can Tho Librarian who is trained in the US to give her a one week crash course on how to run a library this summer during her teaching break.
Also I have a friend from the University of Cantho who is going to go to the village once a week to teach English. He is a Master English Teacher. I also bought the same software to learn English for Miss Hoa that I bought for Sister Mary at Thien An.
I consider Miss Hoa more talented than Trang. I haven’t seen her records yet but from what I hear she is an excellent student. What I haven’t judged yet is her personality. That was Trang’s greatest asset. From what I can tell now it is good. I asked her what she thought about the prospect of going to the United States for one year: are you excited or scared? Without hesitation she said she wanted to be
Rotary Exchange Student to the USA!!
My friends in Can Tho and the University of Can Tho are busy trying to prep Miss Hoa for the Rotary Exchange Program. More on her later.
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