Meet Hai Doan of Kids Need Books Vietnam

It’s crucial for young children to learn the habit of reading. Hai Doan knows this so well. Inspired by her son who enjoyed reading books, she envisioned and brought to life a social enterprise called Kids Need Books (KNB) that makes English books accessible to kids from low-income families.

Woomentum got in touch with Hai for her to share an inspiring story and a vision of a community library where every child can read.

Can you tell us the story behind Kids Need Books?
It started in New Zealand in 2015 when I was studying my master’s. I had brought my family with me. My son enjoyed the library in Auckland. Here in Vietnam, libraries have less resources. They also don’t promote or motivate the community to read books as enthusiastically as NZ’s, I guess because they have not seen the importance of doing so, plus there’s a lack of qualified manpower.

How did you go about bringing KNB to life, what was your first plan of action?
In NZ, reading resources were being thrown away so easily or sold for a really cheap price so I took advantage of this opportunity by asking donations from all my connections. Within 2 months, I received nearly 1,000 books, and after a year, it grew to 6,000. When I got back home, I started operations in a 15-square meter room for about 4 months, allowing 5 families at a time to use the library. On weekends, I lend books to families. I also hold events at coffee shops to fit a bigger crowd.

How is the experience of running KNB so far?
I have been running the library since April 2016 on top of working full time as a project coordinator in a non-governmental organization and lecturing at Vietnam National University. I also gave birth to a new baby last year. KNB is a private business so there’s a struggle to find ways for it to be sustainable.

Besides the roles you juggle and financial status of the library, were there more challenges you encountered?
Yes, I met with library officials to suggest ways to improve the local library as well as implement programs for parents to help their kids increase reading awareness. However, this was quite hard to do, as I couldn’t force habits to these families. They also couldn’t keep up with the programs – especially the lower-class ones who couldn’t afford the membership fee we had on offer to raise funds for my idea to operate.

But you still stick to your idea. Why?
All I wanted to do is to inspire children to love books just like I did for my son. I don’t dare think of the day I have to stop KNB. No, actually I do not want to stop.

You met Mouna at Woomentum’s CrowdFunderHer LiveTM. Has the program helped you in any way?

Hai: Mouna was extremely understanding, which I guess is because women understand each other especially when it comes to children. In our plan, we’d raise funds to ship the book donations to Vietnam first via Fund.Woomentum, followed by a fundraising for operation costs for the library itself. Once we sustain the first library, then we can expand to benefit children in other areas.  There are also plans to improve revenue and resources, do social innovations, and connect to Woomentum’s vast social connections especially with entrepreneurs that have years of experience like Mouna. Her help was a very useful resource in providing me directions.

Written by James Kekena

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