A Simple Idea (2006)
A simple idea. A few friends. Nine libraries.
The seeds of The Library Project were planted in 2006 with five friends who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children living in an orphanage and children’s shelter in Dalian, China. I had been volunteering on weekends at the orphanage tutoring some of the children on their English language studies. These were good kids. I also knew the headmaster personally, and was absolutely confident that whatever we decided to do would be appreciated.
We shared photos and stories with those who donated books and money and thought, “mission accomplished”. We had achieved our goal and our simple plan was now a reality. Something amazing happened though, people kept donating small amounts of money for more libraries.
As these little unsolicited donations were coming in, I decided to move from China to Vietnam. By this time I’d lived in Asia for five years and had been moving on average every six months. You could say I was restless; looking for my place in Asia. Once I started my new job and had settled into my new home, I formed a new group of friends that continued donating small libraries in our free time. Our next library went into a busy primary school in District 4 of Ho Chi Minh City. We donated 200 newly purchased Vietnamese language children’s books to this small school. This was an important step forward, in that we were began to focus on quality of books (new) and not just the quantity of books (used).
After each library donation we would send more photos and thank you emails to those who financially supported us; and as before, after each email more money came in and soon we were able to to support seven additional library donations in Vietnam. Over the course of the year, we impacted one primary school, four orphanages, a rural HIV/AIDS clinic and a rural woman’s shelter. This simple idea was growing through the kindness of others. More importantly, I was recognizing the great need that was out there.
At the end of 2007 I received an email that would change my life. It was from Kevin Kruse, a serial entrepreneur from the USA, who heard about our small venture and expressed his interest in donating a substantial amount of money. He understood that this simple idea had potential to grow into something with a real potential to impact children’s literacy on a much larger scale than I had previously thought. Like all things, there were strings attached to this potential donation. Firstly, he wanted us to use his funds not to donate libraries, but to create a “real” organization. Secondly, he wanted us to develop clear and solid programs. And finally, to my own surprise, I needed to quit my job and work on The Library Project full time.
The last requirement was a tall order. I had a good job and was quite comfortable and going full time on a charitable start-up would take me out of my comfort zone completely. With that said, I also recognized this was a once in a life-time opportunity. Offers like this do not come around every day.
Soon after receiving Kevin’s offer, I quit my job and dedicated myself 100% to what would become The Library Project.
We ended the year with twenty-four beautiful library donations. These were gorgeous libraries. The children absolutely exploded when they walked into these rooms filled with bright child friendly tables, inviting chairs and kid sized shelving packed with fun age appropriate books. The teachers and local government were also impressed by the professionalism that we were showing.
I ended the year incredibly proud, tired and feeling as if I’d made the right decision to start The Library Project.
As our boat pulled up to the base of the mountain, a group of thirty students were waiting for us. The older students had baskets on their backs that we filled with books, the younger students each took a handful of books, and we all walked up the mountain. It was incredible. The children were building their school library.
This tiny library of 600 local language books integrated right into the corner of one of their classrooms. It was by far the brightest part of the classroom. The children (literally) jumped out of their seats and ran toward the shelves tearing into the books; the teachers were getting very angry at how pushy the children were acting. We all just sat back laughing at the scene.