Two years ago Jesse Mulligan talked to a Kiwi woman who, along with her sister, had set up project delivering books by motorbike to some of Vietnam's poorest villages.
The Motorbike Book Club is still going strong today, with volunteers reading engaging, bilingual picture books to children in two different villages in central Vietnam.
A heck of a lot has happened in that time, says co-founder Hayley Morrison.
Kids get to borrow a book for a week, and 91 sessions have been facilitated over the past financial year. That’s 3756 books borrowed.
“It all started several years ago when I visited my sister Tamara who I co-founded the charity with, and she was volunteering for Hearts for Huế, the local partner that we partner with, and we were running sort of an after-school programme for some of the kids there.
“These are rural fishing villages, there’s not really a lot to do there so some of the kids didn’t really have the resources to play like New Zealand kids would or to learn and that kind of thing. I guess motivated by the experiences volunteering in Vietnam we just felt like it was a really simple solution, a really low-cost solution and something that is proving to make a real difference in their lives.”
One of the goals of the programme is to improve the core literacy of the children, she says.
“A lot of the books in Vietnam aren’t really palatable for children,” she says.
The books they use at the club are sourced either in Vietnam or secondhand in New Zealand and hand translated into Vietnamese.
“We actually support the children in other ways like paying for school fees sometimes and supporting some of the older kids through vocational training is something that we’re looking into doing.”
Morrison says while they may just be a weekend book club, the sisters do hope that it leads to big things for the kids, like staying in school longer or sharing these skills with family members who may benefit from going on the same reading journey.
“In the short term, we just want the kids to have fun.”
It’s providing a space for them to be kids, she says.
“Every week we get update reports from Hong, who’s our facilitator and she’s an amazing Vietnamese woman who works there, she sends us reports, you know how many books were borrowed, how many books were read, what games were played and sends us photos and videos to go along with it.
“I think the thing that convinces me the most that it’s working is seeing Hong’s passion and her even being convinced that she’s making a difference in the kids lives.”
While she’s always asked if the club will expand to other villages, for now, she says, they’re staying within the two villages and are keen to expand their activities within that.