Dec 10, 2020

FORGET ME NOT - My Cow Book Project


From my page

Some years ago - to be exact 39 years ago -  if my memory does not fail me, I dreamt of building a library for the Youth community in Dalat, Vietnam. We were about a 100 young people along the street of Hai Ba Trung where I grew up and lived until my move to Saigon - rebaptised into HOCHIMINH CITY after 1975 - for further studies.

By an accident of youth, I was elected the Youth General Secretary of my district and was asked to lead my group of young enthusiasts. To raise money to build up our library, we had decided to raise a milking cow - yes, I was backed up 100% by my young followers between 18 and 30 years of age. I was then 18 years old myself. So, in order to raise fund to buy the cow, we decided to go into the woods, to cut down trees, make the logs for heating and cooking (cui) and sell them on the market as there was no more other cooking gas by the end of the war.

The woods are quite far from our street (in Camly area, about 10 km by foot) and there were still FULRO rebel troops hiding in these newly 'liberated' areas. I was heading our small group of 30 to the woods during some ten days, with the intention of cutting down enough trees to get x cubic meters for sale, to raise funds for the milking cow for our library project.

Of course at that time, nobody was thinking far enough about HOW to raise a cow. The only cows we saw were on their way to the slaughter house (abattoir), and the only contact I had with the cows who could have been my friends was in the bowl of soup (pho') or the beefsteak on our plates - we did not have any McDonald by then until late 2010 or even now - so I had no idea, as a leader, when compromising the security of my young followers for such an utopian project. We simply dreamt of the cow that would eat plenty of the green grass of the Langbian Plateau and would give us plenty of milk, which would be sold to young mothers, and somehow the income from that 'production' would help us to raise the necessary funds to set up our library.

During this mission with my young fellows, I learnt a lot of things: some of them could not read, some were not at all in books like myself, but ALL were believing and participating willingly to the project, although the conditions were very tough. I also learnt to appreciate the enthusiasm and the team spirit of young boys and girls - my age and over - who really supported me. They worked very fast, cutting down trees with their hand seesaws, chopping them into small bunches (bo cui) and transporting the bunches to the road with the baskets (don ganh). Some of the girls were incredibly strong and could work as fast as the boys. Our group was in competition with another group from the neighbourhood, led by a team of 3 sisters, all as ugly as the other, and equally ambitious. Out of this competition, my followers decided to speed up even more to get the final say.

Once we got the bunches ready and had sold them, the question of how to raise the cow - OUR COW - arose.  We then realised that this was an impossible mission after having gone through the issues on Where, Who, How etc. -None of us knew by then about making  'Business Plan, Risk Management or Due Diligence and the likes' - I only learn later in my MBA studies years later - so we were functioning in 'Enthusiasm management' only. I guess our case could be duplicated in multitude of cases in the then newly liberated South Vietnam, and probably now in bigger scales. In any case, we decided that we would go directly for the solution of buying books, set up the library, using my home as HQ.

Besides the library space, with my parents permission, I also let them come to play the guitar and organise singing lessons, take part in pingpong competition, and follow evening language classes where I could use my skills. Of course, I was in heaven myself with all these activities and feeling like Che Guevara.

For over a year, we had a beautiful time sharing with each other this lovely activities and friendship. Young people would drop in at my home, there is always food and drinks - Vietnamese hospality oblige - , somebody to chat with, some playing the guitar with us singing youth songs, others playing pingpong in the garage area. My younger sister who spent hours playing with me, later became a champion of the town and underwent training as a national athlete. One of the youth is now MP (Member of Parliament), but some were less lucky, certain died of sickness, others became disillusioned in life. After I left for university, the library run for a while and slowly disintegrated due to lack of support from my core supporters, who, like me, found jobs elsewhere and left town or the country.

I still keep the dream of seting up a library, in memory of my young companions of the 'COW PROJECT' who had believed and supported me, and helped me build my confidence in the potentiality of my inner strength, which helped me get through multiple challenges in my still short but eventful life.

For years, I have been dreaming about a library. I have tried many options, from animating a forum which nobody knows of and working on the list of the thousand books which I shared with nobody - I was aiming at the wrong target and using the wrong means - to discussing with my university and other universities' libraries to negotiate a place to put a bookshelf on Vietnam topics. Other efforts involve sending school books to Schools and Universities back home. The project keeps haunting my dreams and urges me to fulfill what I consider as a mission - my Dharma.

Today with technology, I think this dream is about to take shape in a sustainable way: I can still help to share the knowledge with the wonderful technological inventions which are offered to our generation. We do not need to go chop down trees, we do not need to raise milking cows to achieve our goal, but we do still need to keep the conviction that teamwork is the first condition of success.

I am appealing for your support to make this project a success, to help our younger generations to have something to believe in, and to share with the community about the culture of Vietnam and the spirit of Vietnamese people.

All yours,

Author Anh Tho Andres


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