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Burnaby students mobilize to save Vietnamese kids from boring English lessons

Vietnamese international student launches book drive to inspire children in her home country to learn English

A group of Burnaby high school students has made it their mission to save Vietnamese kids from boring English lessons.

The initiative was launched by 16-year-old Alivia Truong, an international student at Burnaby Central Secondary who is going into Grade 12 next year.

When she was in elementary school learning English in her home city of Huế in central Vietnam, she said the lessons were pretty dry.

“Since I was a kid, I didn’t read any English books at all,” Truong told the NOW. “We just focused on grammar and vocabulary.”

While English books are available in Vietnam’s big cities, Truong explained, there’s a real shortage in the smaller centres and rural areas.

During the pandemic, while she was in quarantine in Canada, she even created a little online book store with some friends in Vietnam.

They sold a handful of books she had picked up here and shipped back to her home country, donating the proceeds to a local community house in Huế.

While demand for English books is high, however, not all Vietnamese kids can afford them – and that didn’t sit well with Truong.

So, with advice from a teacher, she approached the Burnaby Central business club and, somewhat nervously, pitched the idea of a book drive to support English learning in her home country.

The initiative, dubbed Pages To Places, was a big success.

More than 16 people ended up volunteering and collecting 1,095 books.

“I was really surprised about that,” Truong said.

She has already decided on the first three schools that will get donated books through the project: an elementary school, a middle school and a high school in Huế.

And she has reached out to the Vietnamese embassy in Vancouver, which has agreed to ship the books on a government flight.

“That’s really cool,” Truong said.

She said she hopes the books will spark an interest in learning English, a skill that opens up educational and career opportunities in Vietnam, according to Truong.

“I hope, for elementary school students, maybe they can’t really read all those books, but I hope that when they open those books with the really amazing pictures and animation, they will have a good passion and desire for learning English,” she said.

She and her teammates plan to expand Pages To Places next year, possibly partnering with other Metro Vancouver schools and shipping books to more countries.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor