Alumni Outlook Magazine



A Library For Every Province

A LIBRARY FOR EVERY PROVINCE

It was December 1999, and Chuck Theusch ’76 had a plan. He would visit various world capitals on a self-guided millennium tour. Hanoi in Vietnam would be his first stop. It also would become his last. In Vietnam, an even bigger plan developed. It was one of those opportunity-of-a-lifetime moments so significant that he canceled the rest of his trip.

A veteran of the Vietnam War (also known as the American War in Vietnam), Theusch remembered how much he enjoyed the people of Vietnam and the beauty of its culture and landscape.

“Meeting the people of Vietnam during peacetime was truly awe inspiring,” says Theusch. “Other returnees had told me that I would find the people to be friendly and charming. Indeed they were.” Theusch was so impressed with the Vietnamese people that he decided to stay in Vietnam and help rebuild the country scarred by war.

He learned that although the people of Vietnam valued education, they suffered from a scarcity of books, paper and school supplies.Theusch was touched when he observed some children on their way to school during some flooding. They carefully crossed bridges, barely above raging waters, while holding coveted books above their heads.

At the suggestion of his tour guide and now close friend, Tran Dinh Song, Theusch decided to build a library. But he didn’t stop there. He also decided to create a computerized library system in a country where no national library system had ever existed.

Exactly 30 years after serving in the Vietnam War, Theusch founded the Library of Vietnam Project. The refund on Theusch’s airline tickets to China and Russia provided the initial funding for the project’s first library.

In 2001, the first library opened its doors in Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Province. The area endured some of the worst action of the war, including the My Lai Massacre.

“You need all kinds of memorials,” says Theusch. “We already have those to honor the past and the dead. The libraries are monuments that honor the living and the future.”

The library currently is one of 15 sites in Vietnam. Theusch’s goal is to build a library in each of Vietnam’s 59 provinces, and possibly even in each of the country’s 600 districts. He also has built four libraries in Laos, two in Cambodia and one in Afghanistan.

A unifying design was created to make the facilities instantly recognizable as being part of the project and to accommodate the special needs of the local people and the climate. Since many people lost limbs during the war and from its remaining landmines, handicap-accessible ramps surround the upper floor balconies of the two-story structures. Books are shelved upstairs to keep them safe during the monsoon season, which brings damaging floods.

Since founding the Library of Vietnam Project, Theusch has developed close friendships with the Vietnamese people. His e-mail correspondence with Tran Thi Anh Thu, whose friends and family died in the My Lai Massacre, has been reprinted in Behind the Lines, a collection of American and foreign war letters by author Andrew Carroll. And in 2005, photographs of Theusch and children at the Bac Giang Blind School were featured in National Geographic magazine.

“The Vietnam War is unique among wars,” he says, “because there has been reconciliation in a single generation.”

For more information on the Library of Vietnam or to donate books, www.libraryofvietnam.com.

Children watch through a window as Theusch and Song speak during the dedication of the Roland G. Fontane Library in a Mekong Delta Village near Vinh Long.
ABOVE Theusch with one of the Vietnamese children