Building a Children’s Library

From Toronto to rural Quảng Trị, Vietnam.

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The Journey
This page documents our journey building a library, from inception to build.

 

Summer 2023

 

It’s early summer, 2023. Lan’s 40th birthday is coming up in October. Our leadership team, including our event planning partners Nadia Scolaro and Marco Tedesco from Wildcard Experience, began planning a big surprise birthday party for Lan. As the ideas got wilder and budget expanded, our team realized that a lavish celebration might not align with Lan’s true interests. Knowing Lan’s passion for charity work, especially for children in Vietnam, we questioned if there was a better way to celebrate her birthday.

What does Lannie really care about? This question led to a shift in our approach. We contacted Wildcard to discuss minimizing party costs so we could donate more towards charity. Our CEO, known for being a deep fact-finder, found the perfect organization: The Vietnam Education Society (VES), which focuses on educational initiatives in Vietnam. With less than a month until the party, we were set to make Lan’s birthday meaningful, with the goal of making one of her biggest dreams come true.

 


 

Thu, Sep 07 // Connecting with VES

8:18 am // The Email

Xin chào and hello, Carin,

My name is Khalid Mokhtarzada. I’m the CEO of Pixel Dreams, a creative agency out of Toronto, Ontario. My wife and business partner, Lan Lê, and I go to Vietnam yearly, and have spoken often about different charitable initiatives. At the immediate moment, our company is looking to donate towards educational initiatives in Vietnam as well learn more about potential partnership opportunities.

Can we get on a call sometime soon to discuss? I apologize in advance for the haste, but I’d like to make some moves soon as we have some internal timelines we need to coordinate.

Feel free to call or text me anytime. My mobile is 416-###-####.

Thank you again,

– KM

 

9:41 am // The Response

Dear Khald,

Thank you so much for writing. I would be delighted to talk to you about the Vietnam Education Society! I am free after 3:30 pm Saskatchewan time today and have time on Friday and the weekend. When would be best for you?

Best wishes,
Carin

 

5:30 – 6:00 pm // The Meeting
Khalid and Carin met virtually. Khalid revealed his plan to fundraise for Lan’s 40th birthday as well as to learn more about the VES, a Canadian charity that collaborates with Pacific Links Foundation, a US-Vietnam charity. Khalid was moved by the story of Carin and her husband, who adopted a Vietnamese daughter over 20 years ago and have since been dedicated to giving back to Vietnam. The meeting revealed VES’s strong commitment and responsibility. All money raised by VES goes directly to Vietnam, with no administrative or employee costs, as the charity is entirely volunteer-run. Carin and her husband personally cover all expenses for their trips to Vietnam, ensuring that every dollar raised is used effectively.

 


 

Fri, Sep 08 // The Fundraiser Begins

Our team kicked off our fundraising campaign with a sense of urgency, as Lan’s surprise birthday party was just around the corner. The first order of business was establishing a page on our website dedicated to this effort. This page was pivotal, serving as the key platform for informing our community about the event’s dual purpose: 1) a celebration of Lan’s milestone birthday, 2) a fundraiser to construct a library in Vietnam. We crafted the page to include details about the party and a simple, secure method for donations. To maintain the surprise, we took the necessary step of temporarily revoking Lan’s WordPress permissions ensuring she wouldn’t stumble upon the page!

See our fundraiser page here, and the Vietnamese version here.

Introductions //
Over the course of several weeks, our team was introduced to a few more people at Pacific Links. We had the pleasure of meeting (virtually) Ms Diane Trương, Director of Communications & Operations, and Mr Tung Hoan, Director of the SEEDS Scholarship Program. Both were very helpful throughout our journey of raising funds.

 


 

Fri, Oct 06 // The Big Surprise Party Fundraiser

 
7:00 AM to 6:00 pm // Preparation
The PDT (Pixel Dreams Team) and Wildcard teams worked diligently throughout the day, putting together the final touches for Lan’s 40th surprise birthday party. A very special thanks to everyone involved in the party planning and preparation. It’s also worth mentioning, all of this was happening with the backdrop of a massive office move to our new location on Queen.


 
 

7:00 pm to 6:00 pm // The Big Surprise
And so the party began. The PDT did an excellent job keeping Lan in the dark throughout the many months of preparation, up to the final moment, when she walked in. At this point, she did not know of the fundraiser. The building of the children’s library was revealed later in the evening, moments before the ceremonial Happy Birthday singing and cake cutting.

 


 

Mon, Oct 09 // The Work Continues

With the big party behind us, we doubled our focus on raising funds and preparing for the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled Jan 08th, 2024. We were impressed that the team in Vietnam had an aggressive timeline to complete the project in 90 days. The first 45 days would be mainly administrative, including getting the appropriate permits and architectural plans. The remaining 45 days would be reserved for construction.

 


 

Tue, Dec 05 // Ceremony Backdrop

Mr Tung shared with us a draft copy deck for our approval, as well as a photo of the proposed backdrop for the ceremony. After reviewing the design and considering the expense of printing such a large item, we suggested an alternative approach. Our team designed a concept that was playful and memorable, one that would serve as a keepsake. Mr Tung and Carin loved the idea. They were excited about the prospect of having a fun, lasting memento from the ceremony, creating something unique and enduring over a one-time use item.


Original

Proposed Concept
 

Approved Backdrop
 

Below Stage

 


 

2024

 


 

Sun, Jan 07 // Da Nang

2:30 pm // Our flight from Ho Chi Minh City faced a delay of a few hours. Upon arrival at Da Nang International Airport (DAD), we had our first in-person meeting with Tung Hoang, a friend we had previously only known digitally. Tung greeted us warmly in Da Nang. We all squeezed into his compact car and set off for Quảng Trị. En route, we made a brief stop to pick up some bánh mì trứngs (egg sandwiches).

 
 

9:00 pm // After a scenic yet extended drive, we reached our dinner venue, Vườn hoa Chân Trời. There, we were greeted by a gathering that included several local government officials. The evening was filled with dining, sipping homemade plum wine, and exchanging songs, stories, and plenty of laughter. Amidst jokes about singing and karaoke in Vietnam, Tung surprised us by belting out ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles. It turns out, he has quite an impressive singing voice!

 
Right Photo, From left to right: Mr Son, Construction Management Specialist of Huong Hoa District | Mr Nhan, Project Coordinator for the SEEDS Scholarship Program at Pacific Links | Mr Son’s daughter | Mr Anh, Project Supervisor | Teacher Giao, Headmaster of Ba Tang Primary and Lower Secondary School | Mr Nguyen, Driver | Mr Tung Hoan, Director of the SEEDS Scholarship Program at Pacific Links | Lannie Le, Co-Founder and Partner at Pixel Dreams

 

 


 

Mon, Jan 08 // Visiting The School

6:30 am // Bright and early, Khalid and Lan met Tung at the hotel entrance and set off towards the school. The two partners were still feeling the effects of the previous night’s plum wine, but a few sips of Vietnamese cà phê đá quickly helped.

 
8:00 am // After a 1.5-hour drive through the stunning tropical mountains with the morning sun warming their faces, the group arrived at the children’s school. There, Khalid and Lan were introduced to a few more officials, including some teachers, the principal, and representatives from the province.

 
Right Photo, From left to right: Hải Yến, President of Quang Tri Study Promotion Association | Thanh Nga, Head of Huong Hoa District of Education & Training Department | Mr Tung Hoan, Director of the SEEDS Scholarship Program at Pacific Links | Lannie Le, Co-Founder and Partner at Pixel Dreams

 

The schoolchildren performed three dances, officials gave speeches, and then the groundbreaking ceremony for the new library took place.

 
 

When it was their turn on stage, Lannie delivered a heartwarming speech. Khalid, moved by the event, later confessed to Tung that he was too overwhelmed to speak, struggling to hold back tears.

True to Vietnamese efficiency, work on the library had already begun, with no time wasted.

Right Photo, From left to right: Hải Yến, President of Quang Tri Study Promotion Association | Mr Tung Hoan, Director of the SEEDS Scholarship Program at Pacific Links | Lannie Le, Co-Founder and Partner at Pixel Dreams | Khalid Mokhtarzada, Founder & CEO of Pixel Dreams | Trong Ho, Vice president of Huong Hoa District People Committee | Thanh Quang, chairman of the Education sector union of Quang Tri | Thanh Nga, Head of Huong Hoa District of Education & Training Department|

 

 

10:00 // Visiting The Kindergarten
After the ceremony, Tung and the officials invited Khalid, Lannie, and their partners to an early lunch at a nearby small kindergarten, a beneficiary of VES’s support. This visit was enlightening and touching, as Khalid and Lannie learned about the significant impact of the food program there. The teachers shared that the children tend to eat more on Mondays, indicating they have less to eat at home over the weekends. This insight highlighted the program’s crucial role in the lives of these children and their families.

 

Additionally, they were informed about a recent improvement made possible by VES’s investment of just under $2000 USD. This funding was used to construct a large roof over the courtyard, a change that has greatly benefited the kindergarten. The new roof allows the children to play and eat in a shaded area, protected from the intense heat and heavy rain typical of the local weather. This simple yet effective solution has also helped prevent rainwater from entering the classrooms, creating a better learning environment for the children. This visit offered Khalid and Lannie a deeper understanding of the tangible differences their efforts and contributions were making in the community.

 


 

Tue, Jan 09 // Local News

The following day, Mr Tung shared with us exciting news. Our groundbreaking ceremony had been picked up by the local media. We were featured in Giáo Dục và Thời Đại, an online news publication. The PDT felt honoured to receive recognition and to have our efforts highlighted. This coverage not only acknowledged our work but also helped to spread the word about the importance of our project, furthering our reach and impact. Lan’s parents and family in Vietnam couldn’t be prouder!

 


 

Sun, Feb 04 // The Plaque

Tung sent us a draft design of the plaque that will be placed on one of the library’s entrance walls. He asked if we would be interested in touching it up and giving it some PD design love.

Of course, we’d love to!

 


 

Wed, Apr 17 // Reunion in Da Nang

After many destinations and many flights, I finally landed in Da Nang at 9 p.m., exactly as scheduled. What a wonderful surprise to be greeted by Carin Holroyd from VES and Tung Hoan from Pacific Links Foundation. It was a lovely reunion with Tung, and it was a pleasure to finally meet Carin in person!

 


 

Thu, Apr 18 // Drinks in Đa Krông District

8 am // Meet Carin, Tung, and the rest of the gang to head to Đa Krông District, Quảng Trị. A 4-hour drive, without any breaks. “What’s there?” you ask. Another project Carin has been working on is a new primary school opening.

 

2 pm // The opening ceremony was heartwarming. There were three performances by the kids—afterwards, a few speeches, photos, and an early dinner together. There was a giant feast; local devices ranged from fried chicken and fish stew to various locally grown fruits and vegetables. And, of course, lots of different homemade wines. Between the non-profit team, school teachers, and government officials, I could swear there was a conspiracy to get Carin and me drunk!

 

7 pm // We finally arrived at our hotel after a full day out in the heat. I decided to walk around town and look for some local dishes. I found a place a few steps from our hotel specializing in Miến Gà. I ordered a bowl and dived in. It was absolutely delicious.

 

 

Sitting across from me were six local officials in army green uniforms also enjoying bowls of Miến Gà and a pitcher of lager. I said hello in my broken Viet. They asked where I was from. “Canada.” Before leaving, one of the gentlemen came by to shake my hand and say, “Thank you.”

On my way back to the Green Hotel, I decided to grab a bottle of water. I noticed a little boy and his family sitting inside the residential area of the convenience store. In front of the little boy was a birthday cake. I asked if it was his birthday. The lady said yes. I gave him $1M Dong as a birthday gift. They were very happy, not so much because of the money, but the gesture. They invited me in to join for cake and food. I said “thank you, but I have to get back.” They were sweet.

 


 

Fri, Apr 19 // The Big Day!

7 am // Early in the morning, we gathered for a traditional Vietnamese breakfast: phở gà. A big highlight was that Mr Phong, Lan’s uncle, joined us. Of course, there were lots of hugs and catching up. Mr Phong’s diligent work was instrumental in supplying the new library with books. He managed to secure over 1,200 children’s books and arrange their delivery to the new library, a testament to his invaluable contribution.

 

8:30 am // After breakfast, we visited a local school to look at potential future projects. The children were absolutely adorable and very polite. When I entered a classroom, the children stood up in unison and greeted me in sync.

 

 

10 am //Finally, we arrived at the location. What a beautiful sight! The children sat patiently in rows, waiting for the show to start. We made our rounds to say hello to the principal, school teachers, and the many government officials from the province.

The library opening ceremony was a vibrant celebration of Vietnamese culture. The children, divided into two groups, danced to traditional songs. Mr Tung performed a traditional song, which definitely captivated the audience! Mr. Phong (Lannie’s uncle) was honoured for his contributions to the library, receiving a certificate and gifts. The official opening was marked by a ribbon-cutting event, which included Mr Phong, Mr Tung, Carin, and myself. I also had an opportunity to speak on stage. I thanked everyone, including our Pixel Dreams community, my wife, Lannie, and her wonderful family, who have made me fall in love with Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.

 

The celebration continued with more gift-giving. Carin and I joked about how much our Vietnamese friends like to give gifts and how we have to plan in advance to navigate the overage in our baggage allowance on the flights back!
 

11 am // Finally, we were on our way to see the library. But before entering, we took part in the plaque reveal. It looked amazing, just the way we designed and imagined it. Entering the library was surreal. I saw how Lan’s little dream of helping kids in Vietnam turned into something real and tangible, benefiting children for many generations to come.

 

 

12 pm // Post-ceremony, we were invited to a little floating restaurant on a river in the mountains, where we enjoyed delicious food and drank a lot of beer! We celebrated the event’s success with cheers and laughter, looking ahead to the future.

 

 


 

 

Thank you

Thank you, thank you, everyone involved. Our little PD community has done something big and magical. And even though we may not see it or often remember it from afar, it is real. The benefits the children will get from having a library are real. And the impact on thousands of children over the next decade and beyond is real.

Little Dreams. Big Impact.
On behalf of the Pixel Dreams Team.

 


 

The Author