In early December, Huzhu Rainbow Culture Center (Rainbow Center), with support from EF’s China Program, opened community reading rooms in three small villages in northwestern China. Each reading room contains more than 2,000 books that villagers may borrow free of charge. None of the villages previously had public libraries. The reading rooms provide crucial public space in remote villages for citizens to read, meet and discuss affairs. This spring the Rainbow Center plans to organize book clubs, sponsor a reading competition and use the reading rooms to hold discussions on community issues.

Western China is not known for its spirit of volunteerism or community-level activism. Nonetheless, as the reading rooms were set up, villagers grew increasingly engaged and volunteered to paint and decorate the reading rooms. Village residents also unloaded and unpacked books as they arrived.

“I have never seen villagers so engaged in any community activity,” said one surprised local elder.

Rainbow Center staff praised the project: securing space and purchasing books forged new relationships between people who do not normally interact or work together.