Where life's an open book

Updated: 2011-09-06 07:58

By Li Xinzhu (China Daily)

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 Where life's an open book

Left: A brief introduction of a "human book" at the August session of Living Library, used to attract "readers". Right: "Human book", Wang Leijun, shares his story with other participants. [Photos by Yong Kai / China Daily]

The non-profit project, Living Library, presents humans as 'books' to inspire, overcome prejudices and break barriers between people. Li Xinzhu reports.

On a rain-drenched afternoon in late August, Wang Leijun is telling his life story in a canteen of a residential block in Shanghai's Minhang district.

Wang, a 29-year-old freelance documentary director and volunteer worker from Henan province, is one of six participants of Living Library, a project aimed at dispelling prejudice by opening up "human books" - like Wang - to "readers".

Wang was born in an isolated and p

oor village of Henan province. Aged 19, his parents tried to force him to marry a neighborhood girl, so he ran away.

He then took on odd jobs such as dishwasher and bar tender, before ending up as a volunteer helping HIV/AIDS patients at a Hong Kong-based charity organization in Shanghai.

"I help sex workers," he tells a group of six women in their early 20s, around his table.

"Most sex workers suffer from discrimination and disease," he says. "If they get pregnant or become ill, I take them to cheap hospitals for treatment and advise them to use condoms to prevent AIDS."

"I have finally found my calling," Wang adds. "Everyone should think carefully and find his or her own calling in life. Life is not only about earning money but also about fulfilling your dreams.

"My next goal is to make an award-winning documentary about a monk."

Living Library is inspired by a similar event that was held in Denmark in 2000. The founder of its China version is 29-year-old Ding Fei, from Xianyang in Shaanxi province. She used to work for Non-profit Incubator, a Shanghai-based NGO that supports charity foundations, among others.

Ding once carried out a project that brought together youths to listen to the stories of elderly folk, in an attempt to break barriers between generations.

"Then I found that barriers exist not just between generations, but even between people of the same generation," she says.

Ding's 23 "human books" include a Chinese-American from the United States who always asks why before doing anything, and a teacher from an English training center for children. "All I look for is a unique life experience and a positive attitude to life," Ding says. "It is about telling (the story of one's) life, so the 'readers' feel involved."

The August session of Living Library was the sixth since it started in this year.

"Readers" can first check the content of the "human books" online before registering their attendance. Every "reading" takes more than an hour, with the first 20 minutes devoted to the story telling, with the rest reserved for interactions.

"I wondered if her story could help solve my current confusions," says 20-year-old Han Yuanyuan, an intern from Henan province who chose the "human book" titled Ordinary Boldness. It is about how 30-year-old Li Mailei dealt with several challenges such as illness, a sudden halt to her education, career bottlenecks and the death of loved ones.

"I am facing a lot of challenges now," Han says. "I am hoping her experiences will give me courage."

Says Bian Dandan, a 28-year-old insurance agent, who attended the May Living Library session: "I used to think that non-profit work was meant for celebrities to show off and was surprised to learn that these people were sharing their experiences without any profit to themselves.

"Their confidence and positive attitude to life has inspired me a lot," she adds.

"I felt more like I had made friends rather than just having 'read a book'."


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