I am semi-retired and have been searching for a good way to invest my extra time and energy – to help make this world a little better.
During my search, I read about John Wood and his journey to help create schools and libraries all over the world. His second book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy hit me hard, at just the right time in my life. This was the spark.
Then I came across another book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. (Yes, the Melinda Gates, now Melinda French Gates). My appreciation for the work of Room to Read deepened.
Both John Wood and Melinda French Gates presented a strong case for how access to education and books for young girls in developing countries is one of the best ways to lift whole communities out of poverty.
“When you send a girl to school, the good deed never dies. It goes on for generations, advancing every public good, from health to economic gain, to gender equality and national prosperity.” – Melinda French Gates
These powerful ideas make me want to help. And I want to help you help at least one young child with the gift of education. It is easy to do and I promise it will warm your heart.
THE FIRE – HOW I REALLY GOT HOOKED
First, I discovered a moving story about a Microsoft executive, John Wood, who came upon a school library in rural Nepal with no books in it – and no money to buy books for the children who attended the school. John describes his journey in the book I mentioned above, Creating Room to Read.
John grew up loving books and it broke his heart to see a school and a library, but no books for the children.
So John came back the next year and hand-delivered over 3,000 donated books to village schools in Nepal. The excitement and gratitude from the children, teachers and the community was overwhelming for him.
This profound experience inspired him to quit his job at Microsoft and start the international non-profit organization Room to Read. You can learn more about John’s Nepal adventure from his best-selling book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and his many videos and talks.
THEN THE FIRE REALLY GOT STOKED
This is a great story about the start of Room to Read – a tremendous achievement by John Wood and his co-founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.
But I was not totally sold – until I read about the next big step they took. For me, this really got the fire burning.
As they started to bring books to school libraries, and in many cases creating libraries where none existed, they found that there were almost no books written for young children in their own language. In many cases, no books had ever even been published. Almost none existed.
I was shocked when I read about this. And so were the Room to Read founders. I wanted to learn why.
The founders discovered that for many of the parents, in the low-income countries where Room to Read works, there is no money to buy books. What little money they have goes to food and basic necessities for survival. And because there are so few people to buy such books, almost none are written or published. There is no market for them.
To move past this big obstacle, the Room to Read founders decided to do the publishing themselves. No one else was doing this, so they jumped right in. This is what John Wood calls GSD or getting shit done. (Check out his funny and inspiring TED talk.)
Childhood educators know that local language books are necessary to help children develop the skills and habits of reading. As Erin Ganju said, “That’s how children learn to read – by starting with the language they hear spoken in their home environment.”
To get this publishing started, the founders knew they wanted to set up local people to create these books. First, they scouted for local talent and were surprised at the vigorous response. As John Wood wrote, “Once word got out that Room to Read was willing to pay local authors and artists, we had sixty-seventy manuscript submissions within the first month.”
The next step was to set up workshops to help budding authors and artists with training in writing, illustration and editing. Then the publishing program was off and running.
Co-founder Dinesh Shrestha described what happened: “We published fourteen books during the first two years: I was so so happy. In Nepal, we single-handedly created a market for children’s picture books. All those commercial publishers who didn’t agree with me are now producing similar books.”
John was just as excited. “Within three years, our teams in Cambodia, Laos, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam were producing more than a hundred new and original titles each year, using local authors and artists.” GSD can really make things happen.
This put me over the top. I am all in now.
AWARD WINNING BOOKS
And there is more good news. Books developed in partnership with Room to Read are regularly recognized for their superior quality, winning several national book awards.
In 2011, the UN acknowledged Room to Read’s contribution to children’s book publishing with the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.
In 2020, Room to Read was one of three Library of Congress Literacy Award winners.
WIN WIN WIN – FOR CHILDREN, TEACHERS AND COMMUNITY
Room to Read also supports the local publishing industry by producing those children’s books entirely in-country — purchasing materials locally and partnering with local printers.
By fostering local talents’ ability to create effective children’s books and by publishing them in-country, Room to Read is encouraging low-income regions to build their capacity to publish high-quality, local language children’s books on their own.
This is not just a win for children and teachers. This is a big win for the whole community.
A BIG WIN FOR TEENAGE GIRLS
And there is even more, much more. For example, Room to Read promotes gender equality through direct mentoring and support with their Girls Education Program.
After visiting a Room to Read school in Cambodia, Michelle Obama was so moved them she called them “role models of the world”. Here is a short video which shares stories from these role models.
Room to Read continues its incredible path forward under the leadership of CEO Dr. Geetha Murali. You can get a good sense of her vision and talents in a recent article she wrote for Forbes, entitled, Why Doing Good is Good Economics. Check it out and be inspired.
I could go on and on – and I will. Please check out my ongoing blog, A Warm Heart for many details and warm inspiration to come.
Until next time, let our warm hearts soar!
And thank you for caring that little bit extra – it really makes a big difference.