News / USA

Former Microsoft Exec Brings Books to World's Poorest Children

Children in Bangladesh with books supplied by Room to Read. (Room to Read)
Children in Bangladesh with books supplied by Room to Read. (Room to Read)
Jan Sluizer
— Nearly eight hundred million people in this world are illiterate, most of them in developing countries. Two-thirds are women and girls.

A former Microsoft executive, who hopes to put a dent in those numbers, has opened 1,650 schools and 15,000 libraries in some of the world’s poorest communities.

“The thing I learned at Microsoft was that bold goals attract bold people," said John Wood, founder of the Room to Read campaign. "From the very beginning, I said Room to Read’s goal was to reach 10 million children around the world in the poorest countries.”

In 1998, on a three-week vacation trek in Nepal, Wood, then a Microsoft executive, met a local headmaster who invited him to visit his school in a remote mountain village. The experience changed Wood’s life.

“This headmaster has 450 students at the school, but he didn’t have any books," Wood said. "He had a library that was completely empty.”
Room to Read founder John Wood reads with a girl in Nepal. (Andrea McTamaney)Room to Read founder John Wood reads with a girl in Nepal. (Andrea McTamaney)
x
Room to Read founder John Wood reads with a girl in Nepal. (Andrea McTamaney)
Room to Read founder John Wood reads with a girl in Nepal. (Andrea McTamaney)

Wood promised to fill the library shelves and returned to the village a year later with a team of yaks carrying bags filled with 3,000 books. And that was just the start.

Wood retired from Microsoft and used some of his personal wealth to start Room to Read. The not-for-profit organization is based on the belief that world change begins with educated children. Today, the nonprofit operates in 10 countries across Asia and Africa.

“It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished. We’ve built a world-class organization that’s really a thought-leader on solutions for education in the developing world,” said Erin Ganju, Room to Read’s co-founder and CEO.  

While global literacy is its primary goal, gender equality is just as important. To help girls empower themselves, Room to Read funds a long-term girls’ education program.

“It really focuses on not only keeping girls in school longer, through the end of secondary school, but helps support them holistically," Ganju said. "We bring female mentors into the communities that act as role models for the girls and we provide them with life skills workshops after school, where they learn critical skills such as goal-setting, leadership skills, problem-solving and they really become different.”

Wood believes the key to the program’s success is local involvement.  While Room to Read donates money and provides books, communities donate land, parents contribute labor to build the school, and the country’s ministry of education agrees to pay salaries for the teachers and librarians.

Room to Read has also set up local printing plants that produce culturally-relevant children’s books in bright, appealing colors. They are written in native tongues by local authors and illustrated by local artists.   

By the end of 2013, Room to Read will have published 1,000 original titles in over 20 languages, according to Wood.

“I often joke that Room to Read is the biggest children’s publisher you’ve never heard of because your kids probably are not reading in the languages that we’re publishing in," he said. "But those children in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, South Africa, they deserve to have books in their mother tongue just as kids here in America do.”

Agnes, a Room to Read teacher in Zambia who also runs the library, is proud to say the literacy at her school has improved.

“I’m happy for that and that is why I can’t let it go," Agnes said. "I have to work hard and make sure that every pupil can benefit from the library.”

Room to Read’s biggest challenge is overwhelming demand. Hundreds of communities have asked for literacy programs, according to Wood, who regards these requests as lost opportunities.

“What drives me is really the idea of our strong local teams at Room to Read should not be in the business of saying ‘no’ or ‘not yet.’   They should be in the business of saying ‘yes,’" said Wood, who recently published his second book about the program, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy. "Yes to your community having literacy programs. Yes to your girls being empowered by education. Yes to every child having a place in a school that is well-run and has really good teachers and I am not going to give up on that goal.”

One measure of Room to Read’s success is that it will accomplish Wood’s goal of reaching 10 million kids by 2015, five years earlier than planned.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Harris W. Gbahn from: Liberia
May 08, 2013 7:06 PM
You're wholeheartedly invited in Liberia where our children are day dreaming educationally.

In Response

by: yuenana from: CHINA
May 09, 2013 6:25 AM
I will have a study

In Response

by: nana from: China
May 09, 2013 6:19 AM
I will have a study after graducating

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid