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

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' 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.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid