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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs