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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More