Room to Read, Room to Grow


In 1998, John J. Wood was an employee of Microsoft, and a successful one at that. Until a chance encounter whilst on sabbatical hiking in Nepal led him to a village school and the empty library inside it.

A year later, Wood had left his job with Microsoft, founded the charity Room to Read, and returned to that same Nepalese village with 3,000 books to fill their library. Since then the charity has opened 15,000 libraries across ten Asian and African countries. In that time Room to Read has grown from one man’s idea into a network spanning 53 cities around the globe, and involving 10,000 volunteers.

The charity has also expanded from the original idea of creating libraries for students in developing areas, and now takes a broader approach towards education. 1,600 schools have been opened by Room to Read, as well as 850 children’s books published, and an additional program has enrolled 20,000 girls in an education program.

Wood credits the success of these programs with community involvement. Too often international charities fall into the trap of delivering a number of items as ‘gifts,’ be they clothing or food or tools, and then simply leaving. Without investing the recipients in the process, these items become mere handouts and are often wasted, misused, or can lead to a dependency on foreign assistance. With Room to Read, the charity merely operates as the catalyst. The communities are responsible for contributing land and labor for the projects, as well as teachers and librarians to operate the schools. With community involvement so central in the initial stages, the locals become invested in the program, and the projects tend to be better sustaining.

Already, Room to Read has reached millions of children and improved their education. The goal for the program is to have reached 10 million students by 2020. And as Wood says: “Educated people work their way out of poverty, and educated people have much more stable societies. So if you get education right, you get every other issue right.”

The ultimate goal, perhaps closer to fruition than commonly understood, is universal education. $5000 can open a school library that serves 400 students, and only $250 is needed to enroll a child in school for a year. These prices are worth it. As Wood points out, the small price for an education allows a person to make their own way out of poverty, and can be much more significant than aid provided later to the uneducated remaining in poverty.

– David Wilson

Source: New York Times
Photo: Juned


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