Issue 13, December 2011
Message From Our Team


Dear friends,

It’s hard to believe what a difference a year makes. I stepped up my involvement with Room to Read by becoming co-chair of its board of directors last January. Since then, we have established an additional 1,900 libraries, added 145 classroom blocks to overcrowded schools, achieved an incredible milestone with the distribution of our 10 millionth book and helped more than 13,000 girls get one year closer to their goal of completing secondary school. We have now served over six million children in nine countries across the developing world. These are all things that the global Room to Read team and you, our partners, should be incredibly proud of achieving.

More important than the numbers, though, are the individual children whose lives are forever changed because of the educational opportunities now available to them. Last year, I had a chance to visit a number of schools in Nepal and see our projects up close. I met our incredible team there and witnessed first-hand the positive impact that we are having on the lives of so many young people and their communities.

Every day, Room to Read is helping remove the barriers of illiteracy and gender inequality in education so that huge numbers of young people can reach their full potential. Seeing that happen reminds me of my own quest to obtain an education, and just how instrumental that education was to my success and personal fulfillment later in life. Room to Read has achieved unbelievable results in its first 11 years, but I know the best is yet to come. I am honored to be a part of that growth, and to use what I’ve learned in the business world to help make the organization stronger than ever.

We live in a world where 793 million people cannot read or write—nearly 70 percent of whom are women and girls. To me, those numbers represent an incredible opportunity to have a positive impact on the world around us, and I hope you will join me in doing everything we can to turn the tide.

On behalf of the entire Room to Read family, we thank you for your continued support of our work and wish you all the best this holiday season.

Warm regards,

Tim Koogle
Room to Read Board of Directors

Tim Koogle, Room to Read Board Co-Chair

Help us fulfill our wish list this holiday season. All gifts made now through December 31 will be matched up to
thanks to two generous Room to Read supporters!

In Case You Missed It: Room to Read Made The New York Times!

After visiting our programs in Vietnam, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof featured Room to Read's work in two recent editions of The New York Times.

Read the full articles »

Cause for Celebration: Marking the Distribution of our 10 Millionth Book

This holiday season, Room to Read has many reasons to celebrate, not least of which is the distribution of our 10 millionth children’s book. A ceremony was held at the library of Ngu Hiep 2 Primary School in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta on October 28 in honor of the momentous occasion, with founder and board co-chair John Wood in attendance.

“We are clearly not finished yet, as there are still hundreds of millions of children who deserve to go to school, become literate and develop a love of books and reading,” said John of the continued need for Room to Read’s work. “But I am thrilled to be in Vietnam celebrating such an important milestone.”

Like more than half of the books donated to date, the emblematic book, Floating Market, is a Room to Read original title. It is also a “big book,” of which we’ve printed many in Vietnam—designed to help teachers and librarians facilitate shared reading activities.

The commemorative ceremony was indeed a moment of reflection and pride for our hard-working team, but most of all it was about the children we serve. The day’s festivities included literacy games, story time and a workshop lead by one of our talented illustrators, and attended by a bustling crowd of enthusiastic young readers.

See photos of the ceremony on Flickr »

Lights, Camera, Action: Our First Ever (Mini) Film Festival

Last year, filmmaking duo James Connolly and Rachelle Escaravage visited Room to Read’s projects throughout Asia, and met the children and communities benefitting from our work. Those stories are now the subject of six mini-documentaries we released in October and November.

Watch all six for a closer look at our programs »

Local Language Books Garner National Awards in Cambodia

Room to Read is proud to announce two additions to our family of award-winning local language children’s books—the Khmer-language storybooks Help Me Find the Sun and The Snake Who Wants to Buy a Shoe. The winning titles were named “Best Children’s Book” and “Best Illustration”, respectively, by the International Board of Books for Young People (IBBY). The books were selected from a pool that includes all children’s literature in Cambodia since 2009.

Help Me Find the Sun teaches young readers about directions as they read about a game of hide-and-seek between a group of animals and the Sun; The Snake Who Wants to Buy a Shoe introduces simple math concepts through the story of its protagonist, Little Snake, and his quest to purchase an affordable shoe.

“Cambodia had to rebuild its education system from the ashes of a genocide that left only a handful of surviving writers and illustrators,” says Wilfredo Pascual, global program officer for Local Language Publishing. “Room to Read Cambodia’s achievement indicates that a new and bright page in their history is being turned.”

Learn more about our Book Publishing program »

Room to Read Vietnam Expands Reach to Northern Provinces

Back to school in Vietnam this September had a special meaning, as it marked the expansion of our flagship library program to the country’s northern provinces of Tuyen Quang and Thai Nguyen. For students in the chronically-underserved regions, this meant 20 brand new, brightly-colored libraries filled with engaging, age-appropriate children’s books to start the school year.

Despite great progress in other parts of the country—both rural and urban—northern Vietnam remains largely cut-off from the material resources and infrastructure needed to provide quality education. As a result, student enrollment and literacy rates in Tuyen Quang and Thai Nguyen provinces remain extremely low.

The newly-opened libraries will receive Room to Read’s standard three years of ongoing support to ensure success, but their positive impact on the communities they serve is already evident. Room to Read Vietnam held its first-ever “Family Reading Days” in the northern provinces in October, with participation from young readers, parents and grandparents from 20 primary schools. “The day was full of energy and laughter,” said Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy, Reading Room Program Officer for Vietnam, who noted that the successful events only underscored the need for Room to Read’s work in the region.

Thank You for Another Great Year!

Your support has helped more than six million children imagine a better, brighter future for themselves and their families, and develop the skills they’ll need to turn those dreams into reality.

Take a look »


Room to Read boasts chapters in 53 cities worldwide, and we anticipate that number to grow each year. To get involved with Room to Read in your community, find the chapter nearest you.

Join us for events scheduled in:

Sydney: February 4
Mumbai: March 3
Singapore: March 6

Get more details about our upcoming events »

Meet Heidi & Steve: The Newest Additions to our Management Team

Recently, Room to Read’s Management team has grown to include two new members—Heidi Peterson, chief development officer, and Steve Wisman, chief of international operations. We caught up with Heidi and Steve to find out what brought them to Room to Read, and how their first few months have been going.

What initially drew you to the field of international development?

Heidi Peterson: It all started when I was 16 and won a speech contest to attend the UN Pilgrimage for Youth, which brings together high school students from around the world to learn about the United Nations. Representing the state of Idaho at the event offered me a new understanding of economics, politics and international conflict. I understood for the first time that despite my own humble beginnings, I was in a better economic position than most of the world’s women and girls solely for having been born in the United States—especially with respect to educational opportunities.

In college, my study abroad experience in Quito, Ecuador allowed me to see the world’s inequities up close. I discovered that the lack of basic literacy for many indigenous women was a death sentence when it came to public health issues, and resolved then and there to use my education to serve marginalized and vulnerable people by supporting tangible solutions to poverty.

Steve Wisman: My path to international development began when I joined the Peace Corps. As a volunteer secondary-school teacher in Agadez, Niger, I learned that I was able to contribute to lives of young people who were less advantaged than me. The experience also helped me discover a love of working and living in an overseas environment. As a result, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in international economics and development at Georgetown University and to embark upon a career in international development.

Why Room to Read?

Heidi: I am a numbers person and I want to invest my time and energy where the impact is the greatest. When you’re speaking about solutions to global poverty, you have to look at where your dollar can reach the farthest. An extra year of secondary school can boost a women’s eventual wages 25 percent and universal literacy is an essential tool for breaking the cycle of poverty. It’s that simple.

Beyond its programmatic focus, Room to Read is a “best in class” organization, particularly insofar as its efficiency of operations is concerned. I was impressed by the organization’s focus not just on distributing books to marginalized populations, but rather on focusing kids, teachers, schools and whole communities on supporting the habit of reading.

Steve: I chose to work for Room to Read because I was deeply impressed by the commitment, desire, and success of the organization’s staff in bringing positive and practical change to lives of less-advantaged young people. As chief of international operations, my principal goal is to ensure through the effective provision of management, operations and administrative support, so that our programs are successful in achieving their literacy and girls’ education objectives.

How are things going so far?

Steve: Excellent. At all levels—global, regional and in-country—I have been extremely impressed with the care and attention the Room to Read staff have invested in making sure that I have been warmly welcomed and provided an in-depth orientation in the organization’s philosophy and ways of working.

Heidi: The dedication of the staff towards excellence is humbling and inspires me each day.

How has the education you received growing up affected your career path?

Heidi: I was raised by a single parent, Corlyss Peterson, who gave me the greatest gift of my life—she taught me never to be limited by my circumstances. That advice led me to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Boise State University in Political Science and a master’s degree in public administration from the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. There I was exposed to case studies on various international organizations and successful partnerships in the developing world. Now rather than simply reading about this work from the sidelines, I am playing a direct role. None of this would have been possible without basic literacy, higher education and fantastic teachers who encouraged me to strive forward.

Steve: My academic experience—at Claremont McKenna College and Georgetown University—along with the training I received as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger and a State Department Intern in Benin were critical to my ability to pursue my chosen career. I have always enjoyed being engaged in projects and programs that improve the lives of people less fortunate than me, and as a bonus it’s both fulfilling and fun at the same time.

Read Heidi and Steve’s full bios on our website »

Ms. Prameela Helps the Girls in Her Community Write Their Own Futures

“The mindset of parents who believe that girls should be kept at home and not educated is one of the biggest hurdles in the development of our society,” says Ms. Prameela, a social mobilizer for Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program in India.

As a health worker for many years, Ms. Prameela has dedicated her career to helping women and girls adopt a healthy lifestyle and find success. In her role as a social mobilizer in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, she is equal parts mentor and advocate.

Patient and determined, Ms. Prameela works closely with school officials and village residents to build awareness around the consequences of child labor and early marriage. She is always available to support her young scholars, but fosters a healthy sense of independence among them. “The key to charting a successful path for a girl is by transferring the decision-making ability to the girl herself,” she says.

It’s a philosophy that has already shown incredible impact. Last year, 32 percent of the girls in her district were below passing grades. That number has since been reduced to only four percent, with eight of the girls having earned an A+.

Despite the widespread success among her students, Ms. Prameela says her work is not without setbacks. She recalls one girl, Rangamma, who was married by her parents at just seven years old. “After she got married, it was a big blow to her self esteem,” says Ms. Prameela. “She was teased by classmates and began missing school.”

When Ms. Prameela saw how much the early marriage was affecting Rangamma’s attendance in school, she confronted the girl’s family. “I met with her parents, grandfather and husband many times to convince them to let Rangamma continue her studies,” she says of the ordeal. After much prodding, Rangamma’s family allowed her to return to school, but the work is not done as her attendance continues to fluctuate. “I explain to her family that education is the only way they can move ahead in life,” says Ms. Prameela. “Rangamma has her own dreams for her future and I hope she is able to achieve them.”