Issue 14, February 2012
Message From Our Team


Dear Friends,

From San Francisco to Saigon, London to Lusaka, every day Room to Read teams on the ground are finding better ways to work—ensuring that we meet the needs of each community in the most effective way possible by forging ground-breaking solutions to some of the world’s seemingly intractable problems.

Last year we finished strong. Our programs were recognized by industry leaders and in the media for their success in providing more than six million children with the opportunity to go to school, read a book, gain life skills and discover a world beyond the reaches of their imaginations. We are ready to build on that momentum.

In this newsletter, you will read about how technology giant Cisco, college students in Canada and a pack of Asian elephants are all helping Room to Read work smarter in 2012. You will also get a sneak peek into our upcoming launch in Tanzania, and find out what we are doing differently as we enter our tenth country.

Fueled by the same passion for innovation and start-up mentality that started Room to Read, we as an organization are more committed than ever to investing in the systems, people and technology that will amplify our impact. We want to see millions more girls and boys across the developing world learn to read, write and express themselves in their own languages. We want them to have a safe and friendly space to learn and play. With your help, these children will have that chance and with it the power to rewrite the future—not only for themselves, but for their families and entire communities.

Onward and upward,

John Wood
Founder & Board Co-Chair

This year, Room to Read is launching in our tenth country: Tanzania. We are scaling our programs to serve more communities than ever with improved school infrastructure, more libraries, high-quality children’s books, more child-centered teaching, and a more level playing field for girls. Help us stay on track to reach 10 million children by 2015.

Make a gift today »


In Case You Missed It: A New Look for the Room to Read Website

We recently gave the Room to Read website an update, making the information you want about our programs and the countries where we work easier to access than ever before. We also added tons of new videos and photos so you can have a closer look at our work. Take a look, and let us know what you think:

Our Programs | Where We Work | Get Involved | About Us

A New Year, a New Country: Announcing the Launch of Our Programs in Tanzania

As we start a new year, Room to Read is excited to announce that we will begin programmatic operations in Tanzania in 2012! Having laid the foundation last year, with the hiring of Country Director Theodory Mwalongo and several other key staff members, as well as the beginning of baseline assessments and site selection, we are ready this year to begin implementing our Girls’ Education, School Construction, Book Publishing and School Library programs in the country.

We will also begin planning for the launch of our Reading & Writing Instruction program through a unique partnership with Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development—East Africa, who has agreed to provide teacher training and capacity building in Room to Read schools, which will be coupled with our commitment of ongoing classroom support.

This is the first time in Room to Read’s 12-year history that the organization will launch all five of our core programs at the outset, and by doing so we hope to deepen our initial impact in Tanzania’s impoverished communities. Currently, literacy rates in Tanzania at the end of primary school hover around 68 percent in the country’s official language, Kiswahili, with girls far more likely to fall below passing grades than their male peers. Overcrowding in classrooms is also a major concern, with student/teacher ratios of up to 100:1.

Learn more about our plans for Tanzania»

Innovative Partnership Brings Variety to Library Shelves in Cambodia

Ever since the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia’s education and publishing industries, the country has struggled to provide its youth with adequate reading material to support the habit of reading among primary school children.

After launching in Cambodia 10 years ago, Room to Read began to work in tandem with the Ministry of Education to assess the needs of early grade readers in the country and supplement what books are currently available. In doing so, we began to notice a lack of variety in Khmer-language books, particularly with regard to those that introduce scientific thinking.

Our local team immediately snapped into action, working with long-time corporate supporter, Scholastic. Together, Scholastic and the Room to Read Cambodia staff identified a number of books that could effectively be translated into Khmer, and open up the minds of primary school children across Cambodia to the principles of social and applied sciences. After securing the necessary copyright approvals, the team then worked with the Department of Primary Education to ensure that the new materials would complement the government curriculum.

“Only one textbook is not sufficient for students to gain a foundation in science,” said H.E. Im Sithy, Cambodia’s Minister of Education, who unequivocally endorsed the initiative. “A love of reading helps encourage not only critical thinking, but also boosts writing skills among the country’s youth.”

Starting in 2012, the 70 books identified will be carefully translated and produced by our Book Publishing team, and distributed to schools and libraries across Cambodia—adding much-needed variety to the available reading material.

Learn more about our Book Publishing program»


From Nepal to New York City

Suma Tharu, one of our Girls' Education scholars from Nepal, has been invited to perform a song about her struggle to achieve an education at the Women in the World 2012 Summit in New York City. The conference—including her performance—will be broadcast online March 8-10. Watch it live or see our website for details.

Our Chapters

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:

  • Melbourne: February 25
  • Los Angeles: February 26
  • London: February 28 & March 20
  • Singapore: March 5 & 6
  • Canberra: March 8
  • Hong Kong: March 8
  • New Jersey: March 9
  • Perth: March 10
  • Zurich: March 12
Get more details about our upcoming events »

Students Across Canada Camp-Out for a Cause

It’s not uncommon for students to complain that heavy course-loads dictate that they “live in the library,” but this January several groups of university students across Canada decided to take the phrase to its logical extreme—all in the name of literacy.

It was the latest installment of “Live-In for Literacy,” an annual event put on by DREAM (Discovering the Reality of Educating All Minds), an organization from Queen’s University. What began in 2006 as one student group camping out in tents at their school library for a week to raise funds for Room to Read has now developed into a coast-to-coast coordinated effort involving 10 schools: Laurentian University at Georgian, Laurentian University at Sudbury, McMaster University, Memorial University, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto at St. George, York University and—of course—Queen’s University.

“We believe that everyone has the right to be equally educated, and we want to open the eyes of our colleagues and peers,” say DREAM organizers Nitasha Sarin and Kat Manica. “As university students we have had the privilege of education, and we want to share that access to knowledge with others around the world.”

DREAM has now raised over $100,0000 for our work—establishing 14 libraries in Nepal and India, supporting a computer lab in Cambodia and publishing over 10,000 local-language children’s books to date.

Learn more about what students can do to support our work»

Cisco Systems Provides WebEx Licenses to Help Room to Read Work Smarter Worldwide

Between our global headquarters in San Francisco, California, seven international fundraising offices, more than 50 volunteer chapters and 10 program countries, communications at Room to Read can be complicated. At least, that was the case until we joined forces with Cisco Systems.

By donating 300 licenses for its popular virtual conferencing service, Cisco WebEx, the technology giant has allowed Room to Read to communicate with local staff, our board of directors, external stakeholders and our global chapter network more seamlessly than ever before.

“WebEx has revolutionized communication for the global development team,” says Jayson Morris, Deputy Chief Development Officer. “We have had participants from India, South Africa, New York, Washington DC, and London join calls on a regular basis, including strategic planning, brainstorming and updates from other departments or consultants.”

Chief Talent Officer Pierre Towns agrees, noting that the use of Cisco WebEx has allowed the global HR team to avoid some of the travel costs normally associated with managing a geographically-dispersed team: “It is an important tool that allows me to meet with the team and share materials real-time without having to travel to each location.”

By contributing software licenses to help Room to Read shore-up its communications channels, Cisco joins an invaluable group of corporate supporters that help us direct the greatest possible percentage of funds to where they can have the greatest effect: in deserving communities across Asia and Africa.

Learn more about our Corporate Partnerships»

Elephant Mobile Library Supports Education and Conservation in Laos

“Elephants are coming! Elephants are coming!” Hundreds of young voices shout in chorus, the excitement palpable. But these are not just any elephants—they are four-legged libraries!

In Laos, the Asian elephant has long been a national symbol. Since ancient times, the loveable giants have been extremely useful—from battlefields to agricultural fields, but unfortunately, they have now found a new home on the endangered species list.

In an effort to both increase public awareness of the elephants’ plight and support literacy in rural communities, Room to Read Laos teamed up with two other local non-governmental organizations (Action with Lao Children and ElefantAsia) as well as the local government to implement the first ever Elephant Mobile Library.

The perfect mode of book transport for remote communities, the Elephant Mobile Library has been an instant hit. Stocked with 640 Lao-language children’s books (many featuring elephants) and supplementary educational materials, the library’s maiden voyage included four primary schools that serve more than 1,000 students in the northern province of Xayabouly.

Greeted at the school gates, the elephants arrive at each destination to find scores of children already lined up—eager to get a closer look at their unusual guests. With bright eyes and wide smiles, the youngest students strain to wait their turns, bouncing up and down with excitement. Our team was surprised when none of the students seemed afraid of the giant creatures, carefully approaching the elephants one-by-one, and accepting a book from the “librarians” seated atop them.

The day’s events continued with literacy games, songs, storytelling circles and comprehension exercises lead by the Room to Read team, all with a focus on elephant conservation and what individuals can do to help these creatures thrive. It was clear from the laughter ringing through the air and enthusiastic participation that for these young readers, the Elephant Mobile Library is a welcomed addition to the curriculum.

Learn more about our work in Laos»