Issue 8, September 2010
Message From Our Team


Dear Friends,

Blaring vuvuzelas got the world’s attention as South Africa proudly hosted the World Cup earlier this summer and all of us in southern Africa happily shared our beautiful country with football fans worldwide. We introduced them to our customs, our hospitality, to Ubuntu (humanity and compassion) and to how the beautiful game of football is played.

But the World Cup was not only about kicking the Jabulani balls – also on the field were issues of fair play, racial and gender equality, and education. As we mark International Literacy Day on September 8, I am extremely proud that this newsletter is focused on our work in Africa, where these same issues play pivotal roles in our programs.

Following UNESCO’s Education for All initiative, which challenged all UN-member nations to ensure that all children have access to schools by 2015, African countries placed education as a top priority. However, in areas where resources are strained, translating a desire to educate into the ability to do so effectively has been a challenge – which is where Room to Read’s important work fits in.

Our local teams in South Africa and Zambia are establishing libraries, publishing much-needed and award-winning children’s books in local languages, and, in Zambia, providing a hand up for hundreds of girls through our Girls’ Education program. Partnering with government and local communities, Room to Read is bringing education to the children of southern Africa and, in doing so, paving a smoother path for future generations.

Best regards,

Wiseman Ngwata
Regional Director
Room to Read Southern Africa Region

In honor of International Literacy Day on September 8, Room to Read and Twitter have partnered for a unique social media campaign to spread awareness about the critical issue of worldwide illiteracy. To become part of this campaign join us through @roomtoread or and help us spread “illiterate” tweets and Facebook posts so we collectively recognize – even for a moment – the everyday challenges 776 million people face and what it would be like to grow up on the wrong side of that statistic.

Read more about this initiative »

First Ladies Times Two

When the First Lady of Zambia accepted the invitation to publicly visit Room to Read Zambia’s booth at the widely attended Agricultural and Commercial Show of Zambia (ACSZ), the team was ecstatic. But when the First Lady asked if she could bring along her friend, Mrs. Mutharika, the First Lady of Malawi, the cheers were heard from Lusaka to San Francisco!

The ACSZ is Zambia’s premiere event which allows local and international organizations to showcase their contributions to the nation’s development. The theme of the 84th annual ACSZ was “Sustainable Development,” which prompted the Room to Read Zambia team to put together materials and displays illustrating how the organization uses community and partner engagement as tools for program sustainability. On a whim, the team sent a hopeful invitation to the First Lady, asking her to read a story to the gathered children. To their surprise, her positive response came quickly – and with the added bonus of a second honored guest!

It was Mrs. Murtharika who provided an animated reading of Issa and Anima, captivating a large number of children and their parents. Following the reading, the First Ladies joined in a short Q&A session and were then treated to a reading of a student-written poem, entitled “Mother.” After the excitement of the First Ladies’ visit, the Room to Read booth was the destination of many visitors, where children played various reading games and community members learned more about Room to Read’s work.

Learn more about our programs in Zambia »

Deep Dives into Room to Read

Want to know how we evaluate our programs and how we measure success? Interested in learning a specific country’s accomplishments in 2009? Curious how we achieved both fiscal efficiency and revenue growth?

For a deep dive into all things Room to Read, we invite you to view two documents recently posted to our website: the 2009 Annual Report and the 2009 Monitoring Report.

Stand Back for a Yak Attack!

He’s big and hairy – but kids worldwide love him, and so do we! Zak the Yak, the whimsical beast from the imagination of Room to Read Founder, John Wood, made his literary debut this summer in “Zak the Yak With Books on His Back.” This is Wood’s first children’s book, but rumor has it Zak is planning new adventures in other Room to Read countries. Written in Seussical rhyme and illustrated by noted Nepali artist, Abin Shrestha, the book follows Zak and his two friends, Manju and Arul, as they deliver a yak-load of children’s books to a remote village in Nepal.

Room to Read’s corporate partner, The Republic of Tea, has generously underwritten the printing of “Zak the Yak,” which means that 100% of the proceeds will help support Room to Read’s Local Language Publishing program. Order your copy from The Republic of Tea website today and introduce Zak to all the special children in your life so they can help other children around the globe. And watch for more information about a special line of Zak the Yak tea that’s soon to come!

Learn more about Zak the Yak »

Chapters are comprised of individuals who have made a long-term volunteer commitment to promoting Room to Read within their communities, and we depend on their network to achieve our fundraising goals. For more information about Room to Read events hosted by chapters in your area, we encourage you to regularly visit our events page.

Join us for events scheduled in:

Sydney: September 9 – Indian Summer Drinks
Brisbane: September 9 – Wine-tasting
Sydney: September 16 – Ten by Ten
New York: September 22 – Toast to Room to Read’s Year of Tens
Atlanta: September 25 – Caterpillar Crawl 5K Run
Calgary: October 1 – Girls’ Night Out: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Calgary: October 16 – Turn the Page: A Night for World Change
San Diego: October 21 – Global Runway to Literacy

Learn more about our chapter network »


Help us publish a children’s book in South Africa – all donations matched. For thousands of children in South Africa “Unjani?” (which means “How are you?” in Xhosa) will soon translate into a colorful new children’s book. Throughout September, your donation will be matched up to $25,000 thanks to the generosity of the Aall Foundation. With your help, we can publish “Unjani?” and soon have it on the shelves of libraries in South Africa.



Meet Mary Tsebe, Regional Program Director, Southern Africa

Dr. Mary Tsebe plays a crucial role for Room to Read in southern Africa, particularly as our work there begins to expand. In her pivotal role as Regional Program Director for southern Africa, Mary brings an extensive educational background designing and implementing high-impact literacy projects for several non-governmental organizations in South Africa. Mary holds several bachelors’ degrees, as well as a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. In the following conversation, Mary gives her insights on the direction Room to Read is taking to improve the literacy rates of children in southern Africa.

Q. Mary, you’ve been a teacher, trainer and administrator before coming to Room to Read. As Room to Read southern Africa now begins to pilot literacy programs to complement our library, school and book programs, what do you believe are the most important elements for program design?

One major area we really need to think about is professional development for teachers. Teachers are the keys to the success of our literacy pilots. Let us prepare them well and offer effective on-site support throughout to enhance classroom instruction.

The other area is supplementing existing material or providing relevant instructional materials. In southern Africa, there are few guidelines on teaching literacy. We will need to support teacher development in this area and then provide the materials in the language of instruction.

Q. Through UNESCO’s Education for All initiative, governments in Africa are committed to educating its children, but they may not have the resources, teachers or infrastructure to implement education programs. How does Room to Read fit in – and how will Room to Read be supported by the government?

The government in South Africa has reacted very positively to our literacy pilots. In Mpumalanga in particular, the provincial department of education and the district managers have both volunteered to be part of the working committee to develop literacy pilots. We’re also working with curriculum advisors to monitor our program implementation and with teachers in those pilot schools who are being granted time to attend the training and workshops that are arranged by Room to Read.

In Zambia, we have the support and blessings of the Minister of Education. Negotiations for areas of responsibility are still taking place but the reaction to the move toward literacy enhancement has been welcomed by government.

Q. What excites you most about Room to Read’s new focus on literacy and your role in this new initiative?

We have ultimately hit the right note. Without the ability to read, children will not learn. I am excited about being part of an organization that will bring substantial change to millions of children by offering them the gift of books and skills for reading that book. I am excited in particular for Africa. It will change from a continent dimmed by poverty and illiteracy to a continent sparkling with light. Indeed, we are building reading communities.

We’re hiring! Learn about current career opportunities »

Nokia Conspiracy: Social Networking Meets Philanthropy

It was part theater, part computer game and part social networking – but the end result will be five very real Room to Read libraries in Zambia. Spearheaded by Nokia, “Conspiracy for Good,” an experiential philanthropic initiative, was the brainchild of Tim Kring, who bestowed super powers to ordinary people in his Emmy-Award winning television series, “Heroes.”

Since June, thousands of enthusiastic followers from 165 countries regularly logged on to to participate in the interactive mystery about a school library in the village of Chataika, Zambia, where a teacher named Nadirah went missing, a shipment of books was hijacked and a shady corporation was likely behind it all. The plot thickened and took a myriad of twists and turns as over 4,000 users followed along and uncovered clues online that furthered the narrative. Room to Read’s own John Wood even had a cameo part in the fun. The project required the creative efforts of 130 experts in the field and was an innovative blend of music, apps, mobile games, alternate reality gaming, live events and interactive theater.

True to Hollywood form, there was a happy ending: the teacher was found, as were the books – and, best of all, thanks to the generosity of Nokia, five real libraries in Zambia will be built and the shelves of the libraries will be filled with a variety of books, including some from a shipment of 10,000 books generously donated by the Pearson Foundation to our Zambia program.

In addition, one year of holistic education for 50 girls in Zambia will be fully funded through Conspiracy for Good’s partner donations.

Learn more about our corporate partners »


Fourteen-year-old Quentin Moropodi was acknowledged to be the fifth grade class bully at Khombindlela Primary School in South Africa. His teachers were challenged by his aggressive behavior and his lack of interest in school.

One day, during a teachers’ meeting, as they discussed Quentin and how best to handle him, the school librarian, Ms. Edith Shabangu, proposed trying to engage Quentin in the library. When Quentin took her up on her invitation to come inside the library to explore, an amazing thing happened – Quentin immediately fell in love with books and started spending many hours in the library, putting his energy into reading rather than toward troublesome behavior. Soon, his reading and comprehension skills improved, and teachers enjoyed having him in their classrooms.

Recently, when the library was remodeled, Quentin played a vital role in painting the South African national symbols on the walls and helping to make the library a more welcoming place – for himself and future students who will discover the power of books and learning.

Learn more about our Reading Room program »