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Room to Read's 'Literacy One Challenge' Takes Off!

September 26, 2007

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This fall students across the country are returning to school with new books and lesson plans for the coming semester. But what if there were no books and no opportunity for an appropriate education in sight? This is a reality for millions of children in the developing world, where educational resources are scarce and books simply do not exist. Today there are more than 770 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write*. The global literacy organization, Room to Read is determined to change these staggering statistics.

This month, Room to Read kicks-off the Literacy One Challenge, inviting students in the United States and Asia to make a difference first hand in conquering global illiteracy. With their entrepreneurial spirit and creative fundraising efforts students will raise funds to help provide books and educational opportunities for their peers in the developing world. The Literacy One Challenge commemorates Room to Read's 5000th library opening this November, while launching its rapid expansion goal to opening 10,000 new libraries by 2010.

Founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood, Room to Read provides educational infrastructure for children in the developing world, including establishing libraries, building schools, and supporting long-term scholarships for young girls. Wood, who will speak on international education at the Clinton Global Initiative this week in New York, left his high-powered career track to start the organization after trekking in Nepal and witnessing the disheartening lack of books in a rural school. He vowed to do something about it, and 7 years later, Room to Read has distributed over 3 million books, built over 287 schools, established 3,800 libraries, and put over 3,400 girls on long-term scholarships. John's vision has helped over 1.3 million children have access to enhanced educational infrastructure.

During the 2007-2008 school year, the Literacy One Challenge invites elementary, middle school and high school students throughout the country to raise funds in support of Room to Read's Local Language Publishing Program, which publishes books by local authors and artists relevant to the children's culture and language in developing countries. These books will include special dedications from students and schools that raise funds for the books.

The Literacy One Challenge is part of Room to Read's Students Helping Students program encouraging students, teachers and communities to take a stand against global illiteracy and the lack of educational opportunities in the developing world. Through a service-learning model, students learn about geography, language and culture of the countries in which Room to Read works, as well as cultivate leadership skills and entrepreneurial spirit through fundraising campaigns.

"The Literacy One Challenge is a great opportunity for students to show the world that youthful idealism, coupled with a passion for philanthropy, can help bring the lifelong gift of education to millions of children across the developing world," said John Wood, the Founder and CEO of Room to Read. "We hope to once again showcase the remarkable efforts of students taking action as part of our Students Helping Students program. Developed in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, the program empowered students from over 200 schools worldwide to take local and immediate action; they raised more than $500,000 with activities like read-a-thons, wristband campaigns, auctions, bike-a-thons, and lemonade stands. We are excited to once again see the creative and inspirational ways students will come on board for the Literacy One Challenge."

Response is already impressive for the Literacy One Challenge; within days of its launch, 11 schools in Hong Kong, and five schools in the U.S. have committed including: Brunswick School, (Greenwich, CT), Forest Hill Elementary (Campbell/San Jose, CA), Gig Harbor High School (Gig Harbor/Seattle), Indian Hill School (Chicago) and St. Francis High School (Mountain View, CA).

Room to Read is also taking its mission to the skies! This holiday season Cathay Pacific Airways, Room to Read and Scholastic Inc. are teaming up for the historic flight of Literacy One. A new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft will take-off from Boeing Airfield in Seattle and deliver a portion of the 400,000 donated English language books from Scholastic, across the Pacific to Room to Read libraries in Asia. Students representing the Literacy One Challenge will participate in ceremonies in Seattle and Hong Kong upon take-off and landing of the flight.

Throughout the campaign, the Room to Read website will offer fundraising updates, personal stories and advice on creative fundraising ideas from students. Awards for the challenge include "most funds raised" and other categories including "most creative" and "a little goes a long way." Winners will also be featured on Room to Read's website and the SHS newsletter and recognized at the Literacy One flight ceremonies.

Room to Read is currently establishing educational infrastructure in Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia.

John's recent memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World (Harper Collins 2006), which has been translated in 15 languages, traces the incredible journey of Room to Read from John's first book delivery in Nepal to the world class organization it is today.

For more information on and to get involved with the Literacy One Challenge, please visit

* UNESCO statistic 2007