Nicholas Kristof has an excellent piece in NYT about Room to Read, an organization I am deeply committed to and believe in. I've recently started volunteering with the LA Chapter of Room to Read and have been struck by how difficult it is to convince writers, readers and booklovers to donate funds so this organization can continue to do the amazing work Kristof highlights.
In part, I get it. If you are passionate about building a library, you may want to build that library with your own hands. (Despite the fact that employing locals to do this and embrace what it means has a proven record of long term success for said libraries and communities.) If you care about children reading, you want to personally hand them a book and see the smiles on their faces. You want to contribute in a very tangible way that yields immediate results...for you. In our age of want it good, want it now, 30 minutes or less...I understand why this is the often unintentional desire: to feel good about doing good RIGHT NOW. In the moment.
Yet Room to Read needs a different kind of volunteer. A different kind of donor. Someone who is down for waiting to see results and understands those results may be much greater for the waiting. For the patience. For the long term vision vs. the short term smiles of handing out a book or two.
I've never been one to do things the easy way (friends and family, I feel you) and so perhaps it makes perfect sense that Room to Read is the organization that I've chosen to focus on and invest my personal time in. I won't give you the hard sell, because Kristof's piece does that quite beautifully. What I will say is that I'm quite tired of everyone in the bookish industry talking a big game about getting more people to read, but never really following that up with action. What good is all our talk of truly defining "social reading" or building the most beautiful digital books or creating easy publisher workflows if only a few thousand American readers benefit? Room to Read represents a powerful shift away from talking and is very much about the doing.
- Can you imagine the impact of 12,000 libraries built?
- Can you imagine the power of 1,500 new schools?
- What must it be like to finally read a book written in your own language?
- What is the power of keeping thousands of girls in school who would otherwise drop out?
Here are a few quotes from Kristof's piece I'm compelled to share to paint the picture:
"There are no books for kids in some languages, so we had to become a self-publisher,” Wood explains. “We’re trying to find the Dr. Seuss of Cambodia.” Room to Read has, so far, published 591 titles in languages including Khmer, Nepalese, Zulu, Lao, Xhosa, Chhattisgarhi, Tharu, Tsonga, Garhwali and Bundeli.
The cost per girl for this program is $250 annually. To provide perspective, Kim Kardashian’s wedding is said to have cost $10 million; that sum could have supported an additional 40,000 girls in Room to Read.
“I get frustrated that there are 793 million illiterate people, when the solution is so inexpensive,” Wood told me outside one of his libraries in the Mekong. “If we provide this, it’s no guarantee that every child will take advantage of it. But if we don’t provide it, we pretty much guarantee that we perpetuate poverty.”