Room to Read Update!

Niko [Tomlinson, Midwest Senior Director] and I got to meet up with Dustin [Holland, Head of Acquisitions] and LPTZ (the Library Division) yesterday to see John Wood speak here in Minneapolis.  It was really awesome.  John Wood is a FUNNY guy, and handsome as heck, and he started Room to Read – very cool cat.  Very sincere cat.  He really believes in the mission of RTR.  He was discussing the ultimate dreams of the organization and said that anywhere there is illiteracy is where Room to Read eventually wants to be.  They are planning to expand farther into Africa this year and eventually, who knows, perhaps the whole globe will have RTR schools and libraries available.

Anyhoo, he gave a bunch of new RTR numbers that I thought I’d pass on.  I think a lot of this is available through their website, but why fish in a lake when you can aim in a barrel?* Exactly.

The Numbers

-110,000,000 kids aged 4-10 are not enrolled in school. (interesting point, if you lined all of these kids up and spaced them 1ft apart, they would stretch from Mpls, eastward across the Atlantic, across Europe, across Asia, across the Pacific, and all the way to California.

-800,000,000 people worldwide cannot read or write (that is ~1/7 of the population of the earth!)

-2/3 of both of the above categories are women (ouch, this sexist planet – John Wood, btw, is not sexist, he had a 2 minute rage on about the educational oppression of women and that so many women and men who live in a far more egalitarian society take it all for granted … I <3 him)

-In Cambodia, the ratio of boys to girls enrolled in secondary school is 3:1

The Tsunami

When the 2005 tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Room To Read had no team set up in the country.  The tsunami destroyed 250 schools in Sri Lanka alone.  John Wood and the RTR board had an emergency meeting, hired a team ASAP and within one year had rebuilt 39 new schools. Awesome.  Within two years, the number had shot to 89 since the tsunami.


So, RTR has a 12% overhead.  They keep their overhead so low by setting up fundraising posts all over the globe.  Volunteers in cities throughout the US, Europe and parts of Asia are constantly fundraising through word-of-mouth initiatives.  I believe he said that this accounts for 1/3 of the funding that Room To Read receives.  Neat!


-5,000 libraries built (in 2007, they opened 1,600 libraries!)

-444 schools built (and they’re planning to construct 250 more in 2008!)

-250 original children’s book titles published (To write these books, they find authors, illustrators, and editors in the country.  The first books were for Nepal, and when RTR began searching for authors they were told by numerous sources that they most likely wouldn’t find any, as children’s lit had never been present in the culture.  Soon after this, though, they found a group, the Nepal Children’s Literacy Initiative … or something like that, and within one month of touching base with this group they received more than 30 children’s books manuscripts!  Ha!  Now, many of the titles have been written and illustrated by children who attend the RTR schools (cute!))

-As of 2007, 4000 girls were receiving full scholarships to school.  In 2008, they want to see this number grow to 7000.  (The scholarships, FYI, provide a full ride so long as the girl continues to pass her classes.  Each year that she passes, the scholarship is renewed.

And finally, the Dream Big Goals:

By 2020:

20,000 libraries opened.

10,000,000 children helped by RTR programs.

And that’s all of it! I could probably write another 6 pages just on how awesome a speaker and man I think John Wood is.  Perhaps a new personal hero.

Have a great day guys!!

*Side note from Aaron King, Director

Abby, funny that you reference shooting fish in a barrel:  I watched Mythbusters last night, and they were investigating the origin of the phrase and actually ease of shooting fish in a barrel.  Their initial attempts showed that it is actually very difficult to hit a fish swimming in a barrel (they used a fake fish)… but they did some additional research and discovered that you don’t have to hit a fish, but simply firing a gun into a barrel of water creates such a disruption of the  water pressure that any fish in the barrel would be killed instantly… that’s what makes shooting fish in a barrel so easy!  And don’t worry, they did not use any live fish, they came to all these conclusions through science and data.

Great stuff about Room to Read!

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