Literacy Trip 2012: Organizations Making a Difference in Vietnam and Cambodia

The trip is over. As I sit down on the 14 hour flight back to Atlanta for seemingly the first time in weeks, I’m overcome with emotions. I feel fortunate, proud, a bit sad, and inspired. You see, I work at a desk; at any given point in the day, I am staring at a spreadsheet on a computer screen, on a conference call or both. My goals and objectives are based on revenue and profitability. Most would say my job is fairly normal. Except it isn’t at all.

I’ve been working for Better World Books for almost 4 years and I’ve been fortunate enough to grow with the organization in that time period. I’ve seen the business grow from a startup trying to change the world to a renowned social enterprise proving that businesses can do well and do good at the same time (and doing some of that world-changing stuff too).

These past two weeks, I was lucky enough to visit Vietnam and Cambodia with a group from Better World Books and a student book drive winner to see the impact our partner organizations are having on this very needy part of the world. I can truly and unequivocally say that this trip has changed my life. From visiting the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap (absolutely stunning in person) to haggling at the markets in Saigon and Phnom Penh, I can safely say that I have a series of experiences that I’m never going to forget.


While the tourist attractions were magnificent and unforgettable, the most impactful moments of the trip were definitely visiting Better World Books’ literacy partners Room to Read, PEPY and Friends International. Here in southeast Asia, literacy isn’t just an academic concept, it’s a real problem in a way that is difficult to comprehend from the comfort of an office job. The organizations here really are on the front lines, making the world a better place. Whether it’s in the form of a reading room in a rural school, providing scholarships, housing and transportation to girls who otherwise wouldn’t have access to education, or by providing vocational classes for homeless children, these organizations are making a difference in these communities and the world.

Spend a minute with these organizations and you realize quickly what a daunting task it truly is to ensure the success of their programs. Within that minute, you’re likely to hear about the history of two devastated countries with lost generations of teachers and educated professionals (Vietnam due to war, Cambodia to genocide) and you’ll hear about the difficulties in working with the government to make meaningful changes to the curriculum. But most importantly, you’ll see the excitement and genuine commitment from the kids and communities participating in the programs; how students will travel great distances to visit a library, how parents will give up their precious time (and money) to help their child receive an education that they didn’t. And you will realize how important this work is and how remarkable the people and organizations working for them truly are.

So here I am, sitting on a plane leaving a part of the world I never thought I’d visit thinking about that desk job and trying to reconcile all of the emotions I’m feeling. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity, proud to see the impact we can make in the world and sad that the trip has come to an end. Most of all though, I’m inspired to continue to be the best I can be at my job in order to better support these organizations and communities change lives around the world.

Not bad for a desk job, huh?


  1. Laura O'Brien says:

    I enjoyed your story. I am visiting Ho Chi Minh city, Cambodia and Burma in November. I’d appreciate knowing how to contact these organisations and what the best gift is to bring them.

  2. Nice! I thinks Better World Books is great! I’m adding a link to Better World Books on Thanksgiving post I’m writing for my blog about organizations that work to improve literacy. My blog is called Beginning Reading Help.

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