John Ridding, Financial Times CEO and Room to Read Board Member, recently visited our projects in Cambodia and Sri Lanka. In the following guest blog, John shares the memorable evening he had in Siem Reap at the 10 Year Anniversary celebration planned by Room to Read Cambodia.
The Room to Read tenth anniversary ceremony in Siem Reap was a grand affair -- traditional Khmer dancing, a line of provincial officials listening stiff-backed to the national anthem and a succession of speeches, culminating with the local governor. But all were upstaged by the star of the show -- a diminutive schoolgirl who stepped up with a confidence beyond her years to tell her story.
Hawai, the eldest of eight siblings, had been deprived of schooling because of poverty and an alcoholic father. It seemed an unhappily common story in Cambodia. Earlier that day, we had seen a schoolyard play in which a drunken dad was the villain and the reason why his children were not being educated. It struck a chord with the village children, who watched intently, and it hit a nerve with some of the dads looking nervously towards the grassy stage.
In Hawai’s case, the story had a happy ending. Granted a spot in Room to Read's Girl’s Education program, she became a top student. So impressed was her father, that he quit drinking and became a Buddhist priest. Her other siblings are attending school, or waiting to attend. Hawai is aiming for university and wants to work for Room to Read. With the confidence and energy she displayed, there’s every chance she’ll succeed in her ambitions.
It was a moving story and a reminder for all of us that, beyond the metrics and statistics that Room to Read rightly uses to measure and challenge itself -- and which are a significant factor in the support of donors and the Financial Times -- the real meaning of the movement is the children who benefit.
I was fortunate this trip to be able to see projects in both Sri Lanka and Cambodia. And the two abiding impressions that stand out from the myriad of memories we brought back were the infectious enthusiasm of the children, matched only by the enthusiasm and dedication of the Room to Read teams.
Whether it was the dramatization of Sumudi’s Dance, one of the many titles from the burgeoning Sri Lankan local language publishing operation -- performed with style, grace, and spectacular self-made animal costumes by a troupe of schoolgirls -- or the progress reports delivered enthusiastically from the local staff, or the outstanding exhibition arranged by the Cambodia team, the quality and creativity of the work on the ground in each country shone through.
It was a once in a lifetime experience. And it was unforgettable to see how so many lives will be transformed and improved because of Room to Read.
The Financial Times selected Room to Read as the beneficiary of its 2009 seasonal appeal, which included several compelling feature stories and generated over $4.3 million in donations from corporations and individuals.
Please also continue to help us promote literacy this month:TWEET out the International Literacy Day tweet.
INVEST in the publication of a new children's book for South Africa.