Because of your support, children across Asia and Africa have been given an opportunity to thrive through education. Thank you for making 2014 a great year!
Beats of a drum and children chanting were heard recently across many of Room to Read’s school libraries within the Maharashtra state in India. The teachers and local school coordinators were experimenting with an idea they had to promote their school libraries and get more children entering their doors to discover the treasures contained within. To them, it was a marketing challenge and their response was a campaign that spoke to the local culture called Pustak Dindi.
Dindi is a popular folk dance of Maharashtra where performers come together in a circle to swing to the beat of a “dindi” drum. It’s a dance of devotion and the Pustak Dindi campaign would try to get students excited about their libraries and the books.
In order to make the campaign a success, the teachers gathered the students from grades 1 through 5 to be involved in the creative process. The school coordinators within Maharashtra made the palanquin, a covered transportation for one passenger that is made from a large box carried on two horizontal poles by four or six bearers. Children decorated the palanquin using colorful books from the library. Other children made signs for the procession with slogans that emphasized the importance of reading.
When the time came, the excited children carried the small palanquin, accompanied by the beat of the dindi drum, and paraded around the entire school grounds. The esteemed dignitary being carried in the palanquin were all the colorful library books! At every classroom, the procession halted to cheer and spread the message about the importance of books to any and all who would listen. No one was left out of the ceremonies!
Pustak Dindi was replicated across 75 Maharashtra schools with Room to Read school libraries (Room to Read has established more than 300 libraries in this region between 2011-2013). Since the promotions, the number of little feet who have come into the school libraries have increased which is an encouragement to all the teachers. A marketing success!
Learn more about our work in India.
In 2013, Room to Read constructed 18 schools and established four school libraries in the Vientiane and Oudomxay provinces in Laos. Though none of these projects were particularly easy, one school construction project in the Oudomxay province proved particularly difficult for our Laos team. Boualikanh Konechanh, a program office for Room to Read pointed out, “One of the most challenging schools to construct this year was the Phousing Complete Primary School in Phousing village.”
Phousing village, even though it is on a plateau, is difficult to get to as there is only one seasonal road that leads to the village. “The road disappears with the rains,” Boualikanh explains. “Every year during the monsoon, the Beng River submerges the road, making it even more difficult to access the already remote village.”
Despite this, Room to Read Laos still agreed to partner with the local community to construct the school building. As with all our school construction projects, 12 individuals from the village were selected to lead the project as part of the "Construction Committee."
Once construction started, it was a race against the clock to finish the school before the monsoon arrived and more importantly, before the school semester began! “I have never worked with such a passionate group of people before,” said Boualikanh. “The way they worked in unison was very motivational.”
The Construction Committee successfully completed the school without a hitch. All that was left to do was furnish the school.
Unfortunately, then the heavy rains began and the project was put on hold. The team patiently waited for the rains to subside and when they did, the team quickly loaded a truck with all the benches, blackboards and chairs and carefully drove across the dirt road, still wet and muddy from the rains. Just three kilometers from the school, the truck’s front tire sank in the mud and refused to budge. The Construction Committee leapt into action and asked for the villagers’ help.
In a moment’s notice, more than fifty villagers reported on site for duty. They unloaded the furniture from the truck, carried across the nearly raging river and made a beeline to Phousing Complete Primary School.
Within two hours, all of the furniture was in place at the newly constructed school. “We dropped everything and came to help the school when the Construction Committee asked for our help,” say Deng and Panh, a couple whose daughter attends the school. “It was important for us to get the furniture in the school before it rained again.”
“When towing the benches, all we could think was how happy the children would be studying in their new school, sitting in new benches and reading from the new blackboard. They have never had the chance to experience this before. Now when the school reopens, our children will be very excited. I know my daughter will be!”
Read more about our work in Laos.
This post is a part of an ongoing series, Show and Tell, where we bring you photos and stories collected by Room to Read team members on the road.
A few months ago, Room to Read Tanzania celebrated their first annual Children's Reading Day, an event to raise awareness about the importance of reading and also celebrate the progress students have made in improving their literacy skills. In partnership with the Aga Khan University and the Institute for Educational Development, East Africa, the event brought students and communities from fifteen schools together in Turiani. Students were invited to participate in activities that promote literacy such as storytelling, music and dance as well as reading and writing competitions.
Read more about our work in Tanzania.
Since 2009, Atlassian has been a key corporate supporter of Room to Read’s work across Cambodia. Atlassian’s investments to Room to Read, funded by their innovative “causism” business model, total over $2.8 million to date—over 100x Atlassian’s original goal! In November 2013, 11 Atlassian employees from San Francisco, USA and Sydney, Australia visited Cambodia to witness first-hand the impact the Atlassian Foundation and Room to Read has had on communities. Below is a guest blog post written by Jeremy Largman, Knowledge Management Program Manager at Atlassian who was part of this special visit.
What I didn't know
I knew Cambodia was struggling. I'd visited 14 years ago and I knew the country was impoverished and torn by war. But even being here before couldn't prepare me for the experience we had visiting the Room to Read libraries and education programs that the Atlassian Foundation has helped sponsor.
Before meeting the girls in Room to Read's Girls Education program, and seeing the schools in the villages, I couldn't see the undeniable level of commitment--the sacrifice--that the students and their families make to get an education. The set of challenges the students need to overcome in order to access education is both overwhelming and inspirational. But the commitment is there--from the girls in the program, their parents and grandparents, the community, alumnae and teachers, and from the Room to Read staff on the ground.
What I couldn't see before coming was that the ingredients for change are already here: the profound spirit and willingness to fight for change. It might take a generation, but change is coming, and Room to Read's programs are sorely needed to help make it happen.
The challenges are profound
The roadblocks ahead of us are in no short supply: a father who needed his daughter to work in the rice fields rather than attend school; a girl who couldn't attend school because her bicycle had a flat tire and she needed to save up to get it fixed; a school in a rice field that was subject to flooding such that it delayed the start of school for a few weeks.
Among these challenges though, we saw some tremendously positive and encouraging signs.
The community is willing to sponsor education
We met an elder Cambodian from the school we visited in Siem Reap province. We were introduced to him in a community meet-and-greet format facilitated by our Room to Read visit coordinators.
He was honored by the community for his contribution to the school. He described the sacrifice he'd made for Cambodia's future: the donation of his rice field. Although he had been offered USD$20,000 for his rice field--an extraordinary wealth by a Cambodian villager's standard--he chose to donate his land to build a school in support of the education of his grandchildren. He considered this to be a better future for them than an inheritance.
He had acquired his rice fields early in his life, and had been working tirelessly, like so many in his village, to create a decent life for his 10 children and 20 grandchildren. He told us that he remembered as a child having to walk far to get to school, but was committed to it and cherished the education he received. He remembered being tired and had a hard time learning after walking so far, and wanted a school in his village. When there was no land available to build such a school, he decided on a substantial sacrifice and donated his own land toward this end.
Most importantly, the children want education
The desire for education is so strong. It's not just the parents, and the community, and Room to Read that want education; you can see it in the kids as well. They reminded us of any kids we know from Australia or the USA: energetic and ready to learn.
During a visit to a Room to Read school library in the village of Phoum Svay, we met students who are intensely committed to their education, driven by a deep passion for helping their families and community. This is what keeps us going at Atlassian and drives us to continue to support education around the world with Room to Read. We are proud to be partners in the movement to bring educational opportunity to bright, young learners!
This post originally appeared on The Atlassian Foundation blog on December 4, 2013.
This holiday season, give the gift of literacy with Room to Read and help change the future for children across Asia and Africa. All gifts will be matched through Dec. 31 thanks to a group of generous donors (up to $2.5 million). www.roomtoread.org/holiday
Room to Read works in collaboration with local NGOs which allows us to build upon the strengths of our existing work and also ensures long-term sustainability and potential replication of our programs. During a recent visit to Nepal, Regional Director for Asia Jon Beaulieu, and Nepal Country Director Ramesh Puri, visited a school library established by a former implementation partner and shared their experience of seeing one of our core operating principles—sustainability—being realized
Driving from Pokhara to the Parbat district in Nepal is a beautiful journey through winding roads of green mountainous terrain and terraced rice fields with views of the snow-covered Annapurna and Fishtail Mountains. As we crossed over the swaying pedestrian bridge to enter the grounds of Navajyoti Tham School, we were greeted by Bhola Shrestha, founder of the local organization Moti Pustakalaya.
Between 2007-2012, Room to Read collaborated with Moti Pustakalaya as an implementation partner to establish 136 libraries throughout Parbat and trained more than 1,000 teachers, librarians, principals and school administrators through 35 trainings. Although Room to Read phased out of this district in 2012, Bhola keeps Room to Read’s vision alive and well. He is committed to improving the quality of education in government schools in order to compete with the large number of private schools being established in the district.
To achieve this goal, Moti continues to provide school libraries with locally-raised seed funding to purchase books as well as offer library training to schools which is delivered by a former Room to Read staff member. The library space and furniture that are supplied by the school are in-line with Room to Read standards, and Room to Read continues to support these libraries by donating our own local language children’s books. Moti also provides a network for other libraries and a governance system to ensure the financial transparency of each one.
At one of the libraries we visited that had been established by Moti in 2013, teachers donate one day’s salary each year to help buy more books for the library. It is also supported by the Mothers Group, made up of women and girls in the area who promote reading in the school and community. Since this library opened, teachers have been able to retain students and have seen their academic performance increase tremendously, some achieving recognition in district-wide academic competitions. During our visit, one 5th grade student named Binu shared one of her favorite poems by singing to us and described how wisdom, not money, is important, alluding to the caste system in Nepal.
In order to reach scale and achieve long-term sustainability, we believe our role at Room to Read is to successfully demonstrate effective and cost-efficient program models so that governments and other non-profits can adopt our methodology and practices. Since phasing out our work in Parbat district in 2012, Moti Pustakalaya has established 19 additional libraries in collaboration with local communities, governments, schools and other NGOs. We'd call that success.
The residents of the Shaoliya village in Rajasthan used to spend their evenings playing cards, but recently a new activity had become popular in the community—reading.
In 2008, Room to Read established a library at the local government primary school, but found that engaging parents in their children’s literacy habits was an uphill task. “We had a hard time explaining the benefits of a library to the parents and teachers who were resistant to this change,” says the library facilitator.
Then one day, Sita Kimari—a long-time resident of Shaoliya who was educated only up to fifth grade—decided to check out the school’s new facilities. “I was attracted by the large illustrations, even though I couldn’t read the books,” she says. “As a child, my father always forbade me from reading and wanted me to help him in the fields instead, but there was something welcoming about the library.”
Sita began to make regular visits to the school library whenever she had spare time. “I would sit in the room and try to read the lines written below the illustrations,” she recalls. “The librarian helped me to overcome my fright of reading, and now I can read some books aloud with confidence.”
After she had experienced the value of the library, Sita offered to help our team engage the rest of the community. Some villagers, she said, saw school as a place for children only, which kept them from using the library. In an effort to remove that stigma, Sita began to check out a few books at a time from the school library and issue them to friends and neighbors. She also started a reading club and discussion forum with other women in the village.
Soon the large courtyard in front of Sita’s house had turned into a nightly reading corner—filled to the brim with adults and children devouring books in their local language. Sita keeps a meticulous register of all checkouts and even attended a training put on by our local team on how to tell stories effectively, for those in her community who cannot read at all.
These efforts, combined with the students’ enthusiasm for reading have had an immense effect on the community’s priorities. “Each evening, I look forward to coming to Sita’s house to read these books,” says Dhanraj Choudhary, a neighbor. “The simplicity of language and ideas in these books makes them attractive.”
Dhanraj has quickly become a regular of Sita’s book club. “I have stopped playing cards in my spare time,” he says. “Instead I read books.”
For the water-dwelling communities of the Tonle Sap Lake in central Cambodia, commuting to school can be quite a challenge. With houses that float on the river’s ever-fluctuating surface and a population that is sustained almost entirely by fishing in the surrounding waters, there are a lot of barriers to education. School is separated from the students’ homes by a two-kilometer boat ride, so each child must learn to swim before making the daily trip to Phat Sanday Primary School.
The school rests on floating docks, and serves 358 students from three villages. Due to its relative inaccessibility, the schools in this area have largely been ignored by development efforts, but in 2009, Room to Read established a library at Phat Sanday Primary—adding more than a thousand books to the shelves and committing three years of training for the school’s staff.
The school's staff has noted a marked change in the students since the library opened, as well. “The school grounds used to be very quiet,” says librarian Chhun Nhork. “Now, with the new library, the sound of students reading aloud is enough to compete with the boats that roar through this area.”
The school’s principal, Heng Peng Eang, agrees. “Before, it was hard to teach because we were completely dependent on only the one textbook from the ministry of education,” he recalls. “Now, we can use different books to guide the teaching and learning process.”
Before the addition of the library, he remembers many students in the upper grades who were still unable to read at the appropriate level—a fact only exacerbated by the half-day schedule the school uses to avoid overcrowding its facilities. “Now,” he says, “they can read confidently.”
Learn more about our programs in Cambodia.
This post is part of the ongoing series, Show and Tell, where we bring you photos and stories collected by Room to Read team members on the road.
This week's Show and Tell comes from Eric Krassow, local-language publishing fellow. Eric is a leading editor from Pearson, currently "on-loan" to Room to Read exploring potential enhancements to our Book Publishing program around the globe. During a recent site visit in Nepal, Eric had the chance to meet a classroom full of eager young readers at Shree Kalika Primary School. He sent along this video of the welcome dance performed in his honor:
Nine-year-old Dilshi loves the library at Hedunuwewa Primary School. Ever since Room to Read launched our School Library program there three years ago, she has been a regular, having read more than 240 of its 2,600 books.
This realization, coupled with her zealous love of reading, inspired Dilshi to create her own small library at home, and she immediately got started building her inventory.
Armed with a detailed checkout log and classification system, Dilshi runs her home library with the utmost efficiency. “I checked out 11 books to my friends and family during the school vacation last December,” she says, confirming the number with a glance at her register.
As word of Dilshi’s home library spread, she gained more and more patrons from the surrounding area—a fact, says her librarian, that is particularly important given the district’s remote, rural setting.
“Before Room to Read and Dilshi’s library,” says the librarian, “we had to take the primary school students to another school if we wanted them to see a library full of books.”
Our team in Sri Lanka, upon seeing the effects of Dilshi’s project, awarded her with a special literacy certificate recognizing the quality of her home library.
“I’m most impressed with the records she keeps,” says the principal of her school. It’s clear that the home library project is helping Dilshi develop more than just her literacy skills.