How Room to Read is changing the state of worldwide literacy

Our next group of IWitness Global Citizens is traveling to Indonesia to visit some incredible projects we fund. Jay Duenas, Room to Read’s Manager of Stakeholder Engagement is here to explain some of the barriers children face on the road to quality education.

750 million people in the world are illiterate, two-thirds of whom are women and girls. For the vast majority of children in low-income countries, access to quality education is far from expected. Whether they’re born in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Vietnam or Nepal, education often sits on the backburner. The barriers that prevent children in these communities from staying in school and thriving are numerous. Under-trained teachers, lack of academic resources, social and economic pressures to start a family or earn money — all pose major challenges. This combination results in low literacy and reading comprehension rates and the high likelihood that students won’t study beyond primary school. Unable to access higher education, families remain locked in generational cycles of poverty and illiteracy.

Struggle for these children comes in many forms. For students like 12-year-old Arif, from Bangladesh, it means having to work a four-hour shift at his family tea stall after school. Yet, every Thursday he visited his school’s Room to Read library, filling his arms with a stack of books to read over the weekend. Filled with culturally-relevant storylines, these characters gave him something to cling to as he served 100 cups of tea each day. They encouraged him to keep dreaming.

Having worked with Room to Read for 12 years, I have had the privilege to meet so many amazing children like Arif on more than 50 site visits to witness our impact around the globe. Regardless of the country, the language, or the grade, there’s always the same inviting feel to every Room to Read library. It instantly feels like home. I see it in the way the children rush through the doors, smiling wide, vigorously flipping open their favorite storybooks. It’s incredibly clear this is their favorite part of their day and it amazes me every time.

Each and every student that Room to Read has benefited through our Literacy and Girls’ Education Programs has experienced the transformative power of supportive teachers and an accessible library, a life-changing moment that may not have occurred if not for Room to Read’s intervention.

By partnering with local community leaders and governments to implement our programs, Room to Read not only uses education to combat poverty, improve health and increase civic engagement, but also paves the way for scalable, systematic change.

Room to Read’s story began in 2000 by bringing books by yak to children in the mountains of Nepal. Since then, we’ve supported 11.6 million children throughout 20,000 communities in 14 countries, distributing 20.6 million books along the way. Thousands of lives have been transformed through Room to Read’s programs thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation and IKEA’s Let’s Play for Change campaign – a partner who truly understands the importance of giving children the chance to enjoy their youth through the power of play and pursue their dreams.

    Jay Duenas