When my mother, the eldest of seven, was 16 years old and living in India, she was approached by her parents and asked to prepare for marriage, which was the accepted path for a girl in her family. Rather than concede to the future laid out before her, being extremely intelligent and having graduated high-school at age 13, she decided to leave her home and join a nursing training program with the Indian army. In her community, this decision was akin to accepting a future alone.
My mother went on to support her younger sisters and brothers in completing school, then achieved her own bachelors and doctorate degrees in the United States. She became a wife and mother when she was ready. Due to her conviction that girls can achieve their dreams, I too was empowered to chart my own fate. I pursued my own university education and now have a healthy, educated family of my own.
By eschewing tradition, my mother paved a new course for her life, her sisters’ lives, and mine in turn. It is a story that I have seen mirrored thousands of times over in the faces of the bright young women supported by Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program. These girls—over 25,000 of them—persevere every day, overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and remain steadfastly dedicated to completing their education—unleashing a world of possibilities for themselves, their families and their entire communities.
Not only has Room to Read created a lasting impact in the realm of girls’ education but, we continue to promote literacy as a whole across the 10 countries in which we work. In Asia and Africa 8.8 million children have benefited from our work establishing libraries, publishing local language books, constructing schools, and training teachers. Our work has been especially impactful in India which is home to 35% of the world’s illiterate population and where inadequate facilities, lecture-based curriculum and gender bias cause 40% of students (mostly girls) to drop out before secondary school. The effect of our work can be seen in each and every Room to Read partner school in India, like the Negiguda Primary School in Chattisgarh, where we recently established a library.
Not long ago, the walls in the teachers’ room at the Negiguda Primary School were a faded white, with large cracks from lack of fresh paint and care. But when, with the help of Room to Read, the room was converted into the school’s library in 2010, the once-dull walls were given a new lease on life with a fresh coat of bright yellow paint, hanging canvas bookshelves at eye level for the still growing student body and sturdy wooden bookshelves to house the library’s 800 books in both Hindi and English, written and illustrated by local authors and artists and published by Room to Read.
Before the library was established, Ms. Golda Vijaylaxmi says she would see many children dropping out of school or skipping classes. But now, “the retention rate has increased since the library has been set up in our school,” she says proudly. “I use the library books to teach the children on subjects such as the environment, math, science and language apart from what is available in the school textbooks.”
The veteran teacher explains. “A good library is a boon for the children. It plays the role of an additional teacher for the school and that too is very effective. The students enjoy reading independently and finding books they can borrow to read at home with their families.”
One student, 3rd grader Manisha, is a perfect example. Manisha has transformed herself—becoming a library regular and a better student. “I come to school so that I can read the stories. I love the colors in the room. I do not make excuses like I did before to avoid school,” Manisha says with a shy smile.
Ms. Vijaylaxmi is thrilled that her classroom has now become livelier and the children more active. She says, “Now, the children are much more involved and the library has become their favorite place—it allows them the opportunity and freedom to lay their hands on wonderful story books as never before.”
At Room to Read we envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world. I urge you to join this global movement and help the over 60 million primary school-aged children around the world who do not have access to education.
Please visit our website at https://www.roomtoread.org to follow our work in India and across Asia and Africa. If you are interested in learning more about Room to Read, you can also reach me at Geetha.firstname.lastname@example.org.