What can I do?

What can I do?

February 16, 2014

The more we learn about the world’s problems, the more powerless we feel to solve them. And the more powerless we feel, the more powerless we become. What can I do to solve big complex problems like illiteracy, world hunger, or climate change? What can I actually do?


I joined JustREAD four years ago because I wanted to help low-income youth in my own community (Mountain View,CA) who were struggling with English and failing in school. (Yes, in Silicon Valley there are many low-income children, and many students with poor academic skills.) JustREAD was created in 2005 when a judge complained that all of the juvenile offenders in his courtroom were illiterate. And education professionals developed an in-school tutoring program focusing on underserved middle and high school students rather than on younger children.


I became involved as a donor when I heard about the students from Sierra Leone, who escaped wartime traumas to face a totally new culture and language at Mountain View High School. They needed help, and so did other students, who moved so often they couldn’t get a consistent education, or were in foster care, or lived without parents, or who were homeless, or who came from families where no one had gone beyond elementary school. I was amazed by the resilience of these youth, who have experienced life challenges that most of us cannot even imagine.


I volunteered as a tutor, took on fundraising responsibilities, and joined the board. We have provided one-on-one English and math tutoring in schools to hundreds of students, mostly low-income English learners. We use our own back-to-basics structured curriculum and rely on over 100 volunteers every year. We have trained other organizations to use our program. We know we are unique, focused and effective.


But I kept wondering, what have we learned here, what have we created that might possibly help some of the 800 million people worldwide who can’t read?


One of our volunteers, Madhvi Pratt, provided the link between JustREAD and Home of Hope, a Bay Area-based nonprofit started by Dr. Nilima Sabharwal in 1999. Home of Hope now supports a dozen successful health and education programs through out India for disadvantaged children and youth.


Home of Hope created a new “English Empowerment Program” for Indian students who were receiving either poor or no English instruction at school. Its U.S.youth chapter spearheaded the program, but they were looking for an English teaching model and materials to use with Indian students of all ages. We offered JustREAD’s print instructional materials to Home of Hope to pilot. We were curious to see if a remedial program designed for American students would be effective in India.


JustREAD trained Home of Hope’s high school students to use our instructional materials. They quickly converted them into videos and dvd’s, and took them to India on several different trips. Visiting 3 different schools, they trained teachers, taught classes, made many friends, and their efforts were a resounding success.


The young Indian students loved the interactive, American way of teaching and easy to understand phonics-based instruction. The U.S.high school volunteers, all of Indian descent, were thrilled to be able to put their own education to work helping others less fortunate than themselves. They returned home inspired to do more, and are now creating a program for other American students to volunteer their time in the same way. These extraordinary students are developing organizational, teaching and leadership skills, and their experiences of giving will guide their own unique efforts to solve big, complex world problems in the future.


JustREAD and Home of Hope continue to work together to identify and deliver what our students need, to focus on measurable student impact and to develop scalability.

We know that education policy and government measures are important. But we cannot wait for governments to figure out the answers and then spend years on implementation. Organizations like JustREAD and Home of Hope are figuring it out on our own: step by step, volunteer by volunteer, heart to heart. Every student counts, and they need our help now.


Despite all cultural differences, a student’s hunger for knowledge and the joyful experience of learning are no different in India than in the U.S.As one of our tutors recently said “I can’t think of a more wonderful way to spend my time than to teach a child how to read.”


For more information about Home of Hope and JustREAD, please visit: