I have nothing but admiration and praise for the wonderful team at Room to Read. Their tireless efforts to provide communities with the essential resources for learning and education should not go unnoticed. My visit to Nepal in December 2009 was greatly enriched by the opportunity to visit the head office of this organisation and a few of their successful sites in regional Nepal.
I was contacted by the Room to Read team through a shout out on a great website http://www.sourcebottle.com.au about my fast approaching trip to Nepal. I am so glad now that I took the chance to have a unique experience visiting the school and libraries in remote districts. I feel that there should be a lot more promotion of this simple but effective program.
The day started with a presentation on the history of the organisation, which started in Nepal in 2000, and the achievements of the program over the past decade. Room to Read was founded in Nepal by John Wood after he learned of the countries struggle to gain sufficient learning resources for the regional communities and small districts throughout Nepal. In August 2006, John Wood, released a memoir entitled Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children, which explains why he started the organisation and the passion behind making a change. ( A great read, definitely pick it up).
John Wood saw the schools just didn’t have libraries. They also didn’t have English books so his first goal was to get the books to them. Now the books are supplied in large quantities in both Nepalese and English to supply to the local market and teachers.
It was great to learn about the programs which we would see later that day and get to know the staff at the head office in Lalitpur, Nepal. There were 4 of us going to see 2 schools that day- 2 Australians and 2 Japanese women.
On the way to the regions we were able to ask our host Rishi many questions about the program and learn about the NALA district where the first school would be. We drove through beautiful rolling hills of green, saw enormous Buddha statues and temples perched on mountain tops and people in the village fields going about the daily chores. Going to visit the schools of Room to Read allowed me to see parts of Nepal that I may never have gone to without the organised trip.
Upon arrival we met the head teachers and program operators. We were then taken to see rooms in the school and children were studying in the corridors and classrooms for their mid term exams. Their sweet faces looked up with curiosity before studiously returning to the econometrics and mathematics at hand. We were guided through the computer room and educated about the village and establishment of the program. I asked a number of questions and browsed around before turning my attention to the kids. I wanted to get to know them.
I approached some of the younger looking children and began to greet them in Nepali. Shy at first, the older few quickly became confident and those who spoke English began bombarding me with questions. We then counted together in English and Nepali and posed for photos. When it was time to move on to the library room, I had 7 little friends holding my hands and skipping along with me. This is why I came. I wanted to see how the program was influencing the children and how much they were gaining from the experience.
A quick visit to see the kindergarten and grade 1 cuties working with their teacher and then on to the library. Wall to wall, it was lined with books, educational posters, atlases, encyclopaedias and stories in many languages. I was so impressed with this set up and the great experience these children would have with the wonderful world of literature.
As soon as we got inside, the kids ran and grabbed books and 14 of them were sitting around the big table reading away. We sat and read with a few of them and then the photo shoot began. We took hundreds of photos with smiling happy faces and of the children’s favourite books. We were then invited to an impromptu dance performance by 2 outgoing young ladies. Singing and dancing in the school yard for their new foreign friends. What a fantastic experience and what a joy to share it with them.
I then presented the Librarian with a poster of Australia and it’s states so that the children could have that to look at in the library as well as a colouring book with facts about Australia. The headmaster was very pleased and he also gave me permission to give gifts to the kids. I gave them Aussie stickers which they wanted on their backpacks, clipboards and faces. I was more than happy to share my Aussie souvenirs with them- including a few pencils with Australian animals decorated on them. Then of course, more photos.
Sadly we had to leave after only a short hour and head off to the next school. I went to enter the bus but was informed we would walk to the next district. WHAT! Walking to a whole new district? I did not sign on for this. But to my relief, the school was a mere 10 minute walk away and the 2 districts were neighbouring. Unfortunately this school didn’t have any children to meet as they had all gone home to study for exams. We did get to meet the kindly staff at the school and get a good look at the Nepalese Room to Read titles. The library was bright, colourful and cosy. A great space for learning.
We left around 12.30pm for the long drive back to Kathmandu and all of us were quite exhausted. The 4 of us girls were delighted by our experience and chatted away together about our new little friends. The drive back was again lovely through the fields and villages of the people of Nepal.
I’m so glad I was ableto have this experience and encourage anyone going to Nepal to contact the lovely staff, Gopini Pandey and Pushkar Lal Shreshtha, at the Room to Read Head office to make a visit. Large groups are welcome to co-ordinate a trip with the staff or if you would like to go alone or in a smaller group there is a set program of site visits.
You can also help Room to Read by contacting the head office in your own country to find out what sponsorship, fundraising and charity projects they are running on a local level.
A bit more about the program:
John Wood, Founder, Autobiography: http://www.roomtoread.org/Page.aspx?pid=261
Room to Read, Nepal, homepage: http://www.roomtoread.org/Page.aspx?pid=311
The program has 5 different aspects:
1. Room to Read.
The original program which has been established in 20 districts in Nepal. There are now 2000 libraries with 389 schools being built in 2007 and 394 in 2008. A further 425 were built in 2009. And the program continues to grow
2. School Room
The plan is to have these constructed within 1 year, without demolishing the old school until project is complete. The community and school must first agree to co-operate for the sustainability of the program.
3. Computer Room
35 computer labs established across Nepal which are also open for the community to use after school hours and weekends. This program is fantastic as it contributes growth to the whole community.
4. Girls Education Program
Something close to my heart. The girls are given a full scholarship and empowered through education. They are given life skills training and the child is counselled as well as the parents. Education for girls in normal schools is still quite disadvantaged due to a longstanding gender bias. There are now 1256 girls in the program receiving full scholarship. Yearly sponsorships can be made through the Room to Read website.
5. Local Language Publishing
An important program to encourage Nepalese stories and writing to further the economic development in the country. Titles are written, published and printed in Nepal. There are now 93 titles that can be purchased via the official Room to Read website.