How Room to Read Changed My Life

I will always think of 2007 as the year that changed my life.  I was 25 years old, a two-time college drop-out, and in a mentally and emotionally controlling relationship.  I partied a lot, barely saw my friends or my family and had completely lost focus of who I was and what I wanted to achieve in life.  I went to work and I went home.  I was lost in a spiral of depression I didn’t know how to climb out of, that is assuming, of course, that I could even figure out where to begin.  I had completely lost sight of who I was and what I wanted from my life.  The only time I ever felt any escape from the dark hole I had dug for myself was when I picked up a book and began to read.  No matter what was going on in my life I always had an escape and to this day I swear that reading is what saved my sanity.

Through my books I walked the battlefield at Gettysburg, fought in the Battle at Bull Run, and explored the Pyramids in Egypt.  I also learned about various cultures, sub-cultures, philosophies, religions and theories.  I had this aching knowledge that there was so much more to life than what I was doing and how I was living but I couldn’t figure out how to be a part of it.  I didn’t know what to do and my depression didn’t help motivate me to figure it out.  Then, one day in the Fall of 2007 I was in a used book resale shop and I picked up a book by John Wood called ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.”  It changed my life.

In 1998, John Wood was an executive at Microsoft with a big future ahead in the company and walked away from it all after a vacation to Nepal.  In interviews he says that his vacation became a “spiritual journey” after he met a Nepalese “Education Resource Officer” on a hiking trip and was invited to visit a school in nearby village.  This school, in a shack that would be considered a condemned building by US standards, had only 5 books in their library.  One book was a Danielle Steele romance, one was a travel guide to Mongolia, and a few other miscellaneous cast-offs.  In an effort to protect the few literary resources they had the books were kept under secure lock and key.  When John went to leave the Nepalese Education Resource Officer said to him, “Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books?”  John returned home on a mission.  He immediately contacted friends and associates and within two months had raised over 3,000 books to support his mission to change the world “one book and one child” at a time.  He returned to Nepal with eight donkeys loaded with books and helped create their first true library.  In 1999 John Wood resigned from Microsoft and founded Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org).

Since 1999 Room to Read has benefited over 6 million children by building 13,599 libraries and 1,566 schools.  They have also published 707 books in the native languages for Nepal, Cambodia, Tanzania, Zambia (see a full list of where they work) and distributed over 11 million books to promote literacy worldwide.  In addition to building libraries and schools, distributing books, publishing books and educating the world Room to Read also funds the education for impoverished girls.  Girl’s education is the program I have chosen to support in 2012.  In the developing world 42% of girls do not have access to education.

Of the 793 million illiterate people in the world over 67% are female.  This has to change and $250 will fund the education expenses for one girl for one year.  In 2012 I have set a goal to raise $1,250 to fund the education for five girls.  You can read more about my fundraiser on my website, Closed the Cover.

After reading John Wood’s book in 2007 I found a renewed sense of myself and I reconnected with my own goals and desires and beliefs about faith and life.  Since then I have re-enrolled in college and graduated with my first degree, ended that relationship, quit partying and drinking and reconnected with my own sense of purpose.  I know the joys of reading because I live in a place where I am lucky enough to have access to books and education however there are others who are not so lucky.  I can’t quit my job and travel to Nepal with eight donkeys loaded with bags of books but I can make a donation to help support the people that run the programs that can.  Everyone should have access to education.  As one Nepalese Headmaster said, “We are too poor to afford education; but without education, we will always be poor.”  They need help and I try to help them as much as I can.

Anyone interested in making a donation can visit: ROOM TO READ

**Thank you Andrew for allowing me to share my program with your readers.

- Ashley

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81 comments

  1. Pingback: Freshly Pressed! « My Happy Dance

  2. I think what you are doing is admirable. Everyone should have access to education, no matter who they are, the fact that girls are being kept from getting educated because of something beyond their control is stupid. Good luck and I wish you the best in life.

  3. TheBowTieButterFly

    Congratulations on being “freshly pressed”. & Congratulations on being such an amazing, strong person– you’ve overcome so much; and are accomplishing so much and helping others! You have a great blog & you are a great person :)

    • Thank you! Thank you for reblogging as well. I appreciate that. This is actually a guest post I did for my friend Andrew, Portraits of Addiction is his blog where he shares his story of recovery and encourages others to do the same. Thanks for the encouraging words. It’s always nice to hear positive feedback.

      • TheBowTieButterFly

        You’re very welcome. I’m going to buy his book for my aunt who has a drug addiction she is struggling to overcome. He seems like a very inspiring person. I really enjoyed your post!
        Best,
        Stephanie (thebowtiebutterfly)

    • It was heartbreaking when I first imagined a school with only 5 books. Five Books? I read more than that in a month. It certainly shows how fortunate we are when something so simple to us is such a big deal to others.

  4. “Room to Read” is one of the charities I’ve given a good chunk of change to. I remember hearing about a couple of primatologists who had studied snow monkeys in Japan. This seems totally unrelated, but stay with me. The people who live near the monkeys had gotten in the habit of occasionally giving them wrapped candies.

    The thing was, if a male monkey got a candy, he unwrapped it, ate it, and walked away.

    If a female monkey got a candy, she turned around and showed her kids how to unwrap it first.

    The new knowledge died if it was introduced via the male monkeys (sorry, but it’s true), and spread through the females.

    Humans are also primates. In a lot of these cultures, they will reserve everything they have to educate only boys — who then take the education, leave, and never return. When girls are educated, they turn around and pass it along. Again, I’m not trying to be condemning, but that’s just how it happens most of the time. (Obviously not always, because the dude who started this program was clearly a DUDE. But it’s often the way to bet.) Educate a boy, and you educate one person. Educate a girl, and you educate the whole family. And probably the kids next door, too.

    “Room to Read” and the hospital at http://www.fistulafoundation.org are my two pet charities. It’s great to see one of them get freshly pressed.

    • Wow. That’s an interesting story about the snow monkeys. The last thing I want to do is blame men for the lack of education or literacy in their country and I know you agree. The important thing is that everyone, regardless of gender or race, has access to education and reading.

      I’m so happy that you support Room to Read. They are such an amazing organization.

  5. What a wonderful organization! :) I am so happy to hear that there are organizations like these out there that do what we over here in North America may consider simple acts, but to people in another country means the world…..And congrats on being able as a result of this organization’s founder’s story, be able to turn your life around and find a sense of purpose in it. Well deserved FP! :)

    • Sometimes it is the simplest things that make us realize how fortunate we are. When something like a children’s book is such a precious commodity that it has to be kept under lock and key it really makes me think about how much we take for granted. I remember how excited I used to get over Clifford the Big Red Dog when I was a little kid and I want children all over the world to be able to feel that same joy over a story.

  6. hey very inspiring….books help in rejuvenation. When I feel low, I pick up PG Wodehouse novel or short story. I have met Wilfredo Pascual, Global Program Officer for Room to Read Local Language Publishing program at UNESCO conference in Delhi last year. He told me about the organisation and ever since I have felt like contributing but I don’t get time.

    • I don’t have the time to do what I wish I could do either. We don’t have a local chapter here and I’ve considered starting one but I can’t devote the necessary time to it. At this time I contribute what I can monetarily in order to support the people that can contribute their time.

    • It is a great book. I think you will enjoy it. The author of this blog, Andrew Seaward, also has a book called “Some Are Sicker Than Others” which I read and reviewed back in May. I encourage you to check it out as well.

  7. Kennedy

    Nice to Read you, I m going to share your post to my blog and direct people to you, Nice post ever. Good Lucky
    Greetings from kennedy the director of Hakuna Matata Tours In Congo DRC

  8. We hosted an incredible lovely, lively and smart Indian teenager this summer. She was 16, had power and energy for two, sparky, sharp mind and a warm, open heart.
    It hit me by surprise, that her parents do not allow her to visit the library until she has finished highschool.
    “Reading – a waist of time!”
    I was in shock. To me and our family, reading was sacred and always had this very special time and place in our otherwise quite chaotic lives.

    • How kind of you to host her! I bet she loved living with you for the summer and learning so much about someone else’s lifestyle. How sad that she wasn’t allowed to visit the library. I don’t know what I would do without my library and all of those books.

    • Awesome! I’m so glad you liked it. Ashley, the author of the post, is a very talented writer and book reviewer. She cares deeply about her cause and is a wonderful philanthropist. As this was a guest post, she’s not getting her fair share of the publicity. So, be sure to connect with her on her own blog over at: http://www.closedthecover.com/
      She’s got some great book reviews on there, including a review of my own book Some Are Sicker Than Others. Thanks again for the support! I look forward to connecting with you on your blog!

  9. What a fascinating, inspiring post. I love to read, I believe that more people should pick up a book and give it a try instead of watching all this nonsense on television all of the time!

    • Hi Hannah. I totally agree with you. The right book is so much more enjoyable than anything on television. When you read, you bring your own experiences and point of view to the story. Think about it, when you watch a film, who’s version of the story are you seeing? Usually the director’s, somtimes the actor’s. But when you read a book, you are “seeing” your version of the story, which makes for a much more emotionally connected experience. It’s why we always say, “the book was way better than the movie.” The only thing better than reading is writing. I just finished writing my own book, Some Are Sicker Than Others, and I can tell you, without any hesitation, it was rich and fulfilling experience.

  10. I stumbled upon this post from clicking “freshly pressed.” I struggle with writer’s block/lack of time to write, and was browsing some ideas for coaxing more words out of my head. This is an excellent post and I am very glad I read it. It made me think of something that could be helpful for me and other autistic people. I will call it Room to Stim. It doesn’t exist yet, but from reading your post about Room to Read description, I can formulate a description for it. Perfect timing since today is Autistics Speaking Day. That started in 2010. Autistic people speak and blog about their experiences being autistic, and also about advocacy.

    Ivan

  11. william wallace

    One can understand the inner coflict as struggle that
    many go through in life / yet its not all loss / indeed
    there being far more gain than loss it being one does
    not fully understand that they are going through many
    changes that in making a far greater stronger person.

    Life is being as the iceberg in much more hidden than
    revealed / one can’t get lost in the mystery of life / it
    deep in its understanding as in it’s ongoing unfolding..

    Thus to make a few points as to unravel the mystery…

    Some go through intense periods of brain development
    it can be as feel it awesome curse / yet it also a blessing
    in that the changes to the brain is in preperation in one
    having far greater experience as understanding of their
    spiritual nature / thus it be not all bad news/ thus be of
    good cheer / that of sorrow / in time will be of great joy.

    Depression … depression being a chemical reaction of the
    brain to aid one through such changes of the brain… thus
    don’t fear the depression as try to run from it as or turn
    to drink drugs tobacco etc . Indeed the answer embrace
    your depression in doing so you’ll find it a very rich deep
    experience (however) don’t get too fond of depression
    as in time when the brains changes are made such the
    deprtession will fade as become a very distant memory
    getting too fond of your depression it would be rather
    funny in going to your doctor saying i’m concerned that
    my depression is going but I don’t want it to go / help.

    What one is being prepared for is that of meditation in
    one turning the senses inward in their unfolding of the
    spiritual self. Meditation is the final stage of everyones
    development the senses are then turned inwards in a
    unfolding of the spiritual self / not ideas as beliefs or
    a heaven beyond te clouds but of very practical spirtual
    experience that grants a clarity of understanding in one
    knowing the creator understanding purpose of creation.

    Throughout history of humanity ther be spiritual teachers
    among all the teacher of teachers the teacher of teachers
    aids as guides on the final stage of learning (meditation).

    Present time the teacher of teachers is Prem Rawat / Prem
    has dedicated his life to aid guide those whom have reached
    the stage of meditation. On PC search put (words of peace)
    or (words of peace global) on site be a selection of videos in
    which Prem explains meditation / a invitation to all whom
    seek greater spiritual experience as greater understanding
    of creation as creator / in not believing but their knowing.

  12. As a Nepali, I will always be thankful to John Wood for what he started in Nepal and spread it to other countries that needed help, I will take this opportunity to thank John Wood and thank everyone else who believe in charity and devote their time and money for the betterment for someone less fortunate than themselves.

    • John Wood did start an amazing thing in Nepal and knowing that he left a comfortable position with a big company to do it makes it even more impressive. It broke my heart to imagine Nepalese children with only 5 books to read and no one to teach them.

  13. A great post and I look forward to reading more about Room to Read. I live in Qatar in the Middle East and there are literally hundreds of thousands of Nepali men (and some women) working here, the majority in low paid service and construction. Without exception, all of them are sending money back to Nepal to pay for their children’s or siblings’ education; many have knowingly sacrificed their own education and chances of marriage to help their loved ones. After reading ‘Little Princes’ by Connor Grennan (a great tale about his sometimes bumbling efforts to reunite displaced Nepali ‘orphans’ with their families) I started free English lessons for the Nepali cleaners at my husband’s work. Not a radical approach, but my small effort to help them improve their job prospects wherever they are in the world.
    Also, I’m so pleased you have turned your life around. Well done :)

    • I think that is fantastic! It is so kind of you to offer free English lessons. Just like the money I sent to them, it might not be much but it’s something and every little bit helps. If everyone did a little something it would turn into a lot of help. It’s sad to know that so many are giving up so much to help their families back home but it’s inspiring to hear stories of self-sacrifice in order to try to help future generations. I’ve never read “Little Princes” but I’m going to have to check that out now. Thank you for the recommendation.

  14. Very inspirational. Every year my family donates to their favorite cause instead of buying Christmas gifts. I believe I just found a new cause to add to my list!

    • That’s a great idea! I might need to suggest that to my family this year. Instead of encouraging the overwhelming commercialism of the U.S. I would love to see my family support a cause that is important to them. I’m glad to hear you will be considering Room to Read. They truly are a fantastic organization.

  15. KatherinesDaughter

    Beautifully spoken Andrew. A turning point book for me was Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith. My life has been touched by addiction/alcoholism and I read her book at the perfect time. I was open to a Power greater than myself and she helped me “let the light in”. Good luck on your journey…may you raise all the money you wish for….and more….Joanne

    • Hi Joanne, my name is Ashley and I write Closed the Cover. I wrote this post as a guest blog for Andrew at his invitation to share a little bit about my cause. I actually met Andrew through the book he wrote called “Some Are Sicker Than Others.” It is a fictional story based upon his struggle with alcohol addiction. It’s a powerful story and I would encourage you to read it. I’m so happy to hear that you were able to find a book that touched your life and helped you on your journey. It’s amazing what the written word can do isn’t it?

      • KatherinesDaughter

        Hello Ashley! Sorry I missed that you wrote that beautiful story! Yes, the written word is absolutely amazing…

  16. Pingback: Room to Read was Freshly Pressed | Closed the Cover

    • Oh you are welcome. Thank you for reading and for checking out Room to Read! They are such a great organization, I hope you find that you love them as much as I do.

  17. Thanks for writing this – ever since I read it a few days ago I’ve been thinking about it a lot (despite the fact that I have very little money to give!) When you do reach the goal of $1250, do you get to see how your donation is being used? i.e., do you get to see which girls’ education you’ve funded? Just out of curiosity.

    • Wouldn’t that be nice?! Being honest, I am not sure if I am able to tell which specific girls the funds to go or not. Every year I select a different program to raise money for and this is the first year I’ve chosen Girl’s Education. Last year it was building a school in Cambodia, the year before that it was building a library in Zambia, before that it was publishing books in a native language, etc. I’ve always been able to identify which country the money goes to but I don’t know if I’ll know exactly which girls. The first week of January I update my own blogsite (Closed the Cover) with the end of year fundraising details so if I do I’ll share the information there. I can confirm that 80% of all money raised by R2R goes directly to their programs which is a detail I love since there are so many organizations with such high overhead that their figure is more like 40% or less. :(

  18. What an inspiring post! I’m so glad you wrote about Room to Read and the work going on in Nepal. I know I take the accessibility of books and libraries in my life for granted and to be reminded that it’s not the case elsewhere in the world is a humbling experience.

    • I certainly take it for granted too. Through my book review site I receive books at least two or three times a week and they sit until I’m able to get to them to read. It’s easy to forget that there are those out there who consider a single book so precious that’s kept under lock and key. I try to donate a lot of my books to causes I feel might benefit from them (e.g. a book about self-empowerment might go to an abused women’s shelter).

  19. oh, that reblog comment was meant as a note to myself when writing my post! sorry about that. I reblogged it and then immediately changed it from published to draft. So that comment by itself wasn’t supposed to mean anything!

    It was a great post I enjoyed reading it.
    Ivan

  20. Thanks for the great post. It really resonated with me. Being able to read books keeps me going. Sometimes being exposed to literature is the ONLY thing that keeps me going. To discover that worldwide, roughly 1/8 people cannot read is shocking. Still to be exposed to literature literacy is preferable, but not crucial…

    • Sure, it’s not crucial in order to be exposed to literature but it is certainly preferable. The inability to read books on my own, in my own time and of my own preference is highly desired over being required to rely on others. The ability to read and write, while not a required skill for survival, is certainly a skill needed for higher success. I agree with you that sometimes my exposure to books is the only thing that keeps me going. I draw my strength from the stories of someone else’s struggles and successes, whether they are true or not.

  21. Pingback: WELCOME! It’s Been One Hell of a Week… | portraits of addiction

  22. Pingback: Tis the Season | Closed the Cover

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