Room to Read is a non-profit who’s main objective is to eradicate Illiteracy and Gender Inequality in the world through build libraries and publishing culturally relevant books in SE Asia & Africa. I have been involved with them since 2011. Every 2 years, they invite up to 20 Chapter Leaders from around the World to visit their projects. Last October, I had the time and opportunity to join their Leadership Trek to Laos. We spent 5.5 days in this beautiful, hospitable country while getting to know one another, falling even more passionate of our mission, which is ultimately to Eliminate Illiteracy & Gender Inequality in the World.
Visiting the Families of Girls who
Benefit from Room to Read Laos
I’d like to highlight a family I met from our home visits to the Girl’s Education Program participants in a remote village just outside of Oudomxay, a very rocky, windy 6 hour drive north from Luang Prabang.
In this village as well as every community Room to Read is invested, parents and the local government officials have agreed and partnered together in bettering their education system. Room to Read is not the type of NGO that goes into a community without consent. They are a respectful NGO that fully involves the locals which ultimately helps boost their economy. This is the best way to help those in need is not giving hand outs, but partnering with them so that they can become more self-sufficient. This is the case with the local schools, Room to Read goes in, trains the librarians and teachers and after 3 years, they do a soft exit. Follow ups happen periodically to make sure they are maintaining well.
It Only Costs $300 to Keep a Girl in School for the Year!
$300 provides a Girl’s Scholarship for a Year including school supplies, uniforms, bicycles and/or anything else they need to attend school. These girls that I introduce to you, are participants of the program.
Because of Room to Read and other similar non-profits, a lot more students in poverty stricken areas of Southeast Asia and Africa now have access to education.
Note: 2/3 of Laos lives off $2 or less per day, while 1/2 of that lives off $1 or less per day.
My Journey with Room to Read Laos
On the 5th and final day of our trip, we drove about half hour from Oudomxay to Na Say Thong Village. We were received with the most warm welcome into a city meeting room where the Principals, Parents and Teachers gave speeches on the student’s improvements. We learned about their experiences and hopes for the future and celebrated through a traditional Baci “string-tying” ceremony. The volunteers grouped off into 3 separate groups, with 6 in our group.
Miss Chanta is 13 years old and in Grade 8. She is very shy around us but her parents and teacher has told us that she normally is very talkative in the dorms with friends. There is a total of 800 students in the school, all in a friendly competition for #1 title in the province. She’s a hard worker wanting to learn English, ranking #2 out of 63 in her class.
In a few years, she hopes to attend college,
become a teacher and strongly encourages young girls
in the village to study.
Chanta has very little time to play on weekends because of responsibilities such as chores, dishes, feeding the chicken and ducks when she’s back at home. But she is happy to help her parents out as much as she can. When she has a little free time, she loves playing Badminton in the evening.
Their home is 18 kilometers from school. Dad usually drops her off on his motorbike but occasionally she must walk the long distance with friends. During the week, she stays in the dorms and has become close friends with 4 girls. For a week’s food, her mom packs her grain and dried fish. There are also adults in the dorms that cook for them some times.
Most Parents in this Village are Rice Farmers
In 1992, Chanta’s parents along with a few other families were moved from Luang Prabang to Na Say Thong Village to train in vegetation and work in the fields for better opportunities. Dad and Mom only graduated with a 5th grade education, as is the case for most parents who are rice farmers their age in the village. Mom also weaves and sells her crafts with other women at a near by shop.
Her brother who is in the 10th grade is jealous that Chanta can attend school. He has joined the monastery for free education as many Laotian boys do. This is also the case in Thailand and Myanmar. Prior to Room to Read’s involvement, many kids in the area weren’t focused in schools. They didn’t understand or see a purpose in it. After the establishment of Room to Read programs, they began enjoying activities R2R put on including life skills, self-defense, gender equality, just to name a few. Their teacher (who is present today) has taught over 26 years in Laos. He likes Room to Read books, not just the texts, but loves the illustrations too.
Having Supportive Parents Goes a Long Way
We asked her father why he thinks it is important to go to school. He replies, “Studying is important, we didn’t get a high education so we want our children to have it all. We regret that we didn’t have the opportunity. Whatever she wants to do, we all support her, we really want a stable job for her.” Dad is so proud, you can see it in his face. It made my heart melt as he reminded me so much of my own supportive father.
We asked if the parents had any questions for us?
Dad: “No questions, just very happy and please continue to support the children.”
Mom: “Please visit again and support the children.”