Spreading opportunity: one page at a time

room to readSydney Morning Herald columnist Sam deBrito writes on topics that matter. I first met him when he wrote on Rev. Graham Long’s book, Love Over Hate: Finding Life by the wayside and he gets into many of the heavy social issues. Last weekend, he wrote about a charity I have been following, Room to Read. Room to Read’s motto is ‘world change starts with educated children’ – as an educator, these words could not be dearer to my heart. Run by the local communities, Room to Read provides books to hundreds and thousands of school children and has also constructed schools, libraries, published books and runs a Girls Education programs in many developing countries. They estimate 8.8 million children have benefited from Room to Read – no mean feat for one individual who had a vision.

Sam de Britto’s column highlights the importance of books and reading to children with the sublime message of ditching the Xbox and taking up books. It is so well written and Room to Read is doing such great work – I will share it with you here.

Room to Read: Spreading opportunity – one page at a time

by Sam de Brito

Is there a more time-worn, perfect pleasure than sleeping next to your child?

Cold nights, clouds of doonas and pillows around you, their precious little face breathing close; warm, safe, happy. It’s sublime. Magnificent.
I’m certain our hairy forebears felt exactly the same as they nuzzled protruding supraorbital ridges with their children under furs in caves tens of thousands of years ago.

A close second to this feeling, however, has to be reading with your kids, their head on your shoulder as you drift through worlds of words and wonder and they coo their delight.

I’ve often thought the only thing more tragic than parents not bothering to read to their children are those kids who don’t even have the books.

Back in 2005, the bestseller Freakonomics stirred its fair share of controversy when it mined data from the monumental US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that showed primary school students’ test scores had no correlation with how much a parent read to a child, only to the number of books in their home.

Of course, parents who buy their children lots of books tend to be better educated to start with and may well “pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids”, said the authors, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.

“Or the books may suggest that these are parents who care a great deal about education and about their children in general, which results in an environment that rewards learning.

“Such parents may believe that a book is a talisman that leads to unfettered intelligence. But they are probably wrong. A book is, in fact, less a cause of intelligence than an indicator. When it comes to early test scores, it’s not so much what you do as a parent, it’s who you are,” said the authors in a widely discussed editorial in USA Today.

What that says about Aussie parents who give their children more $99 Xbox games than $5 books, I will not speculate. Globally, however, many kids are deprived of the joy of reading, not by the ignorance of mum and dad, but by poverty.

Room to Read is a global non-profit organisation that puts books into the hands and homes of these children. The Sydney chapter is run by the indefatigable Raji Ambikairajah.

In 14 years, the organisation has educated 8.8 million children across Asia and Africa, and since 2011 it has opened libraries every year, at a faster rate than McDonald’s opens new restaurants.

Aside from filling a hungry child’s belly, there are few better ways of improving their lot in life than teaching them to read. It has a ripple effect that enriches and empowers not only the life of the child, but their family, community and every other person the ultimately educated child influences and encourages in their lives.
It’s a powerful gift and Room to Read has a bunch of different ways people like you and me can raise money for everything from educating a child for a year ($250) to building a stand-alone library ($40,000).

Raji tells me, 73 per cent of girls in Room to Read’s programs go on to tertiary education and you can bet your Xbox dollars they’ll be the sort of mothers who will buy their children books and read to them at night. Though they probably won’t need the doonas. If you’d like to know more, go to: http://www.roomtoread.org/.

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