Room to Read: giving the gift of education

For several years, my school (specifically Year Four) has been working with Room to Read in a partnership that is mutually beneficial and going from strength to strength. If you are looking for a non-profit organisation to support and work with, I highly recommend reaching out to the wonderful people at Room to Read.

Room to Read was founded by John Wood who, at the time, was an executive at Microsoft. He left the technology giant to pursue his dream of providing quality education to all children. Room to Read was born. If you would like to learn more about the organisation’s origin, I recommend John’s inspiring book (click the image to be directed to Amazon).

Since its humble beginnings, Room to Read has benefited 12.7 million underprivileged children (and their communities) across Asia and Africa through their literacy and girls’ education projects. In collaboration with local communities and governments, their work includes publishing books (in various languages), training teachers and librarians, building schools, establishing libraries and ensuring that girls complete their secondary education. They aim to impact 15 million children by 2020. Room to Read believes in the transformative potential of education. Nelson Mandela said it best:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

Our action

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At Victoria Shanghai Academy (VSA), we hold a sponsored readathon each year to raise funds and, fittingly, to celebrate books. Since 2012, our Year Four students have raised a staggering amount of money for Room to Read:

2012: HK$17,836.10

2013: HK$65,913.92

2014: HK$108,408

2015: HK$130,673.50

2016: HK$157,781.20

2017: HK$178,853

Each year, the amount raised increases (although I have no idea how we will top HK$178,853 next year). I believe that this is due to VSA families becoming more aware of Room to Read’s important work and the sense of pride in what they have been able to achieve. Our children and families give generously because even amounts that we might consider insignificant go a long way. Consider these approximate costs:

HK$8 can publish a book

HK$200 can fill a shelf with books

HK$400 can teach a child to read and write

HK$2,400 can keep a girl in education

HK$7,900 can provide a librarian, instructional materials and resources

HK$40,000 can teach one hundred students to read and write

Our impact

Now consider the massive impact that our Year Four students have had over the last five years. I calculate HK$659,465.72 since 2012. According to the estimations, our students alone have provided the gift of literacy to approximately 2,000 children who are less fortunate than they are. Over the years, this money has supported various Room to Read projects across Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Nepal. We know this because the organisation updates us with information, financial reports and photographs. It’s very rewarding for the students and parents to see exactly how their donations are spent.

Ongoing work

Although our fundraising takes place around October/November, we work with Room to Read throughout the year. This has allowed us to strengthen the connection and gain a deeper understanding of the projects. As a school, we feel valued and appreciated because Room to Read staff members keep offering their time and expertise to us.

This year, Nisha (a coordinator of girls’ education in India) and Neelam (a highly successful graduate of the India programme) visited Hong Kong. These inspiring ambassadors of Room to Read dedicated some of their limited time in Hong Kong to visit VSA and share their personal experience of Room to Read initiatives.

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In another example, Room to Read staff members will visit Year Four classes to provide workshops around these global issues. They have also offered to work with Year Five students if any of them choose to focus on these issues as part of their PYP Exhibition.

The UN Global Goals

As a school, we have been learning about the UN Global Goals and finding authentic ways to integrate them into our units. Our work with Room to Read has given the students a deeper understanding of two goals in particular: Quality Education and Gender Equality. In a very real way, they have been able to make a difference and contribute to the eventual completion of these goals.

Goal 4: Quality Education

“Education liberates the intellect, unlocks the imagination and is fundamental for self-respect. It is the key to prosperity and opens a world of opportunities, making it possible for each of us to contribute to a progressive, healthy society. Learning benefits every human being and should be available to all.”

Goal 5: Gender Equality

“Gender bias is undermining our social fabric and devalues all of us. It is not just a human rights issue; it is a tremendous waste of the world’s human potential. By denying women equal rights, we deny half of the population a chance to live life at its fullest. Political, economic and social equality for women will benefit all the world’s citizens. Together we can eradicate prejudice and work for equal rights and respect for all.”

I wonder how many of the other Global Goals we could achieve by achieving these two. The world needs educated and diverse minds to solve its complex problems. It’s vital that we fulfil all children’s educational needs and combat the issue of wasted human potential. Thankfully, Room to Read is working on it.

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It’s mind-boggling to think about the many dedication plaques around the world that, like the one above, give thanks to VSA. I am extremely excited to see at least one of them for myself when I, along with some colleagues, attend a site visit to one of the communities that we have benefitted. Look out for a future blog post on this.

I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all of our Year Four students and families for their efforts and generosity, and to Jodi, Cherry, Annie and Tijana from Room to Read for their ongoing work with us.

To make a difference, consider working with Room to Read or click here to make a donation. Your time and generosity will make a huge difference.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feedback. I appreciate it. The students did us very proud indeed!

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks a lot for your comment! We have just finished another successful readathon for Room to Read. The students did us proud once again!

      Best regards,


  2. Fantastic,What a fabulous program and what a mighty effort of your year four students. Great lessons for life are being learned through participating in this project

  3. What a fabulous program and what a mighty effort of your year four students. Great lessons for life are being learned through participating in this project. I am blown away by the amount of money raised in your readathons. It is definitely a project worthy of greater involvement.

    1. Hi Norah,

      Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts. Our amounts raised really are unbelievable – even crazier when we convert to US dollars or pounds. We realise just how much it is! It’s a lot of money even from our privileged perspective. Imagine how far it goes in disadvantaged communities. I’m very proud of our students!



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