Room to Read – Literacy Changes Lives


Toward the end of December 2011, I wrote about donating to charity: water. This year, I want to talk about Room to Read. For some visitors who might not know, I’m passionate about charity and philanthropy. I have written often about various charities here on WorkplacePsychology.Net. As I shared back in a post about WeFeedback (an initiative of the World Food Programme), WorkplacePsychology.Net is about work, but it’s also about understanding the struggles of people, many of whom work. People all over the world struggle (sometimes daily with unimaginable hardships), and many of them are children who are already working or will grow up to work.

Why Literacy? (from

in the world are illiterate about 16% of the world’s adults. Of the illiterate, 2/3 are women and 250 million are children.

are out of school. The majority live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

are needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015, more than 1/3 of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

have not achieved gender parity at the secondary school level.

Room to Read combats global poverty by improving educational opportunities for children and “helping primary school children become lifelong, independent readers.” It does this by establishing libraries, improving school infrastructure, publishing local language children’s books and supporting reading and writing instruction through teacher training and material development (

Room to Read has an incredible story about an overworked and burnt out Microsoft executive named John Wood. What began as a backpacking trip to Nepal, resulted in a life-changing moment for John. While visiting a school, he saw “a dilapidated schoolroom and a severe shortage of books.” The headmaster of the school made a small request asking him to bring back some books if he ever visited again. A year later, after collecting children’s books, and with the help of his dad, John returned to Nepal with “a train of eight book-bearing donkeys.” When he saw the faces of the kids with the books, he knew what he had to do. John left Microsoft and started Room to Read.

“Literacy gives people tools with which to improve their livelihoods, participate in community decision-making, gain access to information about health care. . . . Above all, it enables individuals to realize their rights as citizens and human beings.” — Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

Five Ways Giving Is Good for You (verbatim from Greater Good Science Center website):

1. Giving makes us feel happy.

In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

2. Giving is good for our health.

In a 2003 study on elderly couples, Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan and her colleagues found that those individuals who provided practical help to friends, relatives, or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t.

In a 2006 study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee, people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.

3. Giving promotes cooperation and social connection.

Several studies, including work by sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer, have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.

4. Giving evokes gratitude.

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude—it can be a way of expressing gratitude or instilling gratitude in the recipient. And research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds.

5. Giving is contagious.

A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. “As a result,” they write, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”

December 2012 marks the three year anniversary of this WorkplacePsychology.Net blog. I am so grateful for all the loyal readers and visitors. The amount of visits and the media links and mentions of WorkplacePsychology.Net has been phenomenal and I want to thank each of you for continuing to stop by.

Wishing you great health and abundant happiness in the new year,

Steve Nguyen