Ladies in Pink: Volunteering with Room to Read

Written by Megan Rendell

Volunteering my time is something I take a lot of pride in doing. It is my way of giving back where I can to organizations that could not operate without the support of volunteers. While volunteering is valuable to the organization, I find the experience I gain by donating my time is a million times greater than the services I’m offering. So why should you volunteer? Because you have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others and if you’re reading this you’ve been blessed with two things very few children in third world countries have: strong literacy programs and the right to a childhood education.

For more than these two reasons, the organization I’m most proud to volunteer my time with is Room To Read (RTR) Vancouver. Starting out as a grassroots book donation campaign in 1998, RTR was founded by John Wood, an ex-executive of Microsoft. Inspired by a three-week backpacking trip in the Himalayas in 1998, John set out to change the large gap in literacy education in Nepal after touring a school on his trip.

Along the tour John was smacked in the face with the harsh reality that the schools in the Nepal villages were not only dilapidated but lacked any resources to teach children to read. John was even more shocked to discover that the (very) few books this school did have – a Danielle Steele romance, the Lonely Planet Guide to Mongolia, and a few other backpacker castoffs – were so precious that they were kept under lock and protect them from the children!

This visit was the beginning of a project John could never anticipated he would undertake. He immediately put himself to work making call-outs to family, friends, and acquaintances, whomever he could to collect as many books as possible.

Quickly his passion for his project grew and the initial book campaign became the launch of Room to Read, a now worldwide NGO that works “to create a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.”

In Canada, RTR is 100% volunteer driven and is built on the basis of a communal vision to support the cause to create a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.

Because I cannot put it better myself, from the Room to Read website, "To achieve this goal, we focus on two areas where we believe we can have the greatest impact: literacy and gender equality in education.  We work in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond."

RTR relies heavily on their chapter leaders (locally the wonderful and inspiring Sharon Davis) and chapter members to help achieve annual fundraising goals and to represent and connect Room to Read to local communities.

I have been volunteering with Room to Read Vancouver since April of this year and work alongside some amazing professionals. Focusing on communications and community relations locally, I am working with the board to develop key stories about our members, local initiatives and international impact in an effort to increase our presence. Most recently, I spent a day volunteering at the TSX Golf Tournament at the UBC Golf Club where RTR was one of three beneficiary charities. Attracting financial professionals from all over including Vancouver, Toronto and New York City, this event was a great way for me to meet like-minded volunteers and professionals while talking about the organization and educating others on how they can help make an impact in the lives of millions of children.

The passion I feel towards the organization’s international cause is definitely a key to my fulfillment in working with this organization, however, the people that lead the charge locally are incredibly driven, talented and generous which inspire me at every meeting to want to do more.

The Vancouver chapter’s efforts have helped contribute to RTR’s amazing worldwide impact. To date RTR has built 1,556 schools and 13,152 libraries; published 707 children’s books; distributed over 11.5 million books; funded 16,879 girl’s education through scholarships; and have benefited roughly 6.7 million children world-wide. These numbers say it all and with an organizational goal to improve literacy for 10 million children by 2015 RTR is well on their way to making our world a better, educated and equal community for future generations everywhere.