Did you know:
· Girls are two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population?
· In the developing world, 42 percent of girls are not enrolled in school?
· Award-winning actress/producer/director Octavia Spencer admitted she still gets nervous talking in front of a crowd?
Believe it or not, these seemingly disparate factoids came together at the Library of Congress on March 26 at an event to honor Room to Read. Room to Read is an international network of more than 50 chapters raising funds to support literacy and girls’ education in Africa and Southeast Asia. The group received the 2014 Rubenstein Prize from the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book for “outstanding and measurable contributions to increasing literacy.”
The packed house at the Thursday evening event included a strong contingent from event partner The Junior League of Washington sporting name tags bearing the titles of their favorite books. After networking over drinks and hors d’oeuvres, attendees streamed into the Coolidge Auditorium to hear keynote speaker Octavia Spencer.
Ms. Spencer brought far-flung educational challenges closer to home by speaking about her own struggles growing up dyslexic in a low-income, single parent household. Her teachers saw her potential and worked hand-in-hand with her mother to provide the support and encouragement she needed to get through school and succeed. “I am your walking billboard,” she said. “Literacy and education are the keys to the kingdom.”
A highlight of Ms. Spencer’s presentation came during the Q & A portion, when an audience member asked how to raise awareness about literacy in the face of more pressing problems like terrorism, war and weak economies. “These issues go hand in hand with literacy,” Ms. Spencer replied. “When young people understand that they have a future and can read the written word,” they can resist the hopelessness and extremist indoctrination that destroy communities. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause.
Craig Herb, head of the DC Chapter, spoke next, demonstrating the organization’s motto—“World change starts with educated children”—through stories such as that of Tay Thi from Vietnam. Her family wanted her to quit school and go to work, but with financial help and mentoring from Room to Read, she stayed in school and went to college. She is now a teacher, the highest paid member of her family, and a catalyst for literacy and opportunity in her community.
After hearing inspiring stories of transformation, attendees gathered in the opulent Great Hall for more refreshments and an opportunity to talk to Room to Read volunteers about how to get involved. Even children can help. Through Students Helping Students, schools, youth groups and universities raise funds for Room to Read, which then works with indigenous authors and artists to create books in-country based on the cultural traditions of the children who will be reading them. While stories and environments may differ, one thing remains the same: children around the world relate to, and want to help, one another.