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Room to read, books to share

Every time I visit my children's school or a public library, I think about how fortunate the kids are in this country. They have books -- lots of books -- to read.

I marvel at how nice a library can be. So many books!

I am surprised to see how many books each teacher has in her own classroom. All are available for students to use and read.

How I wish I had grown up in this kind of environment where books are so readily available for everyone, rich or poor.

But I didn't have the fortune as a child growing up in China. My parents were not rich enough to buy me books.

I didn't have money to rent books on the street, as it was common then. I didn't go to a public library. Books and reading were not a part of my early life.

Several years ago when I first read about John Wood and his "Room to Read" non-profit organization, I felt really inspired and still do today.

That's because I very much appreciate the work he does in order to meet the educational needs of millions of children in the developing countries, to have books to read and to gain a good education.

Wood is the founder and CEO of Room to Read and the author of an award-winning memoir, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World" (2006).

In 1998, Wood was a senior executive at Microsoft when he took a vacation in Nepal that changed his life.

The defining moment happened when he was invited to visit a local school and was shocked to see the poverty.

In the so-called "library," there were no desks, no chairs, no shelves. The few books available were so precious that they were kept under lock and key -- to protect them from the children.

Wood made the decision to come back with books. But he did much more than that.

One year later, he left Microsoft to start an organization that had no brand recognition and no capital. What it did have was his passion and energy.

What started as a vacation in the Himalayas became a spiritual journey, and then a mission: to change the world one book and one child at a time.

Room to Read's goal is to provide educational access to 10 million children in the developing world, to help them gain the lifelong gift of education.

Room to Read strives to break the cycle of poverty through the power of education.

Currently in Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Bangladesh, South Africa and Zambia, Room to Read works with rural communities to build schools, establish bilingual libraries and computer labs, publish local language children's books, and provide long-term scholarships to girls.

Room to Read has several programs. And there are different ways people in this country can help and get involved. One of them is the "Students Helping Students" campaign.

Students Helping Students is designed to further global education, understanding, and philanthropy in the hearts and minds of the students, teachers, and parents who are interested in partnering with Room to Read.

Through this campaign, students can learn about the geography, language, and cultures of other countries.

They can learn about the daily lives of the children they are helping. They also learn to value the books and the education they have, and learn to appreciate their own good life. They can develop leadership skills, creativity, and the courage to get involved and make a difference by helping others.

Since inception in 2000, Room to Read has opened 444 schools, established over 5,630 bilingual libraries and 155 computer and language labs, published 226 new local language children's titles representing over two million books, donated over 2.2 million English language children's books, funded 6,922 long-term girls' scholarships.

So far, Room to Read has impacted the lives of over 1.9 million children (and counting) worldwide.

Room to Read began as one individual's vision to share his love of reading with children of a rural Nepali village and has now become a global movement of promoting literacy and education. The organization is now one of the fastest growing non-profits of the last decade.

Wood has been recognized as a "21st century Andrew Carnegie." [Andrew Carnegie helped build over 2,500 libraries in the United States and around the world in the early 20th century]

I think Room to Read is a great charitable project for our schools to get involved in. By partnering with Room to Read and raising funds for its programs, students can learn some valuable lessons and do something good for the society.

Like Bill Gates, John Wood is my hero. He has inspired me. And I know he has inspired many others worldwide and will continue to do so.

John Wood is changing the world. So can you and I.

For more information about John Wood and Room to Read, visit and