by Jackie Hennessy '13
When Rachel Levine ’13 (communication and theater) attended the Boston SBS Student-Alumni Networking Event in January, she never knew that in three short months, she would be leading a 30-day campaign for the UMass Amherst campus. But after meeting alumnus Benjamin Happ ’98 (psychology), who is a member of the SBS Dean’s Advisory Board, and learning of the non-profit organization Room to Read, Levine was inspired to construct an awareness initiative at UMass.
Room to Read is a national non-profit organization established with the belief that World Change Starts with Educated Children®. By partnering with communities in developing countries across the world, Room to Read promotes literacy and gender equality in education through the establishment of libraries, classrooms, the publication of children’s books, training of educators and support of girls’ education.
Here are some facts to gain some insight on education and the developing world in which we live:
- 793 million people in the world are illiterate, about 10% of the world’s population
- Over 500 million (two-thirds) of the illiterate are women, 250 million are children, and 90% live in developing countries
- Over 60 million primary school aged children are out of school and without the ability to learn to read or write, the majority of which reside in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa
- If every child received an education, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty
- For every year a girl is educated beyond the average, her wages increase by 15% and her health increases by 10%
- A child born to a literate woman is twice as likely to survive past age five
- Educated women are likely to have smaller families, lower HIV rates, and are likely to educate their own children, breaking the cycle of illiteracy in one generation.
Clearly much needs to be done, but Room to Read has already provided nearly 8 million children with better access to education through the establishment of over 1,500 schools, 15,000 libraries, and distribution of over 12 million books through its fundraising. The concept ignited a drive in Levine to raise funds at UMass—a simple idea that has grown into a month-long campaign that is sweeping through campus.
As a Communication Peer Advisor, Levine shared her passion for the organization with her fellow PAs one day during class. She began by reading a few passages from founder John Wood’s novel Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and by playing the trailer of the recently released film “Girl Rising,” which tells the extraordinary stories of nine girls from nine different developing countries and expresses the global education struggle of young women. One of them, Suma from Nepal, learned how to read and write with Room to Read’s help. Now, Suma uses her education to help other girls achieve that ability too.
Immediately afterwards, the PAs—myself included—were motivated to help this powerful cause. With immeasurable support of Professor Lynn Phillips, we threw much of our time and effort into producing a UMass campaign for the entire month of April. We named it “Students Rising,” a play off of the film that resonated in our minds and hearts and propelled us to think globally by acting locally. We’ve created various events to raise awareness of and funds for Room to Read. Having partnered with the sorority IGU too, we have gained much support from the sisters.
For starters, the Peer Advisors hosted the Kick-Off on April 2— a two hour kick boxing event led by UMass fitness sensation, Eliza Shirazi ’13 (communication and public health). Since freshman year through her kickboxing classes Shirazi, also a Peer Advisor, has been promoting women’s independence and empowerment, topics that go hand in hand with the Room to Read awareness efforts. Charging a $10 participation fee, we raised over $500, an awesome way to keep the group motivated. The event made the front page of the Daily Collegian.
If you’re in the Campus Center, look for the table outside of Blue Wall. Here, you can learn about Room to Read and the Students Rising campaign by picking up a fact sheet and speaking with a campaign leader. Also, you can show support for global literacy and gender equity by donating $1 and signing a book-shaped paper. All of these will be hung in the library vestibule the third week of April to show the support for the project .
In addition The Peer Advisor team has set up three giveback nights at restaurants in Hadley where a percentage of the profits will go towards the Students Rising campaign. April 10, 4-9:00 pm is Eat Bread to Raise Dough at Panera bread; April 17, all day, is Giveback Night at Chili’s; and April 23, all day, is Dining to Donate at Applebee’s. For those who cannot make it to events or would like to donate online, the team has created a donation page through Room to Read where individuals can contribute and track the campaign’s status.
We began our campaign with a goal of $2,000, but after just a few days, we raised almost $1,000. Motivated further by this strong support, we upped our goal to $5,000, enough to build a library for Room to Read. We aim to change the world, with your help, we can
So, please attend our events, donate if you can, and spread the word about Room to Read. To keep up with the campaign throughout the month, visit us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RoomtoRead_UMA #studentsrising.
Jackie Hennessy '13, who is majoring in communication, is an intern in the SBS Dean's Office and a Communication Peer Advisor.