Reaching out and giving back, one book at a time

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Contributed photoA plaque thanking the Aspen chapter of Room to Read welcomes people to the library at Ngu Lac A Primary School in Vietnam.

ASPEN – Though they might not celebrate Thanksgiving like their American peers, the children of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam have a lot to be thankful for Thursday.

“Our community came together, and through their involvement with Room to Read this came to fruition – a beautiful library was built in Vietnam,” said Kim Edwards, a board member for the Aspen chapter of Room to Read. “It has changed another community for the better.”

Through the efforts of Aspen’s local branch of Room to Read, construction of a library at the Ngu Lac A Primary School in Vietnam was completed earlier this month.

It was the culmination of several fundraising initiatives, the largest of which – an apres-ski event at the Limelight in April – brought in most of the $20,000 it cost to build the library.

“Thank you to everyone in Aspen for once again helping Room to Read to bring the lifelong gift of education to children in some of the poorest parts of the world,” said John Wood, founder of Room to Read. “The Aspen chapter has long been an incredible pillar of strength in our worldwide network of 52 chapters, and we are thankful for the continued and generous support of the Aspen community.”

Indeed, the Aspen chapter of Room to Read is exceptional. Room to Read is an international nonprofit that seeks to promote literacy and gender equality in education by working in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children; to date, it has worked with more than 5 million children worldwide.

In Aspen, the group includes both adult community members and high school students, which is a bit different from chapters in other places.

“What this shows is that these kids – who live in such a beautiful place – can have such a great impact on others and are interested in doing so,” Edwards said.

Libby Dowley, co-president of the Aspen High club along with Carly Fyrwald, agreed.

“To know that such a small place like Aspen can make such a huge difference in place so far away like Vietnam, … it’s awesome,” she said. “To see these kids’ stories, it’s really powerful.”

In fact, Dowley believes her classmates – some 60 kids from freshmen to seniors – have joined Room to Read for two reasons: the organization’s international efforts and its local Book Buddies program, where high school students are paired with elementary school students who are struggling with literacy.

“The two go hand in hand,” Dowley said. “I think many of us saw what could happen internationally, and we wanted to see change in our community, as well.”

Now that the library in Vietnam is complete, Room to Read’s Aspen chapter will turn its attention to other endeavors. In the past, projects have included publishing a children’s book in the Khmer language in Cambodia and the recent library effort. And while no set plans have been made for the coming year, both Edwards and Dowley say the older and younger members of the chapter will come together with the same end result in mind: bringing the written word to others.

It’s a goal that dovetails perfectly with Room to Read’s mission.

“Our goal is that no child can ever again be told, ‘You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and therefore you will not get educated.’ One library at a time, one school at a time, we are changing lives,” Wood said.