INCLINE VILLAGE, Jan. 15, 2008 – In 1991, a handful of porters bore an unlikely load over a 12,000-foot mountain pass en route to a remote village in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world. Their burden -- 900 books and a card catalog – filled the brand new Junbesi Library, the first project of READ Global.
Sixteen years later Rural Education and Development (READ), has established 44 libraries in Nepal and is working on two more in India.
With the help of a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries initiative that was announced today, READ Global intends to double the number of libraries, triple the number of countries in which it operates and bring the number of people whose lives it touches to about two million.
This is the second honor bestowed on READ by the foundation, which awarded the USD $1 million Access to Learning Award to READ Nepal in 2006.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is honored to support READ Global’s work to connect more people to a new world of online information, communication, and opportunity,” says Martha Choe, director of the foundation’s Global Libraries initiative. “By using computers and the Internet in public libraries, people can learn professional skills, search for work, enhance their education, and communicate with family and friends around the world.”
The grant is part of the foundation’s Global Libraries initiative, which is working to increase access to information technology and the social and economic benefits it can provide. Working with partners, Global Libraries helps public libraries in provide access to computers, the Internet, and digital literacy training.
“READ truly is poised to become the Andrew Carnegie of the developing world,” says Art Shultz, the founder and chairman of the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life through support of international micro enterprise and global understanding, among other causes. His foundation is a prime supporter of other READ Global Library projects.
“During his lifetime, Carnegie focused his philanthropic efforts on the establishment of thousands of American libraries. READ has set its sites on supporting the creation of libraries in impoverished villages in developing nations,” Schultz notes. “I am proud to be involved in such an important mission.”
Above and beyond providing books, READ libraries serve as community internet centers, supplying remote villages with access to technology - a modern-day benefit that Carnegie could never have imagined. What started with a simple library in Nepal is now a global model for sustainable educational, economic and community development, touching the lives of more than half a million people.
Among these individuals is Bina Thapa Magar, a 38 year-old Nepalese widow with two young children. After her husband was killed in a bomb blast during the Maoist insurgency, Bina was left with no means to support her family. She endured further difficulties before gaining admittance to a computer-training course at the Sangam Community Library, a READ sponsored facility. The computer skills Bina acquired at the library enabled her to secure a job that allows her to nurture and educate her children.
“Life is all about struggle and hard work. Determination leads anyone to successes,” Bina says. “Sangam Community Library has provided me with this opportunity and I will be grateful to it throughout my life.”
“To be recognized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and receive their generous support in making our vision a reality is so gratifying,” says Antonia Neubauer, READ Global Founder. “READ is the only non-governmental organization of its kind to utilize self-sustaining public libraries as a catalyst for rural development and empowerment in Asia.”
Neubauer conceived the idea for READ after leading a Himalayan trek. Rather than accept tips from clients, Neubauer asked her Nepali guide what he wished most for his home village. “A library,” was his reply.
And so READ Global was born.
With funds generated in the US and abroad, Neubauer, through READ, has partnered with more than 44 Nepali villages and is beginning work in two Indian villages to develop self-sustaining library community centers. True to its roots, “READ is based on helping people work toward something they want,” explains Neubauer. “Villagers come to us with a proposal and a commitment to provide the land and at least 20 percent of the start-up costs.
“This is the ultimate bottoms-up model of development,” she stresses.
In one village, she notes, a man donated his former home; in another an illiterate woman gave land so that her grandchildren could learn to read.
“We’ve tried to create a model where everyone has dignity. We don’t want to create dependence, but rather provide communities with the tools they need to control their own destiny,” Neubauer says.
Before construction of the library begins, villagers need to create a business plan to cover the anticipated costs of the ongoing operations. They must establish a sustaining project that contributes to village welfare and earns sufficient funds to support the facility and pay the librarian. Current enterprises include ambulance services, furniture factories and storefront rentals, among others.
In addition to providing educational opportunity, READ’s goals for each library are that they be self-sustaining, generate additional income to support community needs, create jobs and scholarship opportunities for local people and sponsor workshops on health, agriculture and literacy. Most facilities provide space for daycare centers.
The libraries have become vital community centers. READ collaborates with a variety of other organizations to provide additional services at the libraries including dental and medical clinics, literacy training and sponsorship of women’s groups. In one of the facilities, a physician has been able to perform more than 1,000 operations.
All libraries include a collection of 3,000 to 5,000 books and periodicals written in the native language(s), an adult reading area, a women’s section, space for teens and young adults, a multimedia center with computers and internet access and a children’s room with educational books, games and toys.
To further promote the sense of ownership, villagers maintain the libraries themselves, with training and oversight by READ. Each community assembles a library management committee, reflecting the population diversity. Villagers also develop their own charter, maintain a bank account and select librarians. On average, each READ library provides 5 community jobs.
In an area rocked by political unrest, READ has positioned the libraries as political “Zones of Peace.” Collections include books on subjects ranging from the teachings of Mao to democracy.
Although READ is a systemic approach to community development and empowerment, the core community challenges that READ addresses are education and literacy. Believing that a lack of education is the single most important root cause of poverty, as well as political instability, Neubauer hopes to break this cycle.
This goal echoes Carnegie’s philosophy. Andrew Carnegie gave millions of dollars to fund the establishment of nearly 1,700 U.S. libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Carnegie was himself a victim of poverty with no access to education but for a small local library. It was there that he educated himself and, in what is perhaps the consummate rags to riches story, eventually became one of America’s wealthiest men.
As does READ, Carnegie required that the local entity contribute the land and ongoing operating expenses for the libraries he founded.
More than 100 years later, boys and girls, and, indeed, teens and adults in READ villages are reaping the benefits of their own new public libraries. Women are being exposed to information about pre-and post-natal care for the first time. A schoolboy has become a budding journalist for his local newspaper. And people who still cannot read are learning about investing and financing opportunities by watching videos or listening to audiotapes.
A visitor to several of the READ libraries recalls, “I saw many men, women and children reading books and using computers. What I remember most was the look of hope on their faces. They knew that what they were learning would change their lives for the better.”
Dr. Antonia Neubauer
READ Global Founder, Dr, Neubauer is also president of Myths and Mountains, Inc., a cultural adventure travel company. A former language teacher and educational researcher, she directed a major study on literacy in Philadelphia. Dr. Neubauer has served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Education and on many boards including the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition. She has been traveling to Nepal since 1983, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the Friend of Nepal award by the Association of Nepalis in the Americas and the 2006 Walk the Talk Global Citizen Award.
READ Global, Inc.
Founded in 1991, READ Global is a non-profit organization based in Incline Village, NV. Its mission is to empower developing communities by using a replicable model for sustainable educational, economic and community development that pairs non-profit public libraries with for-profit ventures. READ fosters community independence, competence and empowerment by seeking input from the target population and providing the resources needed to sustain and grow their projects in a manner that is politically and culturally sensitive. It is the only organization of its kind to support the establishment of freestanding public libraries in third-world countries.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people -- especially those with the fewest resources -- have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co- chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.