We are delighted to bring you this Mat Chat™ from Nicole Smith, a member of our JUJA community. Read on to share her volunteer journey and learn about Room To Read, an organization working tirelessly to help educate girls in developing markets.
I longed for babies long before I was of childbearing age. I began my volunteer career as a candy striper in the hospital delivering the mail with my grandmother. After graduating college, I spent my Saturdays volunteering in the maternity ward holding newborn infants and gossiping with the nurses. I was then blessed with my own healthy babies and caught up in the chaos, but remained open to what might come next.
The answer soon arrived in my Inbox with an invitation to join a new volunteer effort in town. Some women were forming a local New Jersey chapter to support the global non profit Room to Read. I read the book by the founder John Wood, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and was immediately hooked. Room to Read focuses on literacy and gender equality in education in 14 countries. Room to Read is revolutionary on so many levels. Literacy is something most of us take for granted. Room to Read trains teachers and publishes books in local languages to help young students learn to read in their native tongue and develop a lifelong habit of reading.
Each local chapter around the globe invites volunteers to be creative in raising funds and awareness for Room to Read programs. Coming from a family that values volunteering, I looked for ways to get my kids involved. We have hosted speaking events featuring female executives, visited Girl Scout troops, held concerts, bake sales and book sales to benefit Room to Read. Other chapters host luncheons, galas, and cooking classes to raise funds and friends for Room to Read. Global campaigns invite all chapters to participate using a common theme. For several years Room to Read promoted Namaste World where local yoga studios donated class fees to fund scholarships for girls.
The Room to Read Girls’ Education Program focuses on keeping girls in school during the tough transition period into secondary school. Girls are often required to drop out of school at this juncture to marry, find employment in remote cities, or become subject to trafficking. Many must avoid attending school when they are menstruating, which naturally puts them behind.
Girls who are educated will marry later, will have fewer children, will educate those children, and will invest nearly 90% of their earned income back into their community, alleviating systemic poverty. Archaic traditions and customs hinder change, but Room to Read has found a way to advocate for girls and for change.
Room to Read provides uniforms, books, supplies, tuition fees and exam preparation services for girls in the Girls’ Education Program. Room to Read goes beyond academic support by utilizing social mobilizers in these communities to foster change. Social mobilizers act as role models, advisors and advocates for girls in the program. Social mobilizers provide support, offer advice, and facilitate workshops that teach critical thinking, speaking, empathy and critical life skills. Local teams also collaborate with government officials at the local, regional and national levels to promote girl-friendly learning environments.
This year Room to Read celebrates educating 50,000 girls through their scholarship program. Room to Read has benefited over 11 million children since 2000. Our New Jersey chapter began in 2010 and I have benefited beyond words. Exercise and social responsibility are my highest priorities. Time constraints have kept me from practicing yoga in a studio lately, but I find peace through repetition in following a yoga DVD several times a week, combining meditation and movement. Yoga allows me to nurture my physical/emotional/mental well-being. By being grounded I can give more.
Room to Read has given me global awareness and a sense of deep connection. I believe we thrive when we have a sense of purpose in our lives. We are fortunate to find purpose through our professions and our passion. I am grateful to have found mine.