FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Friday:  August 15, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Sri Lanka (6)

Monday
Nov122012

This Diwali let's do small things with great love - (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: Diwali 101/National Geographic)

DIWALI FACTS:

- From darkness unto light is the message of Diwali (also known Deepavali); `The Festival of Lights'.

-  During Diwali, “light an oil lamp, sit quietly, shut your eyes, withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate the soul,” the message goes.

- The time of year is auspicious. Tradition sees practitioners buying gold and starting new bank accounts.

- The actual day of Diwali, calculated by the luni-solar Hindu calendar, falls this year on Tuesday, November 13. Each of the four days comprising the festival of Diwali is distinguished by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.

- The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obedience to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.

- The festival holiday is celebrated in India, but also in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

-The day is usually celebrated with a `Ganga Snan' (a good shower) in the morning, prayers, donning new clothes, preparing good vegetarian food, sweets, cultural events at which a number of artists perform, house visits and exchanges of gifts.

By Rahul Verma

(November 13, 2012) - Diwali, the festival of lights and warmth, has different meanings for different people. It is a celebration full of festivities, illumination and lots and lots of sweets. It could be a long-awaited get-together for some friends and families, exchanging of gifts with relatives, friends or business interest to please them. While you are busy celebrating Diwali with sweets and lights, remember that festivals are not only about enjoying or partying with your friends or near and dear ones but also about spreading joy and warmth around and thinking about the deprived and make some contribution towards society according to your capabilities.

(PHOTO: An Indian girl tries to reach a lantern displayed for sale at roadside stalls, in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012/Rajesh Kumar SinghWhen everyone is in a festive mood there are some children in hospitals who wake up every morning with a hope that they will soon go home, but sometimes the days become months or years. When the whole world is busy in celebrating the festival of lights there are intravenous tubes that are running to their tiny bodies keeping them bound to the beds of the hospitals.

When we are planning lavish parties or buying white goods, children in hospitals dream of riding a bicycle or playing with friends in a playground and enjoying the festivities with their families.

Unfortunately it becomes a more heart-rending experience for children admitted to government hospitals as when their siblings and friends are enjoying at home they are required to live in hospitals which are in filthy conditions and grossly neglected and one can imagine how difficult it is for a child to come out of the mentality and trauma of being sick. When our children are busy in celebrating Diwali, there are some children who are sharing the same bed with two or three other kids, when every house is decorated with charming rangoli paintings with diyas, and colourful electric bulbs, they are left with a common sight of untidy bed sheets, general waste lying here and there in the corridors with disastrous toilet facilities. More worse is the attitude of the doctors and the sisters, who sometimes showers frustration of being working on a holiday in the hospital. In fact doctors are the most educated person in our society but in majority of the cases in Government hospitals their behavior with the patients is totally ignorant.

(PHOTO: Rangoli decorations, made using coloured powder, are popular during Diwali/Wikipedia)Parents are already in deep shock asking the same question again and again, `God why my child'? They hardly find any friend or a relative visiting them in the hospital when the duration of stay becomes a little longer, yes but for the courtesy sake they will surely call you some time with a message that please let them know if anything required. Also on weekends when they are going to a mall or to watch a movie they will definitely spare some time to meet you with the condition that the hospital `is on the way.

In this era of smart phones, and gadgets it is true that we are progressing, getting sophisticated but perhaps our society is also loosing morality and ethics, there is are very few who are really concerned about destitute section of the society.

While we are busy celebrating Diwali with sweets and lights, we should remember that festivals are about spreading joy around and can always make some contribution towards the society according to our capabilities.

Diwali is an excellent time to start thinking about helping other people, especially who are in urgent need of support and care. This could include providing food, clothing and toys for families to enable them to experience the joys of the Diwali festival. Giving warmth, love and hope. That's what Diwali should be all about.

(PHOTO: Hindu holy men, sit in tractors as they arrive ahead of the Kumbh Mela, in Allahabad, India, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012/Rajesh Kumar Singh)Perhaps we are living in this misconception that spending hundreds thousands on God shall make him happy. Little children battling with life threatening diseases does not require too much but your smile along with few sweets or packets of crayons or a drawing book can bring instant smile on their face, it also boost the morale of the parents, some kind words of yours work as miracle to them.

So let's celebrate this Diwali as a festival of kindness and spread smiles and happiness around by visiting some children in hospitals with, remember what Mother Teresa said "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

- This opinion piece first appeared in The Times of India. Rahul Verma is co-founder of Uday Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to children with birth defects.

Thursday
Jun232011

India and Sri Lanka After the LTTE (PERSPECTIVE) 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh of India PHOTO: ICG

- By The International Crisis Group   Colombo/Brussels

India has long been the country with the greatest influence over Sri Lanka but its policies to encourage the government there towards a sustainable peace are not working.

Despite India’s active engagement and unprecedented financial assistance, the Sri Lankan government has failed to make progress on pressing post-war challenges. Government actions and the growing political power of the military are instead generating new grievances that increase the risk of an eventual return to violence.

To support a sustainable and equitable post-war settlement in Sri Lanka and limit the chances of another authoritarian and military-dominated government on its borders, India needs to work more closely with the United States, the European Union and Japan, encouraging them to send the message that Sri Lanka’s current direction is not acceptable. It should press for the demilitarisation of the north, a return to civil administration there and in the east and the end of emergency rule throughout the country.

New Delhi’s relations with Sri Lanka in the two years since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have had four main priorities:

  • providing humanitarian assistance to displaced Tamils in the north and east;
  • supporting major development projects, primarily in the north, with concessionary loans;
  • pressing the Sri Lankan government and the main Sri Lankan Tamil political alliance, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), to work towards a negotiated settlement of ethnic conflict through the devolution of power to Tamil-majority areas in the north and east; and
  • encouraging greater economic integration between the two economies.

India’s approach has so far paid only limited dividends. Deepening militarisation and Sinhalisation in the northern province have increased the insecurity and political marginalisation of Tamils and are undermining prospects for inter-ethnic reconciliation.

The government continues to resist any investigation or accounting for mass atrocities in the final months of the war. Democratic governance is under sustained assault throughout the country, as power is concentrated in the president’s family and the military; attacks on independent media and political opponents continue with impunity.

Even on Indian-sponsored development projects and economic integration, the Sri Lankan government has dragged its feet; for example, construction has begun on only a handful of the 50,000 houses India has offered to build in the northern province.

While officials in New Delhi admit they are frustrated, India remains hesitant to press President Rajapaksa’s regime very hard. This is due in part to its history of counter-productive interventions in Sri Lanka.

India’s misguided policy of arming Tamil militants in 1980s significantly expanded the conflict, and its decision to send peacekeepers to enforce the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord ended in disaster as the LTTE fought them to a standstill and later took revenge by assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

India’s interventions have made Sri Lankans of all communities suspicious, limiting India’s room for manoeuvre. Many Sinhalese see India as favouring Tamils and as wanting to weaken or divide the country, despite its crucial role in destroying the Tamil Tigers. For many Tamils, on the other hand, India is seen as having repeatedly broken its pledges to defend their rights and protect their lives, especially during the final phase of the war in 2009.

India’s reluctance to put serious pressure on the Sri Lankan government is also due to strategic considerations, in particular its desire to counter the growing influence of China, whose financial and political support the Rajapaksa government has been cultivating. India’s own growing economic interests in Sri Lanka have also tempered its political activism. New Delhi’s traditional reluctance to work through multilateral bodies or in close coordination with other governments – due in part to its fear of international scrutiny of its own conflicts, particularly in Kashmir – has also significantly weakened its ability to influence Sri Lanka.

India, nonetheless, has strong reasons to work for fundamental changes in Sri Lanka’s post-war policies.

It has a clear interest in preventing either a return to violent militancy or the consolidation on its borders of another authoritarian government with an overly powerful military. India’s own democratic values and successes in accommodating ethnic diversity should also encourage an activist approach, especially as it seeks recognition as a rising global power with hopes of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

India’s own restive domestic Tamil constituency, to which the central government needs to respond for electoral considerations, is pressing for stronger action. After decades of actively supporting minority rights and devolution of power in Sri Lanka, India has its reputation on the line. With the much-hated LTTE defeated with Indian assistance, New Delhi should, in principle, have more leeway to push for reforms.

If it is serious about promoting a stable and democratic Sri Lanka, India will have to rebalance its priorities and press more consistently and in concert with other powers for major political reforms in Sri Lanka. Parties in Tamil Nadu, in turn, will need to use their leverage with New Delhi in consistent and principled ways, even at the risk of sacrificing potentially profitable political deals.

India’s support for negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance, which belatedly began in January 2011, has been useful and should be maintained. But the immediate focus of the talks and of Indian influence should shift from pressing for effective devolution of power to demilitarising the north and east and rebuilding meaningful democratic institutions and freedoms. This would require:

  • re-establishing the authority of the local civil administration in the north and east to oversee development and humanitarian assistance without interference by the military or central government;
  • holding the long-delayed election for the Northern Provincial Council;
  • publicising the names and locations of all those detained on suspected involvement with the LTTE (including those in “rehabilitation” centres);
  • expediting the release of land currently designated as (or operating as de facto) high-security zones; and
  • removing arbitrary restrictions on political activities and on the humanitarian activities of local and international NGOs.

India should monitor its projects in the north more closely and insist, along with other donors, that they effectively empower local people. India should insist on working through the newly elected local governments and, eventually, with the Northern Provincial Council.

To make this possible, India will need to coordinate more closely with Japan, Western donors and international development banks. Together they have the political and financial leverage to influence the Rajapaksa administration should they choose to use it. India should revive its idea of a donors conference to review post-war progress and to push the government to demilitarise the north, lift the state of emergency and relax anti-terrorism laws.

In New York, Geneva and Colombo, India should publicly acknowledge the importance and credibility of the report by the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability and should support an independent international investigation into allegations of war crimes at the close of the civil war in 2009. At the same time, it should send strong, public messages to the Sri Lankan government on the need for domestic action on accountability.

It should also work towards the establishment of a truth commission that would examine the injustices and crimes suffered by all communities, including those committed by all parties during the Indian army’s presence in northern Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. Acknowledging the suffering of all communities will be necessary for lasting peace.

India should broaden its political agenda from focusing solely on devolution and ensuring the rights of Tamils.

Without a reversal of the Sri Lankan government’s growing authoritarianism, centralisation of power and continued repression of dissent, any devolution will be meaningless and the risks of renewed conflict will increase.

India’s longstanding interest in a peaceful and politically stable Sri Lanka is best served by strong messages to Colombo to end impunity and reverse the democratic decay that undermines the rights of all Sri Lankans.

By raising political concerns that affect all of Sri Lanka’s communities, India can also counter suspicions among Sinhalese and eventually strengthen its hand with the government. This will take some time, but the work should start now.

- International Crisis Group June 23, 2011. The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.  An entire PDF version of this report can be found here

Monday
Mar142011

One Man's Escape from a Tsunami (Perspective) 

by Ian Gill

Tsunami, Sri Lanka 2004, photo courtesy of China Daily(HN, March 14, 2011) -- Six years ago on the evening of Christmas Day 2004, Prianka, a senior project specialist at a regional development bank, was staying at a friend’s home near the beach at Hikkaduwa, 60 miles south of Colombo, on Sri Lanka’s west coast.

His friend called him out to admire the reflection of a full moon shimmering in the pool. For some reason, his friend chose this moment to wax philosophical.

“Don’t get too attached to your possessions,” he said. “Everything changes, nothing is permanent.”

The following morning, Prianka relaxed over breakfast and texted his daughter, who was holidaying in Sweden, that he planned to go the beach 300 meters away.

The next instant, his world collapsed into madness.

“I heard people running along a gravel path leading up from the beach. They were yelling and one was shouting, ‘The sea is flooding.’ I thought, ‘How could that happen?’ It was bright and sunny and there had been no rain,” he recalls.

“We went out on the road and I saw a meter high wall of water coming towards us. It was taking everyone who was running. It hit one old lady behind her knees and she fell and was swept away.

“My friend said he wanted his cell phone, but I grabbed him and shouted, ‘Let’s run!’ I asked the house boy ‘Is there a hill nearby?’ He said, ‘Yes, about a kilometer away,’ so we started running.

“I had flip flops but lost them at the first wall I jumped over. I was barefoot, running through people’s yards and leaping over fences, but I have never run so fast, even when I ran track at high school.

“We must have run 500 meters when the water caught up with us and pushed us. I saw this little girl standing on a mound while her mother was trying to carry her other daughter. I grabbed the girl with my left arm. I stumbled. If I had fallen, I would have gone, but the house boy grabbed my arm and saved us.

“I realized I couldn’t run with the girl, or both of us would die. So I left her on a pile of bricks. I don’t know what happened to her. I still feel horrible about it.”

Sri Lanka 2004, Little Girl wandering in debris after tsunami hit, photo courtesy of Topnews“We finally reached this mound with a Buddhist shrine on top. It was about 30 feet high and I climbed to the top. The water rushed around and surrounded us. I didn’t know what had happened or what to do.

“Suddenly, I heard this echoing sound like the helicopters in the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’. We were 2 km inland and I could see this huge wall of water heading for us, taking houses and trees, everything.

“I had been watching this concrete outhouse to check the ground level. The water lifted it like someone lifting a child and carried it towards us. We were close to a tree and I told my friend to hang on to the tree. The water ran up our hill and abruptly stopped.

“There were about 200 people on our hill, and it was utter confusion with people screaming and pulling bodies out of the water. I saw one man with his ear torn off and another missing two fingers.

“We stayed there for over two hours and when the water receded to knee-level we decided to come down as we didn’t want to stay until dark. We waded for two hours in knee-deep water until we came to dry ground.

“We tried to hitchhike to Colombo, but people didn’t want to take us. Every vehicle was full. People thought it was the end of the world. When we did get a ride, twice the vehicles ran out of gas, but the gas stations had closed with the owners hoping to charge higher prices later.

Aftermath of 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka, photo courtesy of NOAA“I got back to Colombo at 4 in the morning, nearly 18 hours after I had started running. I had no way of communicating with anyone because my friend and I had left our cell phones at the house. When I called my family in Sweden, they had been desperately trying to reach me, but to no avail.  After having read my text message and seen the events on TV, my family had feared the worst.

“My feet were swollen from running barefoot, but otherwise I had only a scratch on my knee. When I think of all the things that could have happened I was incredibly lucky. If we had decided to go anywhere but the hill, if the house boy hadn’t been there, if I had slipped…”

A couple of days later, Prianka accompanied his friend back to Hikkaduwa with food and medicine.

At the ruined home, they found six bodies.

That evening, the moon was full again and shone onto the pool. But instead of shimmering water, the moonbeams spotlighted the bloated corpse of a woman in white floating amid black water and debris.

Ian Gill is a freelance writer based in Manila

Wednesday
Feb092011

Second Tsunami of Floods Hits Already-Drenched Sri Lanka (Report)

(HN, February 9, 2011) - A devastating second wave of floods that has hit Sri Lanka are much worse and more serious than those that had hit the country some weeks ago, says the UN.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) official figures indicate more than 1-million people are affected by the floods, including almost 200,000 persons in 703 temporary evacuation centres in 15 districts. There has been fourteen deaths and it's estimated that more than 7,700 houses in 13 districts have been damaged or destroyed, Elisabeth Byrs of OCHA has told a media briefing in Geneva monitored by HUMNEWS.

While the Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center is doing its best, resources are becoming increasingly limited, the UN says.

Another challenge is that some measures taken by the authorities, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in response to the first wave of floods had been almost erased, including the re-contamination of wells in the water and sanitation sector. The work is further being further complicated by flooded roads and the insufficient availability of boats and helicopters.

The $50 million Sri Lanka Floods Flash Appeal, launched in early January, is currently funded to only 15 per cent, with $7.7 million received, but would be revised upwards at the end of this month, given the current situation of unforeseeable rains which meant that the overfilled reservoirs could lead to new population displacement.

Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) says the Rome-based agency is scaling up its food assistance to flood-affected people.

In January, the WFP provided rations to 500,000 people in five districts in response to the first wave of flooding. Now, with the second wave, WFP has dispatched food assistance for 326,000 people over the past weekend and continued to move towards 500,000 people in this ongoing emergency.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that in January 450,000 metric tons of rice paddies had already been damaged and now there was even more damage to the rice harvest, which was a particular problem for the most vulnerable people.

Initial estimations suggested that at least 87,000 farming households would be affected by the damage to the rice crops, having a knock-on effect on the wider community of people who would be receiving that harvest food.

WFP was facing a number of challenges, Casella underscored. Not only had WFP been using the stocks for its conflict returnee programmes to assist flood-affected people, its rice suppliers also faced difficulties in meeting their deadlines to deliver to the WFP as they had themselves been affected by the floods.

Saturday
Jan152011

Battered Sri Lanka Contends With Destructive Climate Change (Report)

(HN, January 15, 2011) - Still recovering from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the long-term effects of armed conflict, the island nation of Sri Lanka now finds a quarter of its territory under water.

Families wade through floodwaters triggered by heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka, carrying clothing and possessions to higher ground. CREDIT: UNICEF

Recent catastrophic floods have decimated crops, driven tourists away at the height of the season - and caused a spike in food prices. The freak weather has even caused a plunge in temperatures. On Thursday, the capital city of Colombo hit 18.8 Celsius - the coldest day on record in more than 60 years.

Today, in its Twitter feed, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said initial estimates of damage is in the $500-million range.

The rains started December 26 and in one day alone on January 12, 300 millimeters fell, said a spokesperson for the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elizabeth Byrs.

Already 27 people have died, and more than 1-million people have been affected - roughly a third children.

The country - a major tea and rice producer - faces loosing as much as 20 per cent of its harvest due to flood waters. The UN says about 300,000 people have been displaced; one UN official described eastern parts of the country as "a lake." The worst hit areas are Batticalao, Trincomalee and other regions in east-central Sri Lanka and the central provinces. Many roads have been rendered impassable.

More than 360,000 people are living in temporary shelters, Byrs told a media briefing in Geneva, monitored by HUMNEWS.

About 200,000 acres of rice fields are reported to be under water. Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the floods had come just before the harvest season in February and March - in what was expected to be a bumper crop. The Rome-based food agency is gearing up to meet the food needs of about 500,000 people over a period of six months, Casella said.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, has warned of a major food crisis in the country and his ministers have been ordered to develop an emergency plan.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Donations for flood victims can be made to the Red Cross in Sri Lanka

Wednesday
Sep082010

(REPORT/INTERVIEW) "Reading is FUN-damental" - Twitter partners with Room to Read on World Literacy Day

PHOTO: Room to Read, India (HN, September 8, 2010) – Can you read this? 

Wehn yuo cnnaot raed, noe hruendd ftory ccrhaetars maen noinhtg. Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy:  http://t.co/W5UTbuB

Today, September 8th is the 35th anniversary of World Literacy Day.  Adopted in 1965, this year’s theme organized by UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) celebrate’s women’s empowerment through literacy and pays tribute to the women and men who work behind the scenes who help others acquire literacy skills.

One in five adults worldwide - 796 million - lack minimum literacy skills (reading and writing); with two-thirds of those being women and girls accounting for more than half of the 67.4 million out-of-school children globally.

Literacy rates are comparatively, a cause for celebration and the world has made progress since 1965 with now close to 4 billion literate people in the world.  However, literacy for all – children, youth and adults - is still a goal ahead to achieve.

In 2003, the United Nations proclaimed the ten years until 2012 the “United Nations Literacy Decade”, and has put literacy and education front and center as `Millennium Development Goal Number 2’ to be accomplished by 2015.  

A basic education equips children with literacy skills for life and the ability to learn further and grow intellectually.  Literate parents are more likely to send children to school and literate people are better able to access continuing, higher education; and jobs.  In today’s 21st century, `later literacy’ also means experience and understanding with digital languages and technologies but reading and writing remain the fundamental building blocks for development.  

The International Literacy Day global celebrations today focus on the transformation literacy can bring to women’s lives and those in their families, communities and societies and on the people and efforts who help them get there, such as the international organization `Room to Read’.

PHOTO: Erin Ganju, Room to Read`Room to Read’ was founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood, with co-Founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.  This year the organization celebrated its 10 year anniversary with the opening of its 10,000th library in Nepal; where the effort first began.   After a vacation to Nepal in 1999 allowed Wood to witness first-hand the country’s lack of educational resources, he and his co-founders launched a book drive for one school, and turned that one-time act of kindness into the basis of inspiration for a global education movement.  

Over the last decade, `Room to Read’ has increased its work exponentially to impact over four million children in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia through its worldwide network of more than 1,000 schools and 10,000 libraries filled with over 7 million children’s books. 

The organization works in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, and has empowered children with increased access to high-quality educational opportunities – including 10,000 girls this year who are attending school on scholarship.  

Known also for its innovation in technology and marketing, `Room to Read’ (@roomtoread) became Twitter’s first Corporate Social Responsibility partner last year creating a joint project to create `Fledgling’ wine (@fledgling) - a year-long first-of-its-kind social winemaking project in collaboration with the Napa Valley vineyard Crushpad. The Fledgling wines, a Pinor Noir and a Chardonnay, will benefit `Room to Read's’ literacy programs in India and will launch to the market on September 25. 

Additionally, Twitter and `Room to Read’ have teamed up on this International Literacy Day in order to show the world what someone who cannot read see’s, when they look at a page of words.  The `Hope 140’ effort will show viewers the scrambled message you see at the beginning of this article, and then unscramble the message to show the true words. 

"With the International Literacy Day campaign, we are asking the average Twitter user to experience, just for a minute, the disempowerment that one in five people in this world experience due to illiteracy," said John Wood. "Room to Read' is galvanizing a global movement to solve this critical issue and through Twitter's worldwide platform, we aim to not only raise awareness but to instigate action." 

On the `Hope 140’ page you’ll also find ways to buy `Fledgling’ wine, as well as how to donate to Room to Read’s publishing program which has created 433 children's books in 22 local languages and distributes them throughout its library network in Asia and Africa.  In honor of International Literacy Day and throughout September, `Room to Read’ will be producing the book "Unjani" or "How Are You," an original South African children's book written in Xhosa and English and a donation will be matched by a Room to Read donor.

So today, HUMNEWS, Room to Read and Twitter ask you to tweet for literacy and help others around the world to achieve the basic skill of reading - which can change people’s lives, forever.

Because if you can’t read this “Wehn yuo cnnaot raed, noe hruendd ftory ccrhaetars maen noinhtg. Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy:   http://t.co/W5UTbuB” – there is still a long way to go to total world literacy.

==============================================================================================================

PHOTO: John Wood, Room to ReadINTERVIEW WITH JOHN WOOD, Founder of Room to Read and author of the highly-acclaimed book,Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”.

Q:  10 years on in Room to Read for you John. What is the most important thing you've learned about the world as you've been building Room to Read 

John:  Ten years ago, when I delivered that first load of books to children in Nepal, I had no idea that we’d be at the point we are today – impacting the lives of five million children and on track to double that by 2015. The big lesson for me is to dream big and share that dream with incredibly passionate, qualified and hardworking people to make that dream a reality. That’s what Room to Read is all about – we went from a handful of supporters (mainly friends and family) to a network of thousands around the globe.

Children’s education is an issue that crosses borders and resonates with people in every corner of the world – and it’s incredible that Room to Read is the convergence point as we lead a global movement to provide every child with the ability to attend school and learn to read.

Q:  Room to Read was Twitter's first corporate social innovation sponsor.  Talk about before Twitter, and after Twitter.  How has this, helped Room to Read better achieve its goals of literacy?

John:  Twitter has become a great vehicle to help us engage with our supporters and spread our message and mission to an even wider audience. Room to Read’s Twitter account (@RoomtoRead) already has close to 450,000 followers and with the 315,000 people following me @johnwoodRtR, together  we’re reaching almost half a million people around the world on a daily basis – which is outstanding! Many of the our  40+ volunteer chapter network around the world also maintain their own Twitter accounts – so we’re definitely getting the word out there.

Twitter’s unique format enables us as an organization to provide real-time updates and information to supporters – without greatly taxing our resources. We use it to thank our supporters and partners, give shout-outs to other organizations, and just to keep the Room to Read message alive and fresh.

We were also fortunate enough to be chosen by Twitter as their first corporate social innovation partner and because of that we’ve had the opportunity to experiment with creative ways to use the platform. In fact, for International Literacy Day on September 8, we have worked with Twitter to develop a creative way for people to understand the concept of literacy and what it’s like for the 776 million people in the world who still can’t read. At the same time, we’re asking the social network community to help support the publication of a new children’s book for the children of South Africa.

I truly believe that simply by getting the message out across the globe, we’ll rally more and more supporters in our battle against illiteracy – and Twitter is an incredibly platform that allows us to do just that.

Q: R2R has an intense focus on results, talk about how running an efficient and stable business, helps to achieve your goals for reading, literacy and education worldwide?

John:  We started Room to Read with some important basic business principles – that we would be efficient, accountable and results-driven. I strongly believe it’s necessary to take the best of the business world and combine it with the best of the NGO world – in fact, I tell our team that we want to run Room to Read with the compassion of Mother Teresa but the focus and tenacity of a blue-chip company.  

I don’t believe in the model of an NGO spending up to 40 cents of each dollar on administration and fund-raising. So, we keep our overhead low and run a tight ship. We do creative things, like getting our board members to donate frequent flier miles, and having volunteers in 40+ cities raise about a third of our annual budget. There are many small steps that together add up to create a very efficient organization. So, what you get when you make a donation to Room to Read is a very direct, very tangible result. We tell donors exactly how much it costs to build a school, publish children’s book, establish a library or to support a year of a girls’ education. In the long term, education in the developing world has been proven to be the best ticket out of poverty, so an investment in this area yields amazing long-term benefits.

Q: How does technology play a role in how you conduct business and measure results?

John:  It’s incredible how quickly technology evolves and allows us new and creative ways to communicate with our supporters. Using social media has enabled us to have instant access to millions of potential supporters across the globe – we can directly engage with them on a regular basis and develop a real connection more easily share our work across the globe and directly engage with people.

We also actively use technology to develop and track our programs as well. With Salesforce licenses generously donated by the Salesforce.com Foundation since 2007, we have built what we call our Global Solutions Database (GSD) that tracks all of our projects in nine countries as well as our operations in the global office. It’s the Room to Read mega-reference – which is key, because keeping results in key to our organization. Every project established by Room to Read across our nine countries is tracked in the system – we track implementation timeline, number of students and teachers, percentage of community contribution, etc.  The information collected helps guide our monitoring and evaluation team’s efforts, so we know if we need to boost our work in certain areas.  This information is then also used to provide more detailed information to our donors so that we can directly connect them to the project they’re supporting -- and in doing so, we keep our them excited about our work.

Q:  Can you talk about the importance of your local language education programs and books? Why was it important for teaching and learning?

John:  When we started building libraries we soon realized that many of the children’s books in our libraries weren’t being used by the children – most of them were in English, which is not the primary language for most of the students. At that point, we decided to develop our Local Language Publishing program, to produce and distribute books in local languages. The books are written by local authors, many of whom attend our writers’ workshops, and are illustrated by local artists. We also publish the books locally, so in addition to providing books for the children, we’re helping to support the local economy.

Many of our books have won prestigious awards – but more importantly, they are incredibly popular and effective tools in teaching children to read. Not only is the language something the children can understand, but the stories and illustrations are culturally relevant and speak to the children’s life experience.

Q:  Helping children get the habit...how easy is that?  And what have you heard years on, about how this simple act, changes their lives? 

John:  I believe children have an inherent desire to learn, so if you give them the tools and the right guidance, they can’t wait! With our focus being now more directed on literacy and gender equality in education, we’re developing new programs to teach reading more effectively so that it does become a skill and a habit for millions of children. Our teams in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal are already having great success in the pilot phases of their literacy programs, so we have high expectations to see literacy rates jump dramatically in the next several years.

How does reading change a child’s life? This is probably most dramatically illustrated when you talk about educating girls. No offense to my gender – but it is amply documented that when you educate women you have spillover effects to the next generation which are substantially larger.  When you educate a woman, you educate the next generation and all subsequent generations.

There is an increase in health and nutrition for the whole family, higher income levels for the woman and overall improvement in the quality of life for a community. For only $250, you support a girls’ education for one year. I believe that’s the best investment one can make when trying to effect global change.

Q:  What's next for R2R and for you?

John:  For the organization, Room to Read's long-term goal is to help over ten million children to gain the lifelong gift of education by the year 2015.  We’re well on our way to meet this goal – by the end of 2010, we’ll have impacted the lives of over five million children. But we’re also looking to increase the quality of education through improved teacher training and additional materials – we want the educational opportunity to be the best it can be. We’re also looking to expand our Girls’ Education program and provide even more life skill training – girls thrive when they’re allowed to develop self confidence and academic skills – and we want them to go out and conquer the world!

Geographically, we’re looking to add programs in Africa fairly soon and have been researching opportunities in Central America as well. The sad fact is that there is a long list of countries ripe for Room to Read, but we have to be sure we have our resources in place before we take the next leap – but we’ll get there!

As for me, this is it!  I want to see to it that Room to Read meets its goal of reaching 10 million children within the next five years. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked, but it’s also the happiest I’ve ever been, and I can’t imagine doing anything else! Every morning, I feel like the luckiest person alive because I get to make a difference in the lives of children