Remarks by Ambassador Blake at the Room to Read Literacy Event, Jakarta
Selamat pagi, good morning! I am delighted to be here with you to launch the Jakarta Literacy Forum, hosted by an organization with which I have been proud to have a long and fond history, Room to Read.
I first came into contact with Room to Read while I was serving as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2006-2009. They invited me to an event to promote literacy by reading books to small children. Since I had three small daughters of my own then, that was an easy, familiar and enjoyable task!
At the time Room to Read was raising money mostly in the United States to build libraries in a handful of Asian and African countries to help increase literacy, often with a focus on girls literacy. They have since expanded their range of countries and programs, which you will hear about in a minute.
In Sri Lanka, Room to Read worked with local writers and illustrators to develop culturally and age-appropriate storybooks for children to read in Room to Read libraries.
Each page was written in English, Tamil and Singhalese so Room to Read could encourage not just literacy and English language skills, but also reconciliation between the Tamil and Singhalese communities who were experiencing wrenching conflict in that period.
And when I was back in Washington, I had the pleasure of participating in an event in 2013 at the main DC Public Library with Room to Read’s founder, John Wood, when he launched his book about his inspirational journey to create the organization.
I was, therefore, delighted to learn that Room to Read would be coming to Indonesia to work with local partners here—partners like Taman Bacaan Pelangi, that is working to establish school libraries in Eastern Indonesia, and Litara Foundation in Jakarta, that is training local authors and illustrators to develop books for beginning readers to help fill that important gap for Indonesian children.
Since the dark days of the Asian financial crisis and the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has become the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy, and a country that has experienced average economic growth rates of 5% or more for the last ten years.
President Jokowi is justly proud of that record, but has prioritized inclusive growth so that Indonesia can raise the incomes of the 40% of the population that still lives on less than $2 a day.
One of the pillars of his program to reduce poverty is education. Education is the critical factor to opening new opportunities for Indonesians and enabling Indonesia to compete in a globalized market.
And the foundation of everything all of us hope to accomplish with education is literacy. For literacy is not only about learning to read, but also about opening a whole new world of wonder and possibility to each reader, with every word and phrase they encounter.
So I am delighted that Room to Read, an organization that has done so much to advance literacy and education around the globe, is hosting this forum with ProVisi Education here in Jakarta.
In line with the Ministry of Education’s goals, Room to Read collaborates with local communities, partner organizations, and governments to ensure that primary school children can become independent readers.
Room to Read doesn’t just provide libraries with books. They work with schools to establish their own libraries with books tailored to local needs, and they train teachers on how to use libraries effectively to build a habit of reading among children.
Before I close, I would like to acknowledge a special guest that we have with us here today, Erin Ganju, Room to Read’s CEO. Ms. Ganju will be speaking next about Room to Read’s work in more detail, as well as plans for the project in Indonesia.