Making room for Room to Read

SCBWI Roving Reporter, Kel Butler warms up her note pad with this guest post on why SCBWI and so many of its members are active supporters of Room to Read.

SCBWI has long been a supporter of Room to Read. Susanne Gervay was the very first writer ambassador, even before the organisation launched a fundraising operation in Sydney in early 2009. Jennie Orchard led the launch into Australia, drawing on her collateral as a speakers’ agent and publisher to engage the many writers and illustrators she had worked and formed close relationships with over the years; people like Susanne Gervay. Melina Marchetta and Libby Hathorn.

All three took part in the inaugural Students Helping Students event at the State Library. Later other SCBWI luminaries Deb Abela and Sarah Davis added their support. And at this year’s conference we’re delighted that ambassadors Oliver Phommavanh and Dianne Wolfer will be with us, as well. All of these wonderful ambassadors contribute in a variety of ways, putting the importance of global literacy and education in the spotlight. Our theme this year is ‘Taking Leadership for Literacy’ - and we are so grateful for the opportunity to raise awareness and funds, helping to give the gift of literacy and education to millions of children across Asia and Africa.

So why are so many great Australian writers stepping up to fundraise and advocate for Room to Read? Let’s borrow a few words from Deb Abela, who says: ‘Every child has the right to an education and to the joy of reading. By helping to educate the world’s poorest, we are not only creating better communities, we are helping build a better, brighter world. It is that fundamental.’

Room to Read focuses on literacy because literacy is the foundation for all future learning. Since it was founded in 2000, Room to Read has impacted the lives of over 10 million children by establishing school libraries, publishing original children’s books in more than 25 local languages, constructing child-friendly classrooms and supporting educators with training and resources to teach reading, writing and active listening.

  • More than 18,000 libraries have been established in 10 low-income countries in Asia and Africa
  • More than 1250 children’s books have been published in over 25 languages, including Khmer, Tamil and Swahili
  • More than 18 million children’s books have been distributed
  • More than 38,000 girls have benefited from the girls’ education program

Room to Read attracts support because it is an organisation achieving extraordinary results, and yet at the same time it recognises that there is so much more work to be done. In addition to those already mentioned, our committed writer ambassadors include Jesse Blackadder, James Foley, Kate Forsyth, Jacquie Harvey, Gus Gordon, John Larkin, Frane Lessac, Sophie Masson, Belinda Morrell,  Alice Pung, Sophie Masson and Sally Rippin. Other writers and journalists lend more informal support.

The fundraising campaign which is supported by our ambassadors is the World Change Challenge. This was the brainchild of Tristan Bancks , designed as a way of encouraging schools and libraries to get involved in fundraising and spreading the word for global literacy. This year we want student leaders to take leadership for literacy, understanding the global issue and spearheading initiatives in their school communities. There are still 781 million illiterate people in the world, two-thirds of them girls and women. As UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, has said: ‘Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future.’

Right now Room to Read needs schools, libraries and businesses all over Australia to get behind the World Change Challenge and take Leadership for Literacy to a whole new level. Many schools are currently in fundraising mode already, with some of them incorporating stories of Room to Read’s programs into their curriculum. St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane is a perfect example of this, giving students the opportunity to learn about Room to Read’s work in Nepal in the wake of the 2015 earthquakes.

If you are interested in getting involved you can find more information on the World Change Challenge on Tristan's website Or like, share or message us on Facebook at

So that's it in a nutshell, really, why SCBWI and so many of its members choose to actively support Room to Read and to raise awareness and funds for Room to Read. Because there is no greater gift than literacy. And – as Room to Read believes profoundly: World Change Starts with Educated Children.