READ Global: Building Libraries for Rural Development

READ Global is an innovative non-profit organization founded in 1991 that works to rebuild rural communities in Nepal, India, and Bhutan.

Every month, 5 million people flee rural villages in search of a better life in cities, but most find themselves living in squalid slums instead. There they may contribute to problems such as water and air pollution, insufficient access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, and the spread of disease. READ Global seeks to counteract this problem by improving the quality of life in rural villages.

How They Work

READ stands for Rural Education And Development, but there’s a double meaning in the name because one of READ Global’s primary approaches to improving the rural communities where it works is by building libraries. READ libraries improve access to education and learning in rural communities and also serve as community centers tailored to the needs of each specific community. Each library contains most or all of the following components:

  • 3000-5000 books
  • a computer center with internet access and computer classes
  • electronics such as fax machines, scanners, DVD players, and overhead projectors
  • early childhood development center with educational toys and books
  • community meeting rooms
  • and more

In addition, many READ libraries also have other components chosen by the local community to fulfill a need, such as job training and education centers, health clinics, maternity clinics, and HIV/AIDS education. In recent years, READ Global has also been putting extra emphasis on women’s centers in each library, which empower women through literacy and health classes, job training, and women’s groups.

Like non-profits such as and Trees For the Future, READ Global enters new communities only at the request of the communities themselves. This helps ensure that the community is committed to the long-term success of its library. Communities must donate 10-20% of the cost of building the library, as well as the land and labor to build it. Each community is also required to submit a solid business plan for a for-profit enterprise that will be run in connection with the library. This not only ensures that the library will be sustainably funded, it also increases the number of local jobs created by the library. Some of the unique enterprises now run in connection with READ Global libraries include ambulance services, furniture factories, and fish ponds. One remote village in a region popular with trekkers now runs solar-heated rental showers!

To date, READ Global’s libraries serve an estimated 1.04 million people in Nepal alone, and its programs in India and Bhutan are expanding. READ Bhutan recently completed its first library, only the second public lending library in the entire country.

How You Can Help

READ Global funds 80-90% of the initial cost of its libraries through outside sources such as donations. You can also support READ Global’s great work by connecting on Facebook or Twitter, hosting a READ Global fundraising event, or visiting one or more READ Global centers through its partnership with the travel company Myths and Mountains.

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