Three years ago, the Schwartz-Britto family decided to take a hiatus from gifting.
Instead the Novato residents--dad James, mom Marucia, and daughters Juliana and Sofia, aged 22 and 17--donated to the Haiti relief effort and to a nonprofit working African girls school.
This holiday season they intensified their efforts, raising $5,000 for a school library in rural Vietnam through Room to Read, a nonprofit that builds and supplies school libraries in the developing world.
“We decided that we didn’t want to go through the motion of getting gifts,” said James, who owns a bodywork practice in San Rafael. “When you know the money you’re giving is going to a specific project, that gift can be transformational. I mean some of the kids have never seen a children’s book.”
Room to Read was started in 1991 by Microsoft exec John Wood after visiting a Nepalese school while on a trip to the country. Since then the group has built or stocked 16,000 school libraries in the developing world and distributed 13 million books. Faced with a shortage of children's books, it has also written more than 800 children's books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages.
An estimated 800 million people around the world are illiterate, according to the World Literacy Foundation, two-thirds of whom are girls. That’s because when faced with choosing which children to send to school, poor families often chose boys, thinking it’s a better investment. Girls who don’t continue their studies are much more likely to get married at a young age, have larger families and have lower incomes.
As a father of two daughters, Room to Read’s focus on girls’ literacy resonated with James Schwartz.
“If you get books into children's hands and get them excited about school, that has long-term consequences,” he said. “They’ll continue their education, go on to high school and then go back to their villages, become teachers and take on other projects. The point is to break that cycle of poverty.”
Studies have shown that supporting girls and women is an effective tool because they’re much more likely than men to use funds to support their children and invest in small businesses.
The Schwartzes are planning to visit the Vietnam school they’ve fundraised for next year. And they’re encouraging others to take on similar efforts, perhaps as part of a student project or simply as a way of liberating the holidays from the frenzy of consumerism.
Recently, the family sent out an appeal to friends and neighbors, inviting them to a meeting at their house.“The holiday season is the time of giving, but how much real impact do most gifts really make?” they wrote. “What if in this season of giving, our group of friends and family could give the gift of literacy—and a much brighter future—to an entire community of children? Together we can.”
Are you forgoing gifts this holiday season and giving to charity instead?