Library at Aitezaz Hussain Shaheed School

Judith’s Reading Room Library at Aitezaz Hussain Shaheed School

The story of the Judith’s Reading Room Library at Aitezaz Hussain Shaheed School   from Basarat Kazim, 2015 Grand Prize winner of the Freedom Through Literacy Award.  Thank you Basarat for sharing!

It was the 6th of January 2014.It was a cold, misty morning. School had been in session for almost a week. Hangu has a long summer break and the winter holidays are brief. Aitezaz had come back to school with his usual smile and helpful attitude. He had also made plans to work really hard and excel in his studies.

Ms. Basart Kazim, "Alif Laila Book Bus Society's Mobile Bus Library"So,happy and alert he was a short distance away from school when a fellow student called out, “Aitezaz, look! That man has something which doesn’t seem right”. Aitezaz looked. The man did too. And in that split second, Aitezaz knew what he must do. He understood the man’s motive. He was approaching the school with ill intentions. He was going to create disaster. Aitezaz ran. The man did the same, but before he could enter the gates of the school, Aitezaz grappled with him. The bomb exploded and the two were no more. One a hero, the other a murderer.

And so Aitezaz Hussain of Hangu, a small district in KPK Pakistan, became a national icon, a legend, a Shaheed ( martyr). At the age of 15, he accomplished what many are not able to in much longer life spans.He gave up his own life for the collective good, choosing to die himself but save hundreds others.

Grieving parents and a traumatised school bore this loss with the quiet dignity and grace that has become Pakistan’s lot. So many of its daughters and sons are repeatedly swallowed up by the evil tentacles of terrorism!

When the 1st Judith Reading Room’s library arrived in Pakistan, Aitezaz’s school seemed the right home for it, and so that is where it went, along with furniture, some more books and materials so that the school could have its own library.

The school has lessons in Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, but English is taught as a subject. The students had access to English story books and fiction for the first time. While talking to some teachers from the school I learnt that the high school has been extended to twelve grades now, instead of the previous ten. The older boys who are keen to enhance their skills and knowledge come to the library before school or during free periods to enjoy the books. The dictionary has become a great favourite as they look up meanings of words they don’t know. And the books are opening up new worlds to them. They are reading stories about other lands, other young people and building bridges between cultures. Walls that separate people into ‘the other’ are crumpling. So for Mohammad Shams, aged 10, the library forms another world, one he visits to pick up books, look at their pictures and form words that make up the  story. He has one chicken, two goats and a cow at home so stories about animals appeal to him.

Afaq Hussain turned 14 this year. He wants to study medicine and plays cricket in his spare time. Sitting and reading in the library is a favourite past time.

It allows him to dream about his future!

Muallim Ali is 18 years old. He spends volunteer hours at the National Institute of Pharmacy and is keen to learn more about disease control. He also wants more knowledge to further his hobby, and also the family’s need, of growing vegetables.

Books are broadening horizons and creating new possibilities. Thank you Judith’s Reading Room for entering the lives of school children in Hangu, Pakistan.

Books in Cambodia Lead to Jobs for Graduating Students

Here at Judith’s Reading Room, we were very touched and impressed to learn from Robert Lucas that he has been able to start his own business in Cambodia after we collaborated with him to open a library there. Here is an update on his story:

Books in Cambodia Lead to Jobs for Graduating Students
by Robert Lucas

Oun, Kimlong and Robert (pictured left to right) in their production facilities.

Oun, Kimlong and Robert (pictured left to right) in their production facilities.

Cambodia always felt a little like home, despite having grown up in the US, so it was a joy and a gift to be able to collaborate with Judith’s Reading Room to open their first libraries here in Cambodia. Not knowing what the possibilities would lead to, I hand carried the books from Los Angeles to both non-profit organizations, A New Day Cambodia in the capital Phnom Penh and Anjali’s House in Siem Reap.

I remember the day I took the books to both places—I was with my parents—and we spent time with the kids reading stories, turning pages, and gazing in awe and curiosity at the new pictures and new stories.  The kids still seemed so young at the time—it was April 2013—but I knew they would be going out into the world outside of the non-profits soon enough.

I was never with the kids on a daily basis after opening the libraries as I went off on my own adventures, opening my first business based in Phnom Penh, but I stayed in contact with the students and would often ask them about any new books they had read or if they were writing their own stories yet. Their faces would light up any time I asked them about the books in their new libraries.

As time passed though, there was a particular growth and synergy for both the students and myself as my business was doing well and the kids were not only learning more, but also readying themselves to enter the workforce. One by one, the students would leave the fertile soils of the library and the non-profit to start planting seeds of their own as they began to build their careers and lives ahead of them.

When I started out with my business Jiva Probiotics, which creates hand-crafted probiotic beverages, I knew building a strong team would be key, so one of the first places I looked to was the non-profits I had been connected to. I hired Kimlong who was a former teacher from A New Day Cambodia and we continued to strengthen our team by inviting the students, who were leaving the center to look for work, to join our team. Turns out that has been a big key to our success because we started with a feeling of camaraderie dating back to the founding of the JRR libraries.

To this day, Jiva and the leaving students continue to partner and work together and even though some have come and gone, moving onto even brighter futures, there is a bond rooted in books and libraries. I can only hope that all of our futures stay intertwined and connected through books and meaningful work, leading to brighter days ahead.


Judith’s Reading Room Donates 1,000 Books to Allentown Kids

Judith’s Reading Room donates 1,000 books to Allentown kids



Judith’s Reading Room donated more than 1,000 new books valued at $5,000 to honor its 2016 Grand Prize “Freedom Through Literacy” Award winner, Kelly Stoops.

Kelly, a beloved Allentown teacher, passed away in July, 2015. In her memory, teachers at Roosevelt Elementary School celebrated Kelly’s award winning literacy program at a “Book Blast.” Every child in the school received a book in Kelly’s memory. At the end of the school term, 81 children, 77 parents and 33 volunteers brought books to life through costumed story characters and read to lead groups where parents observed a trained facilitator modeling literacy strategies for them to practice at home with their children.


A major goal of this community-driven literacy program is to prevent ‘summer slide,’ during which students regress due to lack of books and no reading. The 3rd annual $10,000 Judith’s Reading Room “Freedom Through Literacy” Award will honor individual champions of literacy from all disciplines around the world — teachers, librarians, authors, booksellers and educators — anyone who has done exemplary work to instill in others a love of reading.


Applications for the 2017 Award will be available on line in the fall at Since its inception, Judith’s Reading Room has opened 94 libraries in 17 countries with 127,000 books worth nearly $1.4 million. The organization has awarded $20,000 to 10 global champions of literacy.

GRAND PRIZE – 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award

Ms. Kelly Stoops  “Book Blast”
Allentown, PA


Described as the “fairy godmother of reading” by the community that loved her, Kelly Stoops rallied her whole life to develop a passion for books and reading in young children in part with her program Book Blast. Her philosophy was simple: give children books when they are young, make them excited about reading, and they’ll become lifelong learners.kelly4-34

Book Blast began at Roosevelt Elementary School in Allentown, where Kelly was a teacher. During Book Blast, parents observe a trained facilitator modeling literacy strategies, which they would then practice with their child. Afterwards, snacks and crafts made the whole night an event!

What strikes an observer immediately is how Book Blast involved the community. Not only were educators and children participating, but also parents, high school and college students, and even volunteers from local businesses and non-profits. No one was unwelcome; Kelly would even visit neighborhoods to personally invite families to attend Book Blast.

The blend of involvement, arts, and kelly6-37literacy was noted as a best practice in the Community Partners for Success (COMPASS) initiative. For a community where around 80% of households in Allentown are considered low-income, and access to books lacking, this program’s effects are huge. Reading proficiency at Roosevelt rose from 34% to 53%, and parental participation at the school significantly increased as well. This grand success led to the adoption of Book Blast in four surrounding Allentown schools.

Throughout Kelly’s 25 years as an educator, she worked day and night,Kelly-from-brochure both in and out of the classroom, to try to ensure that all students have a bright future. We warmly recognize Kelly Stoops as the 2016 Top Prize winner of the Freedom Through Literacy Award for her tireless effort in inspiring children to love reading.


RUNNERS UP – 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award

Ms. Maria Teresa Bautista, “Read and Learn”
State College, PA


At Bacnotan National High School in La Union, Philippines, students outnumber teachers 45:1 in the classroom. Perennial floods disrupt classes. The number and quality of books at the school are often insufficient to meet the struggling readers’ needs. As a result of all this, students fail to meet reading requirements, let alone have the confidence to complete a book. This is what Maria Teresa Bautista set out to change. Her Read and Learn program pairs younger students with older Big Brothers/Big Sisters who guide them through reading, giving them a judgment-free forum within which they can improve their reading skills and their self-confidence. A love of reading soon follows after.

With its community-building spirit, the Read and Learn program resulted in 70-80% improvement on reading performance in its first year, with continued increases to date. Students additionally show off their improved skills at a reading recital, sparking pride and accomplishment both within themselves and in their community.

We recognize Maria Teresa Bautista as  a Runner-Up in the 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award for her efforts to build independence and confidence through the act of reading among students in the Philippines.

Ms. Dawn Bush, “Birth-to-Five Program”
Allentown, PA


Dawn Bush continuously promotes the special bond formed between a parent and child while reading through her Birth-to-Five Program at Casa Guadalupe in Allentown, PA. It’s the kind of bond is one that not only enriches their relationship, but it also encourages future academic success. For the families Casa Guadalupe serves, the lack of books prevents that bond from forming, as the little money they have must go to life essentials before luxury items like books can be purchased.

That’s where the Birth-to-Five Program comes in. At every quarterly WIC visit, the families are given a book to take home with them, along with lessons about the benefits of reading and related tips. Parents additionally sign a pledge agreeing to read to their child for 20 minutes a day. According to many of the parents, without the Birth-to-Five Program, they would not have books in their homes.

Dawn says that in the beginning, children would prefer a sticker over a book during their appointments. Now it is the other way around. It is for this that we recognize her as  a Runner-Up in the 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award.

Ms. Betsy Dickey, “Rwinkwavu Community Library & Learning Center”
Dorset, VT


Betsy Dickey has spent the past nine years ensuring that the community in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda, has not only the proper access to information at its Library and Learning Center, but also programs that inspire literacy, creativity, and self-realization. The Library holds, among others, literacy, computer, and visual art classes, as well as music programs and storytelling opportunities. With its many partnerships and celebration of all things literacy, the Library provides a rich environment in which its visitors can not only thrive, but thrive with education.

Ninety-five percent of Rwandans in Rwinkwavu are subsistence farmers, and schools lack the infrastructure and trained teachers that its students so desperately need. For a community striving to lift itself out of economic and educational poverty, the Library has become a guiding light towards doing just that.

Betsy’s inspiring work in improving literacy and access to education in Rwanda leads us to recognize her as a Runner-Up in the 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award.

Mr. John Farrell, “Bridges of Peace and Hope”
Hillsdale, NY


While Bridges of Peace and Hope has only been around for 10 years, its founder John Farrell has spent the past 25 years advocating for understanding, literacy, empathy and more. With his organization, John promotes peace and understanding across the world using media, music and stories.

Believing that stories are “flames that light the world,” John and Bridges of Peace and Hope connect students and teachers through physical and virtual meetings in which they share their stories. More often than not, common threads are found. These stories inspire others to take initiative and either help fundraise, provide books, or simply share their own stories. Recent fundraising efforts have lead to the construction of classrooms for the Mukwashi School in Zambia.

We recognize John Farrell as a Runner-Up in the 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award for his creative and enriching non-profit that continues to grow a community of globally-aware and book-loving advocates for peace.

Ms. Sue Guiney, “Writing Through”
London, England


Whereas students in Cambodia normally sit in classrooms focused on rote memorization of facts, Sue Guiney’s Writing Through program engages the students in a literacy-rich environment where ideas are posed and challenged. Students start to realize the power of imagination, and the power of stories. Though a young organization (it was created in 2014), Writing Through blazes an inspiring trail for students to learn how to express themselves in English.

Using a collaborative method between instructors and students, Writing Through holds workshops that expand English fluency and promote creativity. By building confidence through a supportive and imaginative space, Writing Through allows students to gain self-confidence and literacy skills that aim for success.

Sue Guiney is recognized as a Runner-Up in the 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award for her illuminating use of poetry and stories to encourage English literacy among students in Cambodia.


HONORABLE MENTIONS – 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award

Ms. Heidi AbiNader, “Sharpsville Middle School Reads”
Sharpsville, PA

Heidi Abi Nader could be described as one of those teachers who goes above and beyond for her students, and nowhere is this more apparent than her project Sharpsville Middle School Reads.  When the idea of bringing author Elio Schrefer floated around the halls of Sharpsville Middle School, Heidi caught it and ran.  Her program allowed for every student to own a copy of Schrefer’s book Endangered, while Heidi organized weekly contests, daily quizzes, and discussions to engage the entire school with the book for six weeks until the author himself arrived to give presentations. Her commitment to literacy is sure to become a legacy at Sharpsville.

Ms. Julia Dweck, “Musical Mythology”
Macungie, PA

It might seems strange to think that building a harp and developing literacy would be connected but Julia Dweck’s Musical Mythology project does just that.  With the help of the Fireside harp kit, Dweck’s students read and discuss Greek mythology and The Lightning Thief, choose a god upon they base an ode, and culminate their knowledge and creativity in a performance using the harp they built together as a class.  Believing that books activate senses beyond the visual, Julia invites students to experience their tactile and audio aspects to inspire a love of reading.

Ms. Helen Ferguson, “We Care, We Share, Books for Foose”
Hummelstown, PA

Helen Ferguson’s We Care, We Share, Books for Foose donates 4,000 books each year to classrooms at Foose Elementary School in Harrisburg. Helen and other volunteers visit 26 different classrooms 5 times a year, bringing a Santa-like bag of books for the students, and explain to them how a book is made and, of course read out load with enthusiasm and energy. Students then get to select their very own book from the bag to bring home.  For a school whose students rarely have he means to go to the public library and whose own library’s funds were significantly cut, the We Care, We Share program really does feel like Christmas.

Ms. Sydelle Pearl,  “Storypearls”
Pittsburgh, PA

Writer Sydelle Pearl remarked that the literacy programs she had looked into didn’t involve the author as much as she liked, so she set out to create her own to inspire children to love reading. Since 2012, Sydelle and her Storypearls program have visited several schools, homeless shelters and transitional housing agencies to enlighten children about the process of writing a story and how stories connect to one another, therefore engaging them in literature in new and exciting ways. One second grader at Saint Rosalia Academy, after Sydelle’s workshop, exclaimed, “Today is the best day of my life!”

Kelly Stoops and her program “Book Blast”

On Wednesday May 4th we gathered together to celebrate Judith’s Reading Room 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Awards Winners. We would like to the share this wonderfully produced video shown at the 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award dinner in honor of Kelly Stoop’s GRAND PRIZE Award initiative “Book Blast”.

More information on Kelly Stoops, “Book Blast” and the winners will be coming soon!

Judith’s Reading Room Opens Library in Rwanda

Hand-Picked Books Serve Rwanda Subsistence Farming Families

Children at Judith’s Reading Room Muhanga choose from many books—all relevant to Rwanda

Children at Judith’s Reading Room Muhanga choose from many books—all relevant to Rwanda

Judith’s Reading Room, a nonprofit literacy organization established in 2010, announced the opening of its 94th library around the world in its 17th country — Rwanda. The library was made possible by a collaboration with the organization’s 2015 Freedom Through Literacy Award Runner-Up, Janet Brown, a resident of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and founder of TEACH Rwanda.

Volunteers from TEACH Rwanda hand-picked 137 books valued at $1,181 from the Judith’s Reading Room collection to serve the 136 children at Bright School in Muhanga, where public and school libraries are rare. “Bright School is a hub for teachers from around the world to see modern teaching practices in a rapidly developing country where many families are subsistence farmers who have no electricity or water — and certainly nothing to read,” said Brown.

Children are captivated by books about familiar items—such as A Circle Unbroken, about traditional basket weaving.

Children are captivated by books about familiar items—such as A Circle Unbroken, about traditional basket weaving.

Judith’s Reading Room is focused on honoring champions of literacy — those on the frontline battling illiteracy — through its annual $10,000 Freedom Through Literacy Award. Whenever possible, award winners and Judith’s Reading Room will collaborate on establishing libraries together. “By supporting the good work of others, we aspire to share and celebrate people who are doing genuinely astonishing work, instilling in others a love of reading,” said Cathy Leiber,
president and co-founder of Judith’s Reading Room.

To date, the organization has dedicated 94 libraries in 17 countries with 127,079 books donated worth $1,376,872.

Children often match book themes to what they build, write, and draw. This girl made a train with colorful blocks, almost like the one in Freight Train. Integrated learning is prized in TEACH Rwanda schools.

Children often match book themes to what they build, write, and draw. This girl made a train with colorful blocks, almost like the one in Freight Train. Integrated learning is prized in TEACH Rwanda schools.

At Judith’s Reading Room Muhanga, children spread their books on the table. “Teacher, look what I found!” “Look! Look!” They are SO excited!

At Judith’s Reading Room Muhanga, children spread their books on the table. “Teacher, look what I found!” “Look! Look!” They are SO excited!

Early literacy skills begin with books about children with which readers can identify.

Early literacy skills begin with books about children with which readers can identify.

$10,000 Freedom Through Literacy Award Deadline Nears

CONTACT: Cathy Leiber

$10,000 Freedom Through Literacy Award Deadline Nears

Judith’s Reading Room Seeks Champions of Literacy

December 21, 2015 — Bethlehem, Pa.

The 2016 Freedom Through Literacy Award deadline — January 26 — is one
month away and the $10,000 cash prizes are up for grabs, according to Cathy
Leiber, President of the nonprofit organization, Judith’s Reading Room.

The organization, with headquarters in Bethlehem, Pa, through its Freedom
Through Literacy Award, honors individual champions of literacy from all
disciplines around the world — teachers, librarians, authors, researchers, educators,
booksellers, media, missionaries, citizens — in a word, anyone who has done
exemplary work to instill in others a love of reading.

The Application is available on line at The deadline for
submissions is January 26. The Application asks, for example, “Express your
individual philosophy about literacy,” and, “In as many ways as possible, please
describe the impact of your project.”

An international panel of 24 judges with diverse credentials will vote on the
Applications. Winners will be notified by April 13, 2016. Winners will be
announced at an Award Dinner co-hosted by the Colonial Association of Reading
Educators, on Wednesday, May 4th from 4:00-8:00 p.m. at Cedar Crest College in
Allentown, Pa.