Susanne Gervay: Room to Read Writer-Ambassador

There is no one more compassionate, generous and hard-working on the children’s literature scene than Susanne Gervay. She is a dedicated, action-oriented Room to Read writer-ambassador (check out her achievements here). She is throwing her weight behind the 2014 Room to Read World Change Challenge, a mission to raise $20,000 for 20,000 books for kids in the developing world. Today, she shares what drives her to support this extraordinary organisation.

1. Out of all the charities in all the world, why did you decide to become a writer-ambassador for Room to Read? 
How do you change the world to make it safer for our kids? Without literacy and reading, how do you even make the first step out of poverty? Room to Read reaches the most disadvantaged children who are born into generational poverty. They have little hope of leaving the slums, where survival is the best they can expect. With a dedication that I have rarely seen, with an organisational structure that has integrity and is collaborative with families and communities, Room to Read changes the future of kids trapped in poverty. What a privilege to be a Writer Ambassador.

Susanne Gervay with Room to Read staff, supporters and writer-ambassadors.

2. What do you most love about Room to Read’s work and approach to what they do?
So many people in 1st world countries want to help 3rd world kids out of poverty. There is huge good will, but often it becomes lost in bureaucratic costs, corruption, failure to work with communities, lack of organisation. I love Room to Read because it works, because the money raised builds libraries that has meaning for its community, educates girls, partners communities in education, provides literacy programmes that work. It’s nearly reached 9 million kids in 10 years in Asia and Africa and it’s going to reach more and more children. Education changes the world and Room to Read makes that happen.

3. What makes you care about education and literacy for children in other parts of the world? 
My parents were refugees, who survived war and communism. My father loved the land and was a farmer in Hungary. My mother was a ‘princess’ whose father was a Professor of Engineering in Budapest. She was beautiful and played the violin. They fled with nothing to Australia, not even language. They didn’t speak English and were grateful to find jobs in factories. They worked very hard so that their children would have education and be all they could be. My parents were very proud that I became a writer. To honour them, I advocate for all children wherever they are, so they can also have the gift of education and literacy.

4. You are a literacy hero. What kinds of things have you done to show your support for Room to Read over the years?
Literacy hero – what a beautiful accolade. I love it. As a children’s author, we have opportunities to reach thousands of young people through festivals, talks, endorsements on our website and promotional material.

As head of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Australia East and New Zealand, I established Room to Read as our charity. As a director of The Hughenden Hotel in Sydney, and home of SCBWI Australia and New Zealand, The Hughenden proudly sponsors Room to Read events. The Book Fair at The Hughenden was wonderful, where a huge Room to Read banner was draped across the hotel front fence on prestigious Queen Street Woollahra – home to Prime Ministers, Banjo Patterson, opera star Dame Joan Sutherland, writers, artists and Barzillai Quaife Australia’s first philosopher. It’s the right place for a Room to Read banner.

I am hoping to create awareness among young people about Room to Read through my much loved anti school bullying I AM JACK series. When John Wood co-founder of Room to Read, one of the most inspiring leaders I have ever met, stayed at The Hughenden, we talked about I AM JACK and its reach into schools. The result was that the Room to Read logo sits on the back cover of I AM JACK. That was the beginning of a very special relationship between I AM JACK and Room to Read.

The fourth and final book in the series, BEING JACK in a rare act of faith by my publisher HarperCollins Australia, allowed me to include Room to Read in the body of the text. In I AM JACK, Jack’s whole school supports Room to Read with posters, cake stalls, radio interviews. Supporting Room to Read is a two-way gift. The gift to the kids in the developing world, of education and literacy and the gift to our kids of giving and changing the world.

The launch of BEING JACK will be a BENEFIT for Room to Read raising awareness at Darling Quarter Theatre Darling Harbour Sydney 5 p.m. Sat 23 August 2014. It includes a performance of the play I AM JACK and great fun.


5. What actions can schools and students perform to show their support?
Join Tristan’s Destination Literacy World Change Challenge campaign!!!!!!

A cake raffle is cool. I love lamingtons. 

A gold coin day. It’s just $1 for each book. 

Put up posters. 

Connect with your Room to Read chapter – mostly volunteers, they’re fantastic. It’s part of Civics and Citizenship in our national curricula and it’s about engaging in Asia too, but more importantly, it’s about all of us caring for our global community.

Welcome on board Room to Read!

I would LOVE you to get your class, school, business or yourself involved in our 2014 Room to Read World Change Challenge to raise $20,000 for 20,000 local language books for kids in the developing world.


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