Books for Children, Literacy for Life
Inspired by his Bangladeshi grandfather’s dream of an educated Bangladesh, Aadel Chaudhuri and his family started Books for Children. The family-run organization believes “a book can change a life,” and in keeping with that motto, it provides books and builds schools in Bangladeshi villages. Once a year, Aadel, 24, travels to the South Asian country to check on the schools, donate books, set up spelling bees, and meet with ministers of education. Back in the United States, he takes time out of his busy schedule as a medical student at Stanford University to design brochures, update his organization’s Web site, and forge partnerships with other charitable organizations. The hard work all pays off during his visits to Bangladesh when a child approaches him and asks in broken English to be read a recently donated book. Read more about Aadel and Books for Children’s efforts to promote literacy in Bangladesh in this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
Books for Children
Salt Lake City, Utah
Stanford Medical School
BS Electrical Engineering and Computer Science/BS Biology
Caltech and HHMI
Open Design Forum, Inc.
About the non-profit
Books for Children is a nonprofit organization devoted to improving education and literacy throughout the world. Our philosophy is that literacy rates are low in third world nations for three main reasons:
- Lack of access to educational materials
- Inaccessible or poor schools
- De-emphasis of education.
What motivated you to get started?
I remember in second grade, our teacher gave us an assignment to write a page on what we do on a normal school day. Then we were supposed to ask our grandparents, and compare stories. I wrote a letter to my grandpa in Bangladesh, asking him about a normal day in his second grade life. Here’s what I learned:
“I woke up every morning at 4 a.m., tended to the cattle for four hours, came home to eat a bowl of plain rice with salt (we couldn’t afford anything else). Then I ran four miles to school, barefoot. I stayed there until 3 p.m., came back home, ate another bowl of rice, tended to the fields until 9 p.m.. Ate another bowl of rice, then went to bed. But instead of sleeping, I sat up late reading under the Kerosene lamp.”
“I studied hard and became the first kid from my village to graduate from college. I couldn’t afford to study science, because it cost five cents more per semester (two rupees), so instead I studied humanities, and went into administration afterwards.”
I was so touched by my Grandpa’s hard work and commitment that not only did I commit it to memory, but when he died I decided that other youngsters should be inspired by his story in the same way I was. Thus Books for Children is dedicated to his memory.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
My daily responsibilities are to publicize Books for Children’s goals and progress by designing brochures, updating the website, and establishing partnerships with charitable individuals and organizations here in the US. Once a year I travel to Bangladesh where my responsibilities increase exponentially. There, I visit the two schools we have set up to teach English for a week and ensure they are running smoothly, donate books to libraries and elementary schools, set up spelling bees, and meet with the ministers of education and of women and children to discuss implementation and improvement of nation-wide policies.
Most notable milestones
In 2000 we shipped our first box of books to Bangladesh. In 2001 we finished construction of an elementary school in a rural village in Bangladesh. In 2002 we constructed an all-girls’ high school and cultural center, the first of its kind, in a rural village. In 2003 we organized and oversaw Bangladesh’s first-ever spelling bee. In 2004 we setup a program with Bangladesh’s education ministry to hand-edit their secondary school text books. In 2005 we shipped a set of books to South Africa, marking our foray into Third World education outside Bangladesh.
What’s the niche?
Books for Children is incredibly unique in its approach to tackling third world literacy and education. While most NGOs and NPOs work more on policy, we are far more interested in getting our hands dirty, and trying to foster change one child at a time. Thus our motto has been that “A book can change a life.” Although we would like to see widespread literacy changes, and we do work with the ministry of education in Bangladesh, we are much more interested in partnering with small villages in Bogra, and setting up tiny spelling bees in forgotten slum schools in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We do not consider ourselves to be a vehicle for major change. Rather, we are confident that the lives that we do touch will forever be changed for the better.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Working on the grass-roots level is challenging because it is often difficult to assess need. Because our business model has been to help those who need it most rather than help everyone a little bit, we are constantly trying to search out the children and schools that are most neglected and most in need of our services. We have partnered with Bangladesh’s Rotary club and Lyons club to help us make these assessments.
What’s in store for the future?
Books for Children is rapidly expanding to third world countries outside of Bangladesh. We expect to increase the size of our infrastructure as we grow bigger and take on greater responsibilities. Thus far we have been a humble family-run nonprofit organization. This will change as we begin to tackle educational issues of more global proportions.
Is this what you do full-time? What keeps you busy outside of the Non-Profit?
I’m currently an HHMI research fellow at the California Institute of Technology. I’m also a medical student at Stanford where I’ve finished two years. My studies keep me extremely busy, but Books for Children is a nice breath of fresh air in between long hours of hard work.
Best way to stay ahead / stay afloat as a non-profit
The best way to stay afloat is to stay positive. As long as you enjoy what you are doing, and you truly believe you are having a positive impact on the world, you will stay motivated even through the tough times.
Guiding principle in life
Life is short, and although it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and push yourself towards future goals, you can’t live your life just dreaming about the future. You need to enjoy the present. You need to enjoy the road, not just anticipate the destination.
Yardstick of success
Hmm, there are many yardsticks of success. The ones I consider most important are:
- The number of people you positively influence with your words and character.
- Development or discovery of something that improves people’s health and way of life.
- Ability to finish what you started, and do it well, whatever it may be.
Goal yet to be achieved
I have so many goals, I’m wondering if I can fit them all into one lifetime. My major goals outside the charity are to become a physician-scientist doing bench-to-bedside research at a University Medical Center. I’d love to work on cancer research. Currently I’m developing a method that could revolutionize the way we treat melanoma using gene therapy on the stem cell level.
Best practical advice
Don’t worry about what other people think. Just do what you want to do and make sure you enjoy it.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
My family has not only supported this venture, they’ve been an integral part of it! Books for Children was primarily started by my uncle Habib Rahman and aunt Sandra Rahman. They are the most amazing people I know and are known for their overflowing enthusiasm, optimism and humor.
My cousins Alexandra and Meredith have also been indispensable for Books for Children. They begun a club at their school and although they are only in high school, they have single-handedly edited several of Bangladesh’s nationwide public school system in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. Alexandra prepared the words and basically organized Bangladesh’s first spelling bee, all of this as a high school freshman.
My brother, Munir Chaudhuri, has also been an enormous part of this organization. He donated books to Thailand, Vietnam and Mexico, and organized Utah’s first major book drive for Book For Children’s 5,000 Books or Bust initiative.
My uncle, Habib Rahman, has been a mentor for me not only for Books for Children, but for life. His humility, charisma, enthusiasm, and unconditional friendliness are qualities that I try very hard to emulate. My goal is to become a good person just like him. Thus working closely with my uncle has been a wonderful opportunity for me.
What motivated you to get started?
My grandpa’s death and his lifelong dream of an educated Bangladesh motivated me and the rest of my family to found Books for Children. I was also personally motivated to give back to my motherland. Although many South Asians born in this country tend to forget about their roots, I am constantly reminded by the struggles my parents went through to put me in the relative state of ease that I am currently in. Like a Banyan tree that branches far and wide away from its original location, I am very different from my parents and grandparents in my mindset, ideas, motivations, and ways of life. Still, like a Banyan tree, I will be forever rooted to the origins of my family. Thus Books for Children has been a unique opportunity for me to give back to my roots.
Like best about what you do?
I love the rush of visiting Bangladesh and scurrying from village to village to check on the progress of Books for Children’s initiatives. It feels great to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and see how much the locals appreciate our help. I love going to an elementary school in Bangladesh and handing out books that I collected from a library in the US near my school. It’s such a great feeling when a kid comes up to you and in broken English asks you to read to them the book you just gave.
Like least about what you do?
The long hours trying to plan better ways to reach our audience, gain donations, and enhance our brochures so that they read better. These are logistical challenges that every organization faces. What makes these hard for me is that I’m extremely busy and focused on an academic field very different from the goals of my charity. Thus it’s difficult and sometimes annoying to throw myself into a different gear and do needs analyses for Books for Children when I have a lab presentation due the next day.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to engineer bridges.
What was your first job?
I did construction work for the University of Utah Marriott library at the age of 13. I did this for three summers. It was fun to earn some money for myself, and learn some handy skills I never learned at home.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Socializing, trail running, lifting weights.
Person most interested in meeting?
Abraham Lincoln because despite his lack of charisma, he was able to incite great change. Abe was a truly honest and sincere person. I’d love to learn from him firsthand what his life motivations were.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Bill Gates. I’m continually impressed by Bill Gates’ devotion to health issues in the third world. How can a man so wealthy be so sympathetic to those who are utterly sick and impoverished?
Three interesting facts about yourself
- When a TV Show director spotted me, he asked me for a “headshot.” I thought he said “hedgehog,” and I went on and on about how I didn’t have a hedgehog because I don’t want something I can’t pet. Needless to say, the director was confused and thought I was crazy!
- My career goal is to cure cancer.
- I love the show “24.”
Three characteristics that describe you
- Laid-back and relaxed
- Deceivingly focused
- Hard-working in the long run (Marathon approach vs. Sprinter approach)
Three greatest passions
“Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown
Bill Gates’ $450 Million Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of our ultimate goals is that by 2012, we hope every poor school in Bangladesh owns at least one rack of books donated by Books for Children.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Anyone with an interest in creating change should contact me. I’d love to hear new ideas and we’re always looking to have more people on board with us.
Interview by Sumaya Kazi
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez