Qi meets Grace Sai, Founder of Books for Hope, who brings bilingual libraries to poor and remote villages in Indonesia. She wants to encourage these children to read, because knowing more is the starting point to achieving more.
By Wang Lin
A girl curious about Books for Hope workshop in Northern Jakarta, 8 March, 2009
Born in Malaysia, Grace is an avid 28-year old social entrepreneur. She started as a consultant in Jakarta in 2006. Her passion for children and education leaded her to found Books for Hope in 2008, which aims to tackle education problems for children in remote villages in Indonesia. Together with a team of the brightest professionals, she has established 16 libraries across the country with strong corporate partnerships.
Qi: What are your role and mission at Books for Hope?
Grace: As the founder, I provide the vision and direction, but I let the team lead the everyday operations. I still shuttle between Singapore and Jakarta to attend partnership meetings and visit the rural communities.
My mission is two-fold. First, it is to intervene with the future of the kids. We hope some of them will have the determination and skills to break out of poverty, achieve success, and return to their villages to be a change agent for the rest. Second, we want to intervene the life views of professionals in better-off circumstances. By bringing them to mingle and work with rural communities, they come to know the total reality and what they can do to help.
Qi: How would you use one word to describe your experience so far? What is your most memorable story?
Grace: Humbling. I remember one fishing village in a slum area where we conducted our enrichment workshops for more than a year with PwC Jakarta. In this village, fishermen live in wooden huts on stilts because they do not have identification cards, which prevent them from obtaining basic rights. We set up a library in one of these huts in the middle of the other huts. Although almost always stinky, we love this village because of the attitude the children and parents have towards education and their belief that that is the ticket to a better future. One day, however, the entire row of huts caught fire. And because they were made of wood, saving their homes became an impossible task.
“When the fire broke out, the village head ran immediately to our library and picked up whatever books he could save. This story stuck with the villagers and with us, for a long time. Today, those villagers are still homeless but our books are still being read in their waiting days for a new home.”
A community center at a slum area in North Jakarta where Books for Hope set up a library. Being on the ground in marginalized communities is part of Grace's monthly routine.
Qi: What is your plan for 2012?
Grace: Books for Hope is looking at mobilizing more professionals to be teachers in our villages and to grow our internal team. In Singapore, together with a team of co-founders in our efforts to provide a 'home' for social entrepreneurs (because it is a tough journey!), we are bringing the Hub to Singapore in 2012! The Hub is a co-working space, event series and business support tool for changemakers. There are over 4000 changemakers globally belonging to 28 Hubs around the world.
“In a 3,000+sq ft space in Singapore, we hope to gather the region's social and environmental entrepreneurs, innovators and investors into a community of change and synergy. We hope you will be a part of The Hub, Singapore!”
About Books for Hope
Books for Hope is a non-for-profit organization with the aim of changing lives of children in remote and poor villages in Indonesia through education. The aim is to provide these children with a starting point different from their parents –a point from which they can begin to break the vicious proverty cycle that has gripped their families for generations. Contact Grace at
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