Asia Requests English Language Books

San Francisco, May 19, 2009 — Books for Asia supports need for English-language texts with online effort to provide 1 million books

Accomplished photojournalists document individuals inspired by books at

English-language books—rigorous, college-level textbooks; vital reference texts; children’s storybooks—are increasingly in demand across the Asia-Pacific region, according to Books for Asia. An initiative that supports Asia’s development goals by providing needed texts from world-class publishers, Books for Asia is The Asia Foundation’s longest running program. Across Asia, educators are requesting textbooks to provide English-language instruction, which is compulsory in much of the region. Many professional texts in the fields of medicine, law, and technology are published only in English. Books for Asia is asking publishers and donors to help support its effort to donate and deliver 1 million books this year.

“Knowledge transforms lives and communities, and educators want to empower their students. English-language skills allow students to boost their potential—potential for improved income, potential for a broader experience of life,” said Melody Zavala, director of Books for Asia. “Across Asia, there is a thirst for English-language knowledge and skills, and it spans every class and sector of society.”

To make publishers and international donors aware of the impact these books can have, particularly in remote and underserved areas marred by poverty or conflict, The Asia Foundation asked accomplished independent photojournalists Ted Wood, portrait contributor to Vanity Fair, and Josef Polleross, international contributor to The New York Times, and others, to tell the stories of real people and communities transformed by books. Their absorbing images, presented in rich, full-screen slideshows, were launched today at

The online exhibit, The Power of a Book: Books for Asia Stories, depicts four individuals in four different regions. One, photographed by Polleross, tells the story of  Pranorn Maisan, a teacher in Phuket, Thailand, who helped distribute more than 90,000 Books for Asia-donated textbooks to tsunami-affected schools. In another, photographed by Wood in gripping, wide-lens images, Bat-erdene Khayanhyarvaa, a former governor of a province on the stark, Mongolian frontier who taught himself English using Books for Asia texts, says, “You can’t succeed without thinking beyond your town.” The exhibit is generously underwritten by AARP and Chevron.

Books for Asia is active across the Asia-Pacific and is particularly focused on assisting students and teachers in areas experiencing turbulence. Said Zavala, “Books allow education to go forward, despite disruptions and severely depleted resources. Books in conflict zones or post-natural disaster areas provide exposure to information outside one’s region, inspiring the imagination and critical thinking skills—crucial for young people exposed to instability.” In Sri Lanka, for instance, Books for Asia recently used boats and short inland flights to get books to schoolchildren in conflict-torn areas. In 2008, the program provided more than 100,000 books to over 775 institutions there, including primary and secondary schools, libraries, universities, and government agencies.

“Books provide life-changing insight and information for students who will soon be the adults that the rest of the world will work and collaborate alongside in business, science, technology, and diplomacy,” said Zavala.

Books for Asia has identified priority nations where educators report an unmet need for textbooks and is asking for additional book donations and funds to support these students and their teachers.

  • In Pakistan, one third of the population is impoverished, and the literacy gap between boys and girls, is expected to widen. Still, English is required, and Books for Asia has been successful, through its staff and in-country network, in getting books to the turbulent Northwest Frontier Provinces and Balochistan. Tens of thousands of books are delivered to Pakistan annually, and donations include law books for female councilors who provide legal aid to women, and storybooks for children in earthquake-prone Kaghan Valley. To date, approximately 55,000 out of a goal of 60,000 have reached Pakistan.
  • In Afghanistan, security concerns and a lack of qualified teachers willing to work in many parts of the country remains an obstacle in supporting its 32.7 million people. Literacy rates remain low, hindering the country’s development. In 2008, Books for Asia donated 40,000 new books to 170 institutions, including public libraries, schools, teacher training centers, and government ministries. Recently, Books for Asia provided materials and support for library construction at a girls’ high school, including re-training of teachers. To date, 22,000 books have been shipped to Afghanistan—transport is coordinated through the unpredictable Khyber Pass—out of a target of more than 65,000.
  • In Thailand, although literacy rates are high, political upheaval and ethnic conflict in the south threatens the nation’s education system. In 2008, Books for Asia donated more than 80,000 texts to nearly 750 institutions. The overall focus of the books effort is to help foster an atmosphere of stability and knowledge. To date, more than 22,000 texts out of a goal of 45,000 have been provided to students and educators.

“We are grateful to publishers and donors,” said Zavala. “But we urgently need more texts, more funds. Our staff in Asia is committed and persistent—and we are successfully reaching remote, difficult areas.”

In 2008, Books for Asia and its publisher partners donated $41 million worth of books and resources to more than 20 million students, from grade school to graduate school, in 18 Asian countries. Donations are coordinated by Asia Foundation experts to assure that books are high quality, useful, and culturally appropriate.

About Books for Asia

Since 1954, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program has been committed to promoting a just, peaceful, open, and prosperous Asia and to the belief that education is critical to Asia’s advancement. Books for Asia puts nearly 1 million new books and resources into the hands of students, teachers, librarians, and future leaders in 18 Asian countries each year, through the generous contributions of our partner publishers. Today’s world leaders and visionaries, such as Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, and Hilario Davide, Ambassador-Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, read Books for Asia texts as young students. For more information, please visit

About The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to the development of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and open Asia-Pacific region. The Foundation supports programs in Asia that help improve governance, law, and civil society; women’s empowerment; economic reform and development; and international relations. Drawing on more than 50 years of experience in Asia, the Foundation collaborates with private and public partners to support leadership and institutional development, exchanges, and policy research.

With offices throughout Asia, an office in Washington, D.C., and its headquarters in San Francisco, the Foundation addresses these issues on both a country and regional level. In 2008, the Foundation provided more than $87 million in program support and distributed over 1 million books and educational materials valued at $41 million throughout Asia.

For interviews with Melody Zavala, Director of Books for Asia:

Contact Amy Ovalle at [email protected] or 415-743-3340. Or visit our booth at the Books Expo America in New York City (booth number 912) from Friday, May 29 through Sunday, May 31, 2009.

Related programs: Books for Asia

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Amy Ovalle, Vice President, Global Communications
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Eelynn Sim, Director, Media & Strategy
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