There are many women in this world that I admire—loving mothers, intelligent businesswomen, giving mentors—but it is rare to find a woman who so gracefully occupies all of these roles.

When I first met Erin Ganju, I was struck by her practical, “get it done” attitude. With her, anything seems possible, whether it's helming one of the world’s largest nonprofit organizations or educating children across the globe. And on top of her incredible work, she is the mother to 7-year-old Julia, a beautiful girl as positive and worldly as Erin herself. 

Erin was kind enough to share with me some of her many thoughts on motherhood, travel, and the incredible work that Room to Read has done. In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share some of her words of wisdom.

Q: You often bring seven-year old Julia on your travels. What inspired you to bring her with you?

A: It’s really meaningful, because to be able to both do my job and spend time with Julia is the biggest pleasure. What matters to me is that Julia grows up feeling very confident in the world, with a sense of adventure; I want her to be able to go out and explore the world, saying “I may not know the language; I may not know the food or the culture but it’s fun to be able to learn it.”

Q: What is one piece of advice that your mother gave you that you have passed to Julia?

A: My mother taught me to look at the world as an opportunity to explore, and I get to spend time hopefully teaching Julia the same perspective. I think that is a unique gift to give a child at such a young age.

Q: What other lessons does Julia learn when you travel together?

A: Traveling with her helps me to impart what our family values are—embracing the world, all its diversity, all the adventures of going to a new place and learning as we go.  It has been wonderful to be able to show her and talk about the work that Room to Read does, and hopefully to help her appreciate the opportunities that many of the girls we meet don’t have.

Q: I loved seeing the Girls’ Education Program at work in Cambodia. What do you think is the most valuable part of the program?

A: The girls gain a wonderful academic background in the classroom, but the Life Skills workshops provide a safe place, run by women, for the girls to get together. It’s an opportunity to learn all of the things you can’t learn in a classroom, but will help make you successful in life. So it’s communication skills, leadership skills, but also very practical things, like how to make a household budget, health and hygiene. The workshops are also a way for many women to give back and help mentor other girls. We’re helping to empower them, which I think is one of the best parts of our program. 

Q: How do you find beauty around you every day?

A: One of the things that I was always told by my mother is that beauty comes from the inside out. And I think that’s something that Julia grows up with, and [your daughter] Alea—beauty starts from all the things that are in your heart and in your mind, and if you live that in your life than everything around you, including yourself, will be beautiful.

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published May 2014

Room to Read, Holidays, Interviews
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Photo 1: Erin Ganju shows one of Room to Read's books to her daughter, Julia, left, and Vicky's daughter, Alea, right, at the organization's San Francisco headquarters.

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