Member’s Profile: Doron Klemer

 

In this edition of Member’s Profile, Doron Klemer talks about his involvement with Room to Read, an NGO committed to improving education for children in developing countries.

Member’s Profile

Doron Klemer

We’ve all felt the urge to quit our job and follow a dream, but few people actually do it. I would like to claim that this applies to me (following football tournaments, warm weather, and various teaching positions around the world), but I’m referring to John Wood, a former Microsoft Director in charge of the Greater China region, who cashed in his shares to start up one of the fastest-growing and, more importantly, most life-changing NGOs around today. I would like to share his story, and my involvement with Room to Read, with the readers of TLT.

On first arriving in Japan as an ALT on the JET program in Oita, Kyushu, I was overawed by the favourable ratio of pay-cheque to set-meal prices. I decided to set up a charity committee to take advantage of my and my colleagues’ newfound wealth, but charitable organizations were thin on the ground, and it was a struggle to find a relevant and worthy cause to donate to. Deciding to spread the net a little wider, I discovered Room to Read online, and their mission statement fit our needs perfectly: “World change starts with educated children.”

I was initially drawn in by the broad scope of the NGO’s activities: building schools, bilingual libraries, and computer labs; offering scholarships for girls; even publishing its own student-authored bilingual books (perfect for someone like me with an interest in learner autonomy). Its reach was also impressive, operating in several of the most impoverished countries in South East Asia (now extending to Africa), and we soon began holding events to raise money for our first project: raising 1.5 million yen to fund a school building in Nepal.

Every party thrown, from Valentine’s Day to Halloween, saw a donation skimmed off the entry fee. Wine parties were held, a book club was set up, and sponsorship money was raised through a number of other events—everything from Oita’s annual three-day bike ride to a newly-established Golden Week hitchhiking event (now in its fifth year). Events reached out to both the international and local communities, and several people even set up regular bank transfers, all of which helped us to raise the necessary money in little over a year.

However, even more impressive than the charity itself, which to date has built over 800 schools, around 7,500 libraries and given scholarships to nearly 9,000 girls, is the man who made it all possible. As my interest in Room to Read deepened, I learned more about its founder, especially after buying his best-selling book “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World,” published in 186 languages with a share of proceeds, naturally, going to the charity. John was a high-flying, highly stressed Microsoft executive when he cleared his schedule and departed for a short trek in the Nepalese mountains. After meeting a school teacher who lamented the state of the school’s library, John returned to the U.S. with a small task which snowballed into a giant, life-changing mission: to collect enough books to feed that village school’s library, and to deliver them personally… by yak.

Realising the extent of poverty in the region, John subsequently calculated how long he could survive without an income, and when the answer was 5 years, he quit his job at Microsoft and established Room to Read, a move which has earned him such honours as being named one of Time Magazine’s “Asian Heroes.” The organisation has grown rapidly ever since, fueled by the awards they have garnered, widespread media coverage (including a spot on Oprah and a recent NHK feature), and a global network of volunteers and activists as passionate about the cause as John is himself.

Personally, as well as continuing fundraising, I have been working on getting this charity, and charity organisations in general, more widely known throughout Japan. Several JET communities have established their own charity committees, whether they raise money for Room to Read or another cause they are interested in. I also created classroom lessons and activities based on the Room to Read NGO, and especially any events which I was taking part in, such as the sponsored hitchhike. Students were fascinated by the concept of raising money by doing something ridiculous, something that is commonplace to us in the West but practically unheard of here in Japan. More importantly, students responded to the situation of their peers across Asia, and the hardships they face to get the education which so many of us in the developed world take for granted.

 

Doron Klemer is a Junior Lecturer in English at APU Ritsumeikan University in Beppu, and has taught English and French from elementary to university level. His research interests include student motivation and the use of music in classroom situations. He can be contacted at <doronklm@apu.ac.jp>, and you can learn more about Room to Read at <www.roomtoread.org>. 

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