14 March 2013


I attended a book launch last night at the Singapore National Library. It was held in the Pod Room which is on the sixteenth floor. The Pod Room is circular in shape and has floor-to-ceiling glass windows. There are panoramic views of the Singapore skyline from every vantage point. I have been to the National Library a number of times before but never to the Pod Room. It was my first time. 

I was a Pod Room virgin. 

The Pod Room is reserved for special events. Quite a few of my work colleagues attended the Book Launch. There were perhaps 100 people there in total. Wine and Food were provided. The wine was from Chile and it was chilled as well. The winemaker himself was serving the drinks and I chatted to him for a while. His white wine was called “Gala” and the red was named “Pagos”. Put them together and you have “Galapagos”. There were penguins on the label. I liked the concept and the labels. 

The wine not so much.

The book that was being launched was “Creating Room to Read – A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy”. The author is John Wood and he was there himself to promote the book.

John Wood is an ex Microsoft Executive. He left his job at Microsoft quite a few years ago to dedicate his life to building libraries and promoting literacy in third world countries. He named his organisation “Room to Read”. John Wood wanted to change the world and he has. For the better.

His Charity is outstanding.

John's first book was titled, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”. I think he could possibly have come up with a title that was a little more imaginative. 

But what do I know?

Room to Read have built more than 15,000 libraries to date and they plan on building many more. They have also stocked these libraries with books. The Room to Read organization also fund schooling for young children in impoverished nations and they provide scholarship programs for University. I have seen some of their libraries in Nepal. In very remote communities. They are well built and are very well received by the local people. Both children and adults. I have also met John before but in a less formal setting. He is a very nice bloke and he is a gentleman too. I admire people like John. I admire them greatly.

They are truly altruistic.

The world would indeed be a far better place if there were more people like John Wood. 

The main reason that Room to Read is so successful is that John has been able to instill his corporate acumen and business savvy to fundraising and with a moral code. A code of great ethics. 

He is a fundraising machine.

In John’s presentation he spoke about heroes. It was refreshing to hear an American use the word ‘hero’ and associate it with kindness and not violence. I cringe when I hear the term 'hero' applied to soldiers.

It is my belief that heroism is different to bravery. The difference is subtle. In my opinion an heroic act requires both courage and nobility but nobility is the key though.

It would be an heroic act for western governments to withdraw their troops from foreign lands and to stop insane conflicts and killing and bombing. You would be heroes in many people’s eyes Obama and Cameron and Julia Gillard if you took such steps. Bring your troops home. 

Stop the fighting. 

That would be noble. 

That would be heroic.

In his presentation John Wood described his heroes as children and young adults who pushed themselves beyond the terrible circumstances into which they were born. He spoke of kids who walked for twenty miles each day to get to a school where they could learn to read and write. John offered many examples of this from places like Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. These are countries of few opportunities. They are places where hardship and struggle are constant.

Particularly for children. 

Children are the most needy and vulnerable people in all of our societies. They are the most precious of people too. These heroes have pushed themselves out of their lives of abject poverty with incredible determination and with the assistance from the Room to Read organization. Almost unfailingly they all then give back to their communities.

So the goodness perpetuates  and it grows and grows. 

These people are my heroes too.

Every society needs heroes and every society has them too. The reason we common people don’t often see them is because we don’t actually look.

David Bowie sang, “We can be heroes. Just for one day”. We can you know - if we all just try a little bit.

I doubt very much that John Wood would consider himself a hero. He comes across as a man of great humility and modesty and compassion. He is both brave and noble but he is most definitely a hero. 

To me at least. 

In the truest sense of the word.

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