Kelly Beker: Today’s Notable Young Professional

After graduating from Western’s M.I.T program, Kelly Beker began working in marketing and promotions. Feeling the urge for adventure, she embarked on a trip to Southeast Asia to teach English in 2010. It was here that she recognized a growing need for quality education. Fast forward three years, and Kelly has made her way to Koh Rong, Cambodia, where she will be building a school to help meet the needs of many underprivileged children. 

For more information and to help educate an island, click here.

Elevator Pitch: Describe your charitable endeavor in a nutshell.
South of the Cambodian beach town, Sihanoukville, is a port to board an hour ferry ride to a tropical, yet extremely underprivileged paradise – an island called Koh Rong. The Cambodian Conservation Centre (“CCC”) was established on Koh Rong as the only non-for-profit organization officially recognized by the Cambodian government. The CCC’s mission is to promote education and environmental awareness through sustainable economic development. In the past two years, the island has opened its door to an influx of tourists. The infrastructure on the island at present cannot keep up with the demands of tourism. Alongside education, environmentally responsible tourist development and the establishment of sustainable practices in water use, electrical power, waste management, and public health and safety are crucial to the future of the island.

Why did you start this fundraising initiative? What was the inspiration behind this life changing decision?
When I arrived for a spontaneous vacation on the beaches of Koh Rong, I immediately noticed the children roaming the beach all morning and afternoon. I spoke with the local Khmer man who started the CCC and inquired as to why the children were not in school. His answer was simple and startling enough to send me on a boat to the mainland that day, to retrieve books and supplies in order to begin my monumental journey: “There is no teacher, so there is no studying.”

Growing up in North America, we often take for granted the habitual give-in that when September starts, so does the school year. The children of Koh Rong eagerly attended my classes the first week, sharing pencils and scraps of paper. I realized then, whole-heartedly, that education is a PRIVILEGE and not a rite of passage.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part of what I do on a day-to-day basis is not expressed to me in words. It is not the appreciative students, eagerly handing me their homework. It is actually the parents of these children, who hand me a coconut or a mango, without a word exchanged, but their gratitude understood. The parents who peep in the doorway, watching their child with awe. It is the reaction of these grateful parents, who have demonstrated without words how imperative it is for their children to be educated, and fluent in English.

That being said, the most challenging part is teaching the local people the importance of education. The short-term need for children to work in order to help provide for their families with sustenance must take a back seat next to the long-term goal of education.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 
I want to continue bridging the gap between the First and Third World. I hope to continue to develop the PRIVILEGE of education, in the world’s most remote areas, for the world’s kindest people.

What does success look like to you?
To me, success is the pride you take in the work you do coupled with appreciating the immediate and long-term impact your work has on other people. 

What has been this most memorable milestone in your charitable endeavor thus far?
Our charitable endeavour has been filled with many memorable moments thus far – both positive and negative. The most memorable and rewarding of these has been the culmination of our grassroots efforts to raise money in Toronto. For two weeks used clothing was collected from anyone willing to spring clean and donate, and the items were sold in Trinity Bellwoods Park. The support that came from family, friends and strangers was overwhelming. Not only did 100% of the proceeds go to education on Koh Rong, but many citizens of Toronto walked away smiling after purchasing their first suit jacket or designer dress. It was amazing to see a First World city raise awareness about this cause, simultaneously helping the impoverished in their own community. 

Have you received support/donations/sponsorships from other charities who are interested in helping this project grow? If so, which ones?
The Cambodian Conservation Centre and the ‘Educate an Island’ initiative, with the goal of building a school for the remote village of Koh Touch, have received an outpouring of support from the local community in Toronto, both from businesses and individuals. In addition to the individual monetary donations on Indiegogo, we have received donations of educational books and toys, as well as teaching supplies from great Canadian companies, including DHX Media, Mastermind Toys, Carson-Dellosa Publishing, CapitalIQ and Dance Surge.

Do you have any advice for other YPs who are passionate about making a difference/developing fundraising initiatives? 
I’m not an expert in international development, but passion will trump minor technicalities. If you truly believe in it, if you feel it is your absolute duty, then follow your heart. DON’T SETTLE!

What is notable to you?
The most notable experience of my time working with the Cambodian Conservation Centre has been two-fold. First, the Cambodian children themselves, filled with innocence and eagerness to learn, without the means to do so. Second, the enormous support I have received from the local community within Toronto in order to further the cause. Thank you family, friends and strangers for putting Koh Rong on the map of social change!