#DisruptAging story from Japanese American, Dori Shimoda, Founder of Give Children A Choice, on giving back.

“When I was 32 years old, I was kidnapped and held at gunpoint for 18 hours. Initially, I thought, ‘This can’t be real. It can’t be real.’ My kidnappers kept poking with this gun and razor-sharp knife. And as they prodded me more and more, I went from incredulous disbelief to realizing ‘Oh my gosh this is real.’ And that’s when I started reliving all the unclosed business I had. After I escaped, I told myself, ‘I’m alive now. I need to commit myself to giving back.’

“When I hit 50, I decided to backpack through Southeast Asia. I made my way to Laos and saw the incredible poverty there and children who, instead of being in school, were dragging sticks through the mud, mostly without clothes. My wife and I moved to Laos, where we’ve been pioneering preschool education in rural villages. No one else wanted to do it. But we took the leap and decided to build in places that people didn’t even know about because they were so remote.

“It turned out that one of the provinces we started to build in was the venue for the 1960s US Secret War (against Vietnam). That war left behind millions of live, unexploded ordnance, or UXO that are still going off and harming villagers 50 years later. It was a traumatizing, heart-wrenching experience to go there for the very first time. We saw bombshells decorating the town and met many UXO survivors. At first, the only way we thought we could help was by making sure the sick children stayed in school.

“Until we met one man who had lost both of his legs and some fingers. He had that look in his eyes that you only see in UXO survivors. The guy languished for years and finally we said we’re going to step in and help him achieve self-sustainability. So we helped him start a minimart business.

“His prosthetic works very poorly and because he can only stand for about an hour or two a day, I built a supply chain where he can make all his orders off a mobile phone. Now, he’s making three times the average income of a Lao person. He no longer needs to beg. He’s regained his self-confidence. He’s doing far better than expected and so what I’m trying to figure out now is how to replicate this model not only for UXO victims but also the disabled.

“My wife and I dedicate our lives, day and night, to do this work. But for me, I feel like I haven’t had enough of a systemic impact being here yet.”

Dori Shimoda
Founder of Give Children A Choice
New Jersey and Vientiane, Laos
Japanese Diaspora

NextDayBetter Storyteller: Sherina Ong