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A different kind of Valentine's

People often seem to think that I am making up some of the stories I tell about Brandon. I am always talking about how he started the non profit and how he is now teaching at the local university and how we have more staff than we know what to do with because he likes hiring people. When you meet Brandon it is actually pretty easy to miss his sensitive side. He makes fun of people, he is highly opinionated and as we all agree, just a bit weird. I thought Brandon’s Valentine’s Day present to me shows the kind of person he is beneath the grumpy guy who hates being woken up and whose favorite hobby is getting kicked in the head. This is what Brandon values:

Hello my little valentines,

So what do you get the girl that has it all, what’s the one thing all women want…how about a bike repair business that supports a family of 9!!!! Yay!!!!

If you count the number in the photo you will see its only 8 because number 9 is on the way. And No, the girl in the front is not huge, she just is standing closer to the camera and on something higher than the rest. I am a bad photographer but I told them I needed photos because my wife was supporting them. They are very happy and just in the short time I was there did good business. For now the only round object I have for you doesn’t go around fingers, it goes around wheels. The man told me he tried to get everyone to loan him money but no one would give him a fair shot. His older kids go to school and help him when they finish classes. He told me that he thinks if he does well enough he will send his kids to learn English near his house. So there is the fact that a whole family is thankful that you are such a good wife and let me spend the money you work so hard to earn in crazy ways and….

The profits from your new business can all go to buying a huge ring. This gift truly is the gift that can keep on giving!!!!

Thanks for being such a fun wife and helping me sort out my crazy ideas and my ADD view of the world. Love you tons and wish you were here.

Love you,


So yes, for Valentine’s Day he gave me a bicycle repair shop that he has invested in. The owner needed more than our microfinance project allows so Brandon decided to make it his own personal project. He has a big heart and isn’t that what Valentines Day is all about? That and chocolate, but I can buy that for myself! Here is a photo of me with my repair shop partner…



Recently Brook Wilkinson came and stay with us at Journeys Within. She was writing a story about “voluntourism” for Conde Nast Magazine and wanted to do some research. We had a wonderful time hosting Brook and also showing her the language schools and our other Journeys Within Our Community projects.  She wrote an incredible article about the recent trend of volunteering while traveling, and we are proud to share it with you.

Here is a section of the article by Brook: “…I left Cambodia without the weight of the world’s problems on my shoulders. For once I stayed at a first-class hotel in the developing world and didn’t feel some shame at my good fortune. As Journeys Within president Brandon Ross put it, “You may not be able to change the world, but you can change lives.” Just as important was the faith my visit gave me in JWOC. The ideal voluntourism program aims to both make use of travelers’ time and earn their future support. After watching the staff—Americans and Cambodians—work so diligently, I knew that whatever money I could give them would be well spent.”

Please go to http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/detail?articleId=12200 to see the article in its entirety.

Below are a few pictures from Brook’s stay.

(Top: Brook volunteering at the language school. Bottom: a photo of Angkor Wat taken during her helicopter ride).

Laurette's Volunteer Experience at Wat Chork

This past February, Dr. Laurette Poulos Simmons volunteered to lead a week long ESL Workshop for the Journeys Within Our Community Language School Teachers. All 12 language school teachers attended, learning how to create dynamic powerpoint presentations and engage their students in many activities. “I was so interested in her teaching technique and how she explained the lessons to us. All the lessons were simple and easy to understand for the second language learners”, said Chorm Ley, one of Wat Thmei’s English teachers.

One of JWOC’s newest language school teachers, Sann Tola also said, “She had given us the experience that is very important for our job as English Teachers and that also we had lacked before. I am most interested in her methods of how to get the students’ attention in the lesson.”

With the generous sponsorship from Laurette, Chamm Sela, a teacher at Wat Chork, will be attending the annual Cambodia TESOL Conference in Phnom Penh in 2009. Laurette is excited for Sela to attend.

posted by Melissa 4/21/2008

Through Their Eyes – Cambodian Photo Workshop

To get a more intimate glimpse into the lives of each of my students, I gave them a self portrait assignment. For each photo, I asked them to explain why they took it to the class the following week. Most interesting is the wide variety of photographs I have received thus far:

Biv Brom: One of the monks that live at Wat Chork reveals his comic side by taking photographs of what he sees is humorous.

Sreilin tells us about the beautiful sunrise she wakes up to: “I get up early every morning. I took this picture because I love all the colors when the sun rises: Red, Pink, Yellow, Orange and Blue.”

Sara chose to photograph her family, focusing on her siblings in particular. Her little brother stands next to the many water buffalo of Cambodia.

Lai Rathmana, another monk that lives at Wat Chork, was the only student to take a series of photographs at night, having fun with the vibrant lights of carnival rides.

posted by Melissa 4/21/2008