Introducing Aklile Mekuria – JWOC’s new Fundraising and Communications Manager

Aklile Mekuria

Here at Journeys Within, we are always excited to meet the new staff at our sister non-profit, Journeys Within Our Community, and share a little about them with our travelers who might pay them a visit on their next stop in Siem Reap. And we’re especially excited to introduce Aklile Mekuria, JWOC’s new Fundraising and Communications Manager, who comes to the organization with an interesting CV from around the world…

Coming from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aklile has joined the dynamic JWOC staff as the Fundraising and Communications Manager. Born and raised in Kenya and Ethiopia, Aklile is no stranger to working with cross-cultural programmes. Having graduated from St. Mary’s College in Hyderabad, India with a degree in Mass Communications and Political Science in 2015, it was only a matter of time before she was back in Asia.

Journeys Within: Where were your born and raised?

Aklile Mekuria: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. My family lived there for about 25 years. When I was about 7 years old we packed up and moved back to Ethiopia.

JW: What was your first memorable travel experience?

AM: Taking the train to Mombasa from Nairobi. I was perhaps 6 years old but I remember the commotion on the train so well. The trees rushing past the windows, the excitement of going to the beach! When we got there we had such a memorable time, from monkeys stealing our groceries, to camel rides along the beach, and delicious grilled fish by the ocean!

JW: What inspired you to get your degree from a college in India?

AM: India is such a melting pot of cultures, traditions, languages, and food! I could honestly think of no better place to learn how to work in a multi-cultural environment than incredible India!

JW: What did you study and why?

AM: I studied Mass Communications and Political Science. I’ve always been a lover of writing and I knew I wanted to work in the international field and these two subjects lined up perfectly for that.

JW: What other not-for-profits/NGOs have you worked with? And how were those experiences?

AM: I’ve always volunteered for NGOs, especially during summer holidays in high school, my parents would always encourage me to give back in any way, even if it was just one hour in a day. Well that grew with me and my first job out of university was the Programme Manager for Girls Gotta Run Foundation in Ethiopia, an organization that empowers young girls through running and education who are at risk of underage marriage in rural Ethiopia. It was such a privilege to work with these strong girls who have taken back ownership of their own lives.

Most recently I worked at the Sustainable Development Goals Centre For Africa in Kigali, Rwanda. It was interested to work at such a macro level and see the way policies were created and carried out after having worked at the micro level in communities. It was really cool to work alongside influential people that have been key to the development of Africa.

JW: When and why did you first visit Siem Reap?

AM: The first time I visited Siem Reap was in February 2017. For as long as I remember I have always wanted to visit Cambodia, but I never really acted on it. Then earlier this year I decided to pack my bags and go for a visit. I initially had plans to travel around South East Asia but I fell in love with the quiet town of Siem Reap and spent the entire month here.

JW: Why did you want to work at JWOC?

AM: The main appeal at JWOC was the solid stance on child protection in all their programs and operations. It’s unfortunate that children are sometimes used as bait to attract donations or guests, however at JWOC I respected the way in which the needs of the child is always prioritized. Additionally, I liked that this organization focuses on Cambodians working with Cambodians for Cambodia. The teachers, community leaders, and the majority of the staff are Cambodians. Who better understands the challenges of Cambodia than Cambodians?

JW: What JWOC projects/initiatives are you most excited about?

AM: I love the Community Support programs! They’re so specific to the challenges Cambodians in the villages face. I had the pleasure of joining the financial literacy training and was immensely impressed in the way Konthea, the Educational Manager, was able to relate and connect with the villagers and provide simple everyday tools that they can adopt.

JW: What’s your favorite cafe/bar in Siem Reap so far?

AM: The Siem Reap Food Co-op, the company is always great and it’s the perfect place to laze around and eat great food.

JW: What’s your favorite Cambodian food?

AM: I love love love amok curry with tofu! Oh, it’s just too good!

JW: What has surprised you the most about living in Siem Reap?

AM: It’s so interesting to view Cambodia through the eyes of someone living here opposed to being a tourist. Experiencing the everyday life beyond the Angkor Wat Temples and pub street has probably been my favourite so far. It’s the small comparisons that remind me of home and family.

JW: What other regions are you most looking forward to exploring?

AM: I have yet to see the Mekong River and I am so excited about it! I also can’t wait to visit Laos, it’s quite high on my list!

Ban Kok village finishes school upgrades with donations from Journeys Within travelers

Journeys Within travelers who visited the village of Ban Kok, Laos will be excited to see the upgrades their donations have made possible at the Ban Kok school site.

A new sidewalk and fence have recently been completed, providing the kids with safer access to education in this rural village.

From the Ground: Makara celebrates 2 years on the Local JWOC Advisory Board

By Jay Austin

Last month, JWOC Scholarship graduate and Journeys Within Cambodia Country Director, Makara Put, completed two years as member and Chair of JWOC’s Local Advisory Board (LAB). Using his in-depth understanding of the local travel industry, knowledge of local opportunities and understanding of JWOC’s values and mission to promote equal access to quality education, he was able to be part of a team that helped JWOC’s ground team to pursue opportunities and avenues that would not have otherwise access to.

When speaking of his achievement, he said, “For me, it is really important to be in the LAB, because you will be able to learn from other members and from JWOC staff. Moreover you can speak your thoughts and turn your ideas into practice, sharing information that helps to develop JWOC as well. We never know if our ideas work or not if we don’t put them into action!”

Staff Journeys: Kanha visits the U.S.

In April 2016, Kanha Reath visited the U.S. to speak about her experiences as a Journeys Within Our Community scholarship student as well as a Journeys Within tour guide. Upon her return, she shared these memories with all of us…

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Hi everyone,

I would like to let you know that I am back home. On Sunday I had a great time with my family as I missed Khmer New Year during my U.S. trip. Thank you so much for hosting me and showing me around while I was there. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life.

Each place was different and it is hard to say which one is my favorite. I loved them all. However, there are some things that are different from here [Cambodia] and were very interesting to me and I would like to share those with you.

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  • As soon as I got off the plane, I noticed the roads are much better organized. Every 20 meters on freeways there are always signs with directions. That is great, you don’t get lost on those roads. Of course, GPS directions also amazed me.
  • Mountains and snow are amazing to me. I have never seen snow in my life. So touching and eating it on this trip was one of the best memories.
  • Your people are willing to help others. As I traveled to meetings all over, I felt very grateful to those who have been supporting JWOC.
  • Traffic and how people driving respect the rules. They stop when you cross the road. You don’t see this in Cambodia.
  • The water system is very great. You can drink water from anywhere. Not in Cambodia.
  • Very impressive to see your large universities. I have been to three universities (one in Sacramento, one in San Diego, one in Los Angeles) and they are totally different from here. For example: The U.S. Davis university is gigantic. We walked for 2.5 hours nonstop and our guides said we saw only 25% of the campus. That really shocked me as here in Cambodia universities often have only a few buildings.
  • Tall buildings and apartments are exciting to see and compare to Siem Reap. For example: the skylines of Downtown Los Angeles and San Fransisco.
  • The Getty museum is very interesting. I can’t believe you can visit for free. Very interesting to learn about your history and as well as the world history. I loved to walk around and see the amazing view and admire how smart it was for those people to make this.
  • In the restaurants you always line up or wait until the waitress comes and take syou to your seats. It’s not usually that way in Cambodia. Coffee is refilled, not in Cambodia. If you drink 3 cups you pay for 3 back home.
  • Cash does not seem important in your country; but it is here in Cambodia.
  • At gas station you do self-service (not in Portland though). In Cambodia we always have people to pump gass for us.
  • Every home has a washing machine, dish washer, clean water, electric cooker, etc. And it looks very nice and tidy in the kitchen as plates and all items are in cabinets. I called them “hiding places.” I love your kitchens.

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However, there are some other interesting things that I noticed that scared me a little bit, but not that badly. Other visitors may have the same or different experiences.

  • People at the immigration are not friendly at all. I wish they would smile and welcomed people to your country. I guess their job may require them to act as they do.
  • There are homeless people along the street in Long Beach and Portland. That made me compare between two societies in your country – those people having beautiful homes and cars, and those who have no homes at all. I know every country has these problems – we have them here in Cambodia too – but I would not expect to see them in the U.S.
  • People in bigger cities are less friendly than those in smaller cities. That is normal, but it was interesting to see and practice behaving in a different way.

Kanha_Flowers

All in all, this trip was really amazing. It is the best experience of traveling. I have learned a lot from it including technology and modern systems, and especially to be independent, confident, and to travel lightly.

Thank you everyone again for your hospitality and sharing. You all made my trip unforgettable.

I do hope my trip can help JWOC raise more money and you and your family will continue to help Cambodians achieve a bright future.

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This Mother’s Day, help a Cambodian mother

This Mother’s Day, we are reposting this appeal from Journeys Within Our Community because we can’t think of a better way of saying “thank you” to moms everywhere. We hope you’ll consider donating…

Our mothers are heroes. From the moment we’re brought into the world she cares for us; she strives to give us every opportunity, encourages us to pursue our dreams and is not afraid to tell us when we are wrong! She is the role model who encourages us to become the individual we are today, teaching us values and morals to live by and always standing by us when we feel the rest of the world is against us. This is the case throughout the world, whether you live in the US, Europe or Cambodia! Our mother wants us to be the absolute best we can be.

However, despite improvements over the past decade the sad truth is that in Cambodia many mothers cannot give their children the same opportunities and head start in life that others receive elsewhere. Cambodia still has one of the highest infant mortalities in Asia with 25 children per 1000 births not living beyond 5 years, highlighting the importance of access to proper services and healthcare to mothers and their children, especially in rural areas.

Mother's Day in Cambodia

This is why JWOC is working directly with and training rural women to overcome such hurdles, so they can give their children every chance to maximize their health and prospects for the future. With the support of village chiefs and a trained midwife, we are working with women to deliver maternal health training in areas such as family planning, pregnancy and mother/infant health in an engaging and informative way. In 2016, JWOC aims to deliver training through our scholarship students to over 300 women across 5 villages, a service most would not have access to or be able to afford in rural communities.

So on this Mother’s Day here at JWOC, we are not only celebrating our own mothers but also the millions of mothers throughout Cambodia who are putting their children first. With your support, we can help more women within Siem Reap province, just $30 can provide a woman with maternal health training, a donation of $300 would cover training for half the women in a village and $500 training for a whole village. With each donation you will receive a special project report within six months that allows you to see the positive impact that your generosity has had on the health of rural Cambodian mothers and their children.

On this Mother’s Day, I would invite you to consider not only celebrating our own mothers, but also celebrate the determination of Cambodian women by making a donation that will give them and their children a fair opportunity in life.

Donate now.

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