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!