1) Hi Fonda, and congratulations on becoming the first globelle gal in focus! Can you tell us where in the world we can currently find you?
Right now I’m at home sweet home in beautiful Portland, Oregon, USA. I’ve just returned home after being away for two months, where I spent the majority of my time in India and then in Japan.
2) What inspired you to first start travelling?
I would say that my inspiration for travelling has come from both my father and my maternal grandparents. When I was growing up my dad used to tell me about his time backpacking through Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. He would get so excited to recall the people and places he’d seen, and would never leave out details. He always seemed so amazed about where he’d been to. It made me happy to see him that way.
My grandparents travelled quite a bit too. My grandpa worked in construction and there was a time when he went to Saudi Arabia to teach skills in drywall to other workers. He made a few close friends from Thailand and the Philippines while he was there. So, as the years went by he and my grandma would go and visit his friends on extended vacations. I’m talking six months out of the year! And they were in their 50s at that time too! I was really close to the two of them so it felt like an eternity when they were away. Each of their travels inspired me to be curious about the world from a young age.
3) What’s been your favourite place to visit, and why?
My favorite place to visit has been the Dominican Republic. I can’t get enough of the beach, fresh seafood, tropical drinks and lying out on the sand. My husband and I went to the DR for our honeymoon nearly three years ago. We stayed at small hotels that were family run which was wonderful because we got a lot of local insight on which restaurants to go to and even some hard-to-reach beaches. The people we met were lively, fun, and excited to meet us. Eating at local spots was always on our mind and no one was hesitant in helping us fill our stomachs.
We took local bus transportation. We rode on the back of someone’s motorcycle (yes, three of us on a bike!). We rented a scooter, hopped in the back of a few pick-up trucks and even crammed ourselves into a guaguas, which is a beat up, old minivan. The weather was perfect! Every day was sunny and warm. There is nothing like strolling along a beach that goes on for miles, not seeing a single person for hours and feeling like the ocean belongs to you. I love travelling alone, but sharing those memories with my husband, someone incredibly special to me, has made the Dominican Republic my favourite place to visit.
4) Who would you say has been the most influential person to your travels?
When I was growing up, my dad would take me on trips to see our extended relatives in Mexico. The most memorable trip I had was when I was about 10 years old. My dad and uncle decided that they were going to take their daughters on a road trip from central California all the way down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to see the total eclipse. My cousin and I had no idea what to expect.
For nearly a week and a half we were on the road, stopping off along the way to enjoy the beaches and sights. The day that the eclipse came it felt like a dream. I remember playing on the beach and feeling the warm sand between my toes and touching my legs. I remember the loud chirps the parrots made when suddenly the daylight began to turn dark. It was a very bizarre feeling to know that the universe was moving and changing right before me. Something I will never forget. Thanks to my dad taking me on that trip, I feel I’ve become someone that strives to be present wherever I travel. I’m not so sure he ever knew that he was inspiring me to travel at the time. I know he had the intent to show me where my family heritage lies, where our roots are. As I got older and drawn to travel both as a career and for fun, he encouraged me to pursue it. He’s been a great influence on my desire to see the world.
5) What is the worst thing that's happened to you on the road? How did you deal with it?
I feel like nothing horrible ever happens to me on trips, but rather random unlucky circumstances that eventually work themselves out. If that makes any sense! When I was visiting Rajasthan, India I was travelling from a small town in the Thar Desert and was aiming to get to my friends home.
I was given specific instructions on the transfers for the government buses that I would have to take in three different towns. In India, nothing goes as planned and everything changes all the time. The traffic was congested the whole way, the roads were bumpy, and the weather was hot in the afternoon. As it grew late in the day I became worried that I would end up finishing my journey in the middle of the night. When I got to my last transfer, a mother and her son overheard me trying to ask where I could catch the next bus to reach my final stop. They turned around and said that no government bus would leave from that station and that I would have to find a private bus. I had no idea how on earth I was going to do that!
They were kind enough to take me with them in their rickshaw and get me on the right bus, which was the same that they were taking. I was so relieved when I got to my friends home I still counting my lucky stars that I had their help along the way. It was hard to believe that journey took 12 hours for only 220km!
Here’s a tip: traveling in India takes a long time, don’t ever expect it to be quick!
6) Obviously life on the road is about fewer possessions and more moments, but what is the one thing you cannot travel without?
The one thing I cannot travel without is a camera. Photography is my medium, my passion, my creative outlet. It always has been. I’ve tried journaling while I’m abroad, but I just can’t find the time to sit and write. By the time I have a moment of peace I just want to enjoy that silence or go to sleep! With photography I’m able to be creative while experiencing the moment. And I can always look back at the picture, think about the person or place in it, and remember how I felt while in that moment. I could even use it as writing prompt if I wanted too.
7) Since being on the road, you started your own non-profit organisation, Education for Equality International. How did this come about? What inspired you to do this?
I have always wanted to have a career in international development for as long as I can remember. When I was completing my master’s degree I decided to go to India to work with an NGO that focused on increasing girls’ literacy and enrollment rates in primary school in Rajasthan.
I met a lot of young girls who had completed primary school, but were unable to go to secondary school due to their families poverty level. Some families couldn’t afford to send their daughters to school, and so they were kept at home to do household chores, care for younger siblings, or find work on farms. Boys are sent to school instead because in the long run they will care for the family.
Often, girls will be married off to a family in order to reduce the financial burden of her family. I met a girl who was fourteen years old; her name was Rekha and she was married. She had completed 9th grade, but her in-laws demanded she stop going to school. Their son had not finished his education, and so they did not want her status to be higher than his. Rekha was determined to go back to school. After that I never saw her again, and I still don’t know if she ever made it back into the classroom.
From that experience I thought about my own education. I am the first in my family to graduate from college. My family, and the generations beforehand, wanted me to see me succeed. No one ever told me that I couldn’t do it just because of my gender. I left India feeling so strongly about the issue of girls not having access to education or being discriminated against because of their gender. I wanted to be part of the community that I felt so connected to. I decided to start Education for Equality International, a nonprofit with the mission to support girls’ education, empowerment, and leadership in developing countries.
8) What does the organisation hope to achieve, and how?
EEI believes that all girls and women have the right to education, the ability to become self-empowered, to be included in community decision-making, and live a life free of violence. We hope to achieve gender equality in places where girls are not seen as equals, not respected, or given the opportunity to live a meaningful life. We hope to reduce the number girls who drop out of secondary school and reduce the number of child marriages.
We aim to do this through our empowerment program called Brave New Girl, which is designed to strengthen girl’s confidence, self-esteem, and their inner-voice as well as focus on issues such as human rights, violence against women, and child marriage.
Since starting EEI I have partnered with a local NGO in Rajasthan who assists me with on-the-ground logistics, organization, and co-facilitating the empowerment program. The girls who complete this program are from low-income families and are given scholarships to help them stay in school. I’m excited to say that we have just completed our first run of the program and it was a great success! We had 15 girls participate in this project. Each of them were engaged, interested, and ready to learn. It was a great feeling knowing that I was teaching them and talking about issues that they most definitely never had the space to address so openly before.
9) What does your day to day role with the organisation involve?
Right now I am working hard to get our organization noticed and recognized. We are aiming to build a community of supporters. Often, I’m searching for other organizations who have similar missions or are girl-focused programs to connect with, either contacting them by email or social media. The board of directors also have their own part to play such as managing our social media posts, organizing fundraiser events, participate in outreach events, assist with our curriculum design, and help with grant writing and proposals. I am also working on editing and redesigning our curriculum for the next time we run our program.
This year we are hosting our third fundraiser event and are currently in the planning phase for that. I also stay in contact with our partner NGO in India on a weekly basis, especially as we will be starting monthly group meetings and activities for our group of girls. Researching for grants that are available for international development and especially for girls’ education and empowerment is something that I can spend hours doing. Now that we have a project complete with results, I am hopeful that EEI will be awarded a grant in the next year. Although we are small we have a lot of potential and dedication to this work. (HQ: Agreed!)
10) What does travelling mean to you?
When I travel abroad, or even here in the states, I am leaving my comfort zone and entering a place of unknown. For me, when I travel, I get lost in time. I try not to have definite plans at this point because anything can change.
Some days, I wake up and I find myself letting go of expectations and demands. Travelling means getting onto a jam packed bus and being able to find solitude in the scenery outside the window. Sometimes it means being comfortable with being alone with your own thoughts because you can’t understand the language or what’s going on. You make the best of it. You push yourself into believing you can, and if you can’t today then there’s always tomorrow.
When I travel I look for the beauty that I know exists in some of the most remote places. I crave to see the life that people live, a life that is nothing like my own. Travel means learning from others around the world and being respectful of cultures different from mine. Travel is exposure to reality, and that reality can sometimes be beautiful or startling. Through travel our sense of compassion and ability to empathize with others can grow strong. Travelling means I get to know another side of who I am.
11) If you could offer one piece of advice to those considering travelling for the first time, either solo or as part of a group, what would it be?
My advice to any female traveler would be to put yourself out there and let the world show you what it’s made of. Don’t be afraid to push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t let anyone tell you, even yourself, that you can’t travel on your own.
If you listen to that ,then you’ve got nothing to lose. Travelling will make you a better person and give you the power to see the world in a meaningful way. It will bring you closer to humanity and build your understanding of global events and issues. You can go anywhere, be it in your native country, somewhere faraway that you’d never considered before, or the place you’ve dreamed of going since you were a little girl. Travelling is one of the best things I have ever done for myself.
12) And finally, how can globelle gals get involved with Education for Equality?
I would love to have every globelle gal out there get involved with EEI or offer their support by following us @eduequalorg on Instagram and Twitter. Please visit our website at www.eduequal.org and our facebook at www.facebook.com/eduequal . Furthermore, I hope our community feels free to reach out to me anytime if you are interested in our cause. We regularly send updates about our program and especially about fundraiser events!