Pakou joined the Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment in August 2018 as the AmeriCorps VISTA Communications and Development Coordinator. Her role is to help WISE diversify their funding sources and seek collaboration that will increase the visibility of WISE!
Pakou graduated from St. Olaf College with a double major in English and Asian Studies. Her time in college taught her to branch out and explore the many opportunities available to her. Since then she has spent three plus years in service to communities in need with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. “Volunteerism is very important,” says Pakou. “AmeriCorps allows you to gain professional skills and at the same time do direct service with communities in need.”
After completing her first AmeriCorps service, Pakou joined the Peace Corps where she served as an English teacher and trainer in rural Southern Thailand. Her primary focus was on developing the Thai-English curriculum and training her co-teachers to use student-centered techniques in the classroom. Outside of class hours, Pakou facilitated leadership workshops with her students, emphasizing on gender equity and gender roles in Thailand. She participated in multiple Girls Leading Our World/Boys Respecting Others & Self (GLOW/BROS) camps where she and fellow volunteers supported Thai youths in gaining the confidence and awareness they need to be self-sustaining members of their communities and beyond.
However, her time in Thailand wasn’t always productive. “My Thai was limited and I had little access to transportation and other resources. I always felt intimidated by my surroundings,” says Pakou. She experienced the harsh reality of living and working in a country where she did not speak the language, as well as the discrimination that came with it. This experience made her think about her parents who had immigrated as refugees from Thailand over 30 years ago. “I can’t compare my experience with theirs, but at least now I know a little bit about the difficulty and the courage it takes to leave everything familiar to you.”
After the Peace Corps, Pakou knew she had developed a passion for educating communities in gender equity and empowerment. Her years in service brought to her attention the needs of underrepresented communities. She knew she wanted to work with nonprofits to support programs for communities in poverty. “I applied for WISE because it is an organization of women for women,” says Pakou. “As my first step into nonprofit, it is the perfect place to be.”
Pakou is excited to be serving the immigrant and refugee girls in Minnesota and looks forward to developing new skills in marketing and grant writing.