Alexis Alcalá and Women Going Beyond

Having inadvertently stumbled upon Women Going Beyond through a graduate course in International Women’s Health and Human Rights, I immediately needed to learn more. Upon chatting about this inspirational NGO with its founder, Alexis, I maintained a deep-seated urge to get further involved. WGB aims to provide self and professional development skills to young women in rural areas of South East Asia, in an effort to boost female empowerment and bolster women and girls to realize their full potential and lead effective and meaningful lives. Below you will find a brief synopsis of Alexis’ background and vision for Women Going Beyond.

Miss Independent: Tell me a little bit about yourself!

Alexis: I grew up in Spain. As a child, I was very entrepreneurial, and always looking for ways to create new businesses. I loved psychology and I was already reading Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence when I was a kid. I was also very ambitious and really focused on my professional career. I completed a 3-year bachelor’s degree in business in almost one year. I was too ambitious in my first jobs, and I wanted to continue to grow professionally, until I reached a point in which I realized that I was not happy. This was the moment in which I started to learn more about myself and my mission in life. I began a personal development journey. After some time in this journey, I created my own personal development business, InnerCamp and NGO, Women Going Beyond. My passions are now very different from what I thought they were when I was a child, as they are now more related to helping people, creating amazing experiences, supporting the vulnerable populations, starting a family with my fiancé and, in the end, giving back to the world what I was given: the present of being here.

Miss Independent: How did your life experiences bring you to found Women Going Beyond?

Alexis: Some years ago, I became a life coach and was living in Japan and other countries in South East Asia. When I provided coaching to people in those countries, mainly women because they are normally more open to start a self-development journey, I realized that the gender gap was really huge. I was used to the gender gap in Spain and the cases of domestic violence, etc., but when I heard directly from women that they were obliged to satisfy all demands from men – that they are not able to talk in business meetings, that they are victims of various abuses, that sex is only for men, and more – I was completely shocked. One thing is to hear about instances of sexism on TV, and another thing is to hear about it directly from victims. When I listened to all of these sad cases firsthand, I decided that I had to do something; I had to use my skills and resources to help. Moreover, I learned about the many cases of human trafficking in South East Asia. The first time I saw the streets of Bangkok full of women working in prostitution (some of them might be okay with the job, but many of them were victims of human trafficking or victims of a pervasive family mentality), I was even more shocked. I was also stunned seeing older white men traveling from “rich” countries to have sex with the young women. My experience, in general, was very shocking there.

Miss Independent: What inspired you to focus your efforts specifically on women and girls in Southeast Asia?

Alexis: I was initially inspired to help given the gender gap in some countries in South East Asia, like Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, etc. While I recognize that there are gender gaps throughout the world, this area is one of the most affected. Cambodia is a country that sends many women to Thailand to work in prostitution, and many of these women are victims of human trafficking or live in very dangerous situations when they emigrate to Thailand to find a job. For a bit of background, in the 1970s, the communist party took over Cambodia. When they seized control of the country, they began operating very similar to China during the Chinese revolution. Inspired by Mao Za Dong’s goals and tactics, they strived to maintain status equality throughout Cambodia. This meant that everyone was to move to the countryside and be farmers, and that the educated were targeted. They were killed, put into labor camps, or tortured. The Regime specifically targeted educators and teachers. Things such as schools were banned. Today, Cambodia is trying to revive their educational system. Given this is a recent change, there are few teachers, and even these few are not qualified to teach, specifically in the rural areas. Cambodians cannot access a good education system, and they lack access to basic jobs and a healthy life. Women that have more education often fall victim to domestic violence, and cannot access many jobs, as they are designated to be only for men. While the situation is not great, these women always have a smile on their face, and are very grateful for the opportunity to attend school if they are able. They are very rich in happiness in their hearts. It is a pleasure to give to them, and I’ve found that in the end, you receive far more than what you give.

Miss Independent: In what ways did the gender gap reveal itself during your time in Cambodia?

Alexis: Really, throughout my day-to-day experiences with the locals. I saw an enormous number of young girls fall victim to human trafficking. I also witnessed businesses continuously sexualizing women, alongside young girls working in their family business instead of attending school.

Miss Independent: WGB’s very inspirational mission focuses on the empowerment of young girls and women through education and basic skills, in order to boost confidence and mitigate the risks of their falling victim to human trafficking, forced child marriages or turning to prostitution. How is WGB’s programming structured to realize this vision?

Alexis: Currently, we are working on a new project to create an online education platform to provide those skills to girls and young women. We are seeing that it is difficult and expensive to send volunteers to the field, and many schools and NGOs do not share our vision, making it difficult to collaborate with them. With this new project, we are making agreements with Cambodian companies to understand their needs in terms of new employees’ skills. Our job will be to provide those skills on our platform. We will provide certificates with high-quality standards that prove that those girls have the competencies to start the job in those companies. This is a very innovative project, and I haven’t seen anything like it before.

Miss Independent: What have been some of the most challenging and rewarding moments thus far?

Alexis: The legal limitations to enter Cambodia as an NGO, the money we need to invest to operate there, and association with other NGOs, have all proved somewhat difficult. At times, it is difficult to witness rewarding moments because it is not so easy to break the systemic gender divides. We normally try to think that maybe our actions don’t have a big impact today, but they will have it tomorrow and in the next generations.

Miss Independent: What is your hope for the future of Women Going Beyond?

Alexis: We want to cover other countries in South East Asia using the same model and we want to achieve high-quality standards to gain the trust of young women that are in vulnerable situations.

Miss Independent: For those of us who want to get further involved, where can we get started?

Alexis: You can contact us and let us know what motivates you. I always try to fully understand volunteers and their passions, so that I can give them the role and tasks that are the best fit. We need more people to support us in different areas, such as a copywriter, fundraising specialist, digital marketing specialist, developer, and more.

Miss Independent: What do you do to relax?

Alexis: Yoga, breathwork, and meditation. I’m currently studying to become a yoga teacher, and I facilitate events with InnerCamp that help me to relax. I also try to spend quality time with my family.

Miss Independent: Who is your biggest role model / inspiration?

Alexis: Regular people that I meet out in the field. They seem like normal people, but they are actually warriors, as they care for a sick family member and do their best to provide their children with an emotional education. I am also inspired by the volunteers who help Women Going Beyond, as they just want to support without asking for compensation. I get many inspirational doses from these people.

Miss Independent: What has been your favorite travel destination?

Alexis: I love any peaceful place in nature where I can connect with myself and with the Universe, where I say: wow, this is much bigger than myself. Where my ego is gone and I can just surrender to Life.

I am truly inspired by this work, and cannot wait to get further involved with Women Going Beyond. Alexis, while change may seem slow and resistant, and impact is not always tangible, you have instilled within me a newfound hope for a better future. I truly believe that education is one of the most powerful weapons when it comes to changing the world, and I know that you will continue to embody the progress that you hope to see.

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