Meet Shelly Westebbe, Peace Corp Staffer and World TravelerJanuary 09, 2009
Shelly Westebbe, a 2002–03 American Fellow, grew up overseas in the 1960s. Her subsequent international career was in part inspired by her father, who worked in international public service, and her mother, who taught her appreciation for others and the role of art and creativity in everyone’s life. Shelly especially enjoyed her time in Greece, which gave her an appreciation for “the Greek joy of life, the beauty of the open countryside, and the simple pleasures of spending time with people.”
After finishing her MBA in international management in 1986 and spending four years as a management and intercultural consultant in Japan, Shelly traveled to Thailand as an associate director for Peace Corps. Afterward, she spent a few years in Romania and then returned to the United States to pursue her doctorate. The time Shelly and her husband spent in Thailand was so influential in their lives that the couple decided to seek out the Thai community in Los Angeles. Shelly started working as a literacy volunteer with a community development center founded by a Thai American woman. Soon Shelly began consulting and advising at the center, where she learned about human trafficking. “I was moved to learn why and how these hardworking and kind people came to be imprisoned in another country,” she said. As part of her dissertation research, Shelly worked closely with Thai organizations that offer adult learning opportunities to women who are either at risk or who have survived human trafficking.
The AAUW fellowship, which Shelly called a huge boost to her spirits and energy, helped her in both writing and researching her dissertation. “The fellowship gave me time and space to sift through so many stories and ultimately realize the beauty and resiliency of the human spirit.” This research culminated with the publication of Shelly’s first book, Gender, Learning, and Trafficking: Helping Vulnerable Women through NGO and Non-Formal Education Programs.
After completing her doctorate, Shelly returned to the Peace Corps as an associate director in Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 islands. Currently, she is living in Indonesia and working as an NGO consultant and a visiting faculty member. This flexible sponsorship has allowed her to return to her major interest, women’s rights and empowerment.
Throughout her various international experiences, Shelly has met some amazing people. One woman she met was held captive in a brothel and then imprisoned for murder; later she founded an NGO in northern Thailand to help women who have survived human trafficking. “She went beyond her own security and comfort to reach out to others,” explained Shelly. These types of relationships continue to engage Shelly in international work. She said, “In people’s stories lie the most important truths and the reason we work in development.”