Cuero native's traveling teaches her importance of diversity, unity
Jan. 31, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 30, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.
JoLeah Aber Stiles expected her time at Texas A&M University to be a time of discovery and enlightenment, but what happened was life-changing.
When the 27-year-old Cuero native learned in 2006 about her campus' Invisible Children program - a group aimed at stopping Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony from creating child soldiers - she knew something had to be done.
She began to embrace the world - not just her world - in an attempt to understand other cultures, races and societies, and she came to one conclusion: We are all one.
"There are billions of people who have goals and dreams," she said in a phone interview before a flight to Australia and several other countries. "We are all people, and we are all deserving of a chance instead of prejudice."
Stiles began working for Invisible Children in 2009 and worked with the organization until 2011. During the experience, she was not only able to travel the U.S., but she also went to Uganda, where she was able to see firsthand the effects a rebel army has on its nation's people.
The mission of the program, both in the U.S. and in Uganda, was to fight the rebel army not with force but with words and public education.
The experience with Invisible Children was enough to put a brighter light on her path, she said, adding that now she wants to work with women and children being abused through sex trafficking.
"What Invisible Children gave back to me was so important," she said. "It was crucial for me to see what people around the world were accomplishing."
JoBeth Stiles-Caskey, Stiles' mother, still lives in Cuero and is proud to see what her daughter is doing for herself and for her generation.
Stiles-Caskey sees her daughter as a modern civil rights leader, someone who wants the people of the world to be in harmony.
"She's kind of like a candle; she brings light to the darkness," her mother said.
Before Stiles' latest trip, she was back in Cuero, working with children at St. Michael's Elementary School.
"She's like a magnet to kids," her mom said, laughing. "She feels very fortunate and wants to give back as much as she can."
Stiles' former teacher, Tresa Urbanovsky, of Cuero, always saw Stiles going off to college and having a fantastic career.
And Stiles has done that - just in a different, more humanitarian way, she said.
"This girl could have done any kind of career, but she's chosen to be of service for other people," she said. "She's a sweet girl."
Right now, Stiles is working with Outreach360, a volunteer program geared toward helping children.
For now, though, she's spending four months in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, China and South Korea.
The experience, she hopes, will only make her more well-rounded and more understanding of the rights of human life.
"I want to embrace beauty," she said. "But I think we still have a lot of work to do."
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