BYRAM TOWNSHIP, NJ - “There’s a collage that hung in my bedroom filled with magazine and newspapers scraps featuring non-profits, Sub-Saharan African, children and headlines related to underserved populations for a number of years, after I declared to my mother at age seven that I would one day work in Africa. I knew then how important it was to surround myself daily with my dream, even it was a collection of disoriented paper bits bounds by glue sticks on a poster board. I know now how clear my life purpose has always been,” said Stephanie Ly.
Ly, now 25 and living in Los Angeles, Ca., is a former Byram Township resident, and graduate of Lenape Valley Regional High School.
Ly’s passion for community service started while she was growing up in Byram.
“Having grown up and attended kindergarten to graduating high school in the same small town, I thought I knew the area inside and out,” Ly explained. "I started volunteering with ‘Pass It Along,’ a phenomenal organization that believes in the power of teens to create good. Through their Americorps scholarship program during my senior year in high school, I was introduced to a number of non-profit organizations in Sussex County.”
During that time, Ly mentored middle school students in Newark, planned holiday parties for low-income housing structures in Newton, socialized with mentally disabled adults, and spent her Friday nights babysitting infants while their mothers worked hard to stabilize their lives at a halfway house.
“These experiences opened my eyes to how unfamiliar a place I grew up in was to me. I began to grow more aware of my community, and then the world,” states Ly.
At such a young age, Ly has accomplished much, including being crowned “Miss Byram” and representing the municipality at the New Jersey State Fair in 2005, the same year she graduated high school. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Lycoming College in Biology and Finance in 2009, and her Master’s in Public Health at the University of Southern California in 2010.
Ly is now a project assistant at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and a research associate for Operation Smile, investigating the causes of cleft lip and palate in developing countries.
On top of that, Ly is the President and Co-Founder of “Emprofit” a non-profit organization which provides economic opportunities in resource-poor settings and the Co-Founder of “Room For Compassion” another non-profit organization that empowers people through education, community involvement, and, microloans in an effort to alleviate global poverty.
In 2011, Ly started a blog titled as, “Living the Global Dream," which let readers follow her on her journeys.
Ly writes in her Feb. 1, 2011 blog entry, “International traveling began before my conscious memory did. I was seven months old when I first left the U.S. with my mother to Thailand.”
Ly developed an interest in traveling the summer after her junior year of college. She stated in the blog entry that, “My traveling addiction began on an academic trip to Guadalajara, Mexico for four weeks of Spanish and clinical work.”
Ly then proclaimed she went on a traveling binge to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tijuana, Cancun, Dominican Republic, and Ireland, all in the span of one year.
“Even though I knew I wanted to work with vulnerable populations at a young age, something happens to everyone where those around you and society tells you that your dream is not practical or wise,” Ly then explains, “This the difference between adults and children; over time and pressure, you slowly give up the thing you dreamed of because it does not make sense and it is discouraged out of you. I almost fell into this trap, before going to go graduate school and truly immersing myself in global health work. I had a very comfortable job right out of college, earning nearly twice my salary now. That particular position was something I could have seen myself in for life; I had a great boss, super flexible work schedule, used my college skill sets, and had a promising path. I guess I decided to take a plunge and left the job in New Jersey, as well as the life I knew, and risked it all in LA for an uncertain future in global public health in a city where I had no family or a single friend. That was my first leap, especially after failing to get into medical school, and not knowing where my future would lead. Back then, I took that failure pretty hard but looking back, it was meant to happen so I could be led where I belong.”
At the age of 22, Ly “lived” out her global dream by traveling to Africa to conduct malaria research in Shirati, Tanzania.
“The minute I stepped foot in the rural village of Shirati, Tanazania in East Africa, it felt like everything made sense and it was like home,” says Ly. “I had an amazing opportunity through a student grant to conduct a malaria research study during my first summer of graduate school.”
Ly lived in the rural village for five weeks, walking from hut to hut with her friend [another student] to educate families about proper mosquito net use to prevent malaria. While doing that, Ly met families that often lost children to preventable diseases, single mothers struggling to feed families, disabled children with no resources for school, and other forms of poverty.
“The most striking thing for me, however, was that I knew the village was poor and there would be a lot of suffering but I never imagined that the people would laugh and seem happier on a day to day basis than a lot of Americans I see everyday,” said Ly.
Ly and her friend fell in love with the people of the village, their hospitality, and strength, which was the start of Room For Compassion.
“We proudly let the locals uptake their first girls soccer team, which we happened to witness the beginning of and two years later, the team went on an international youth soccer tournament at the East Africa Cup, with many of the girls leaving their village for the very first time,” Ly says.
Ly visited Haiti a year after the earthquake to volunteer with cholera prevention in orphanages, and education sponsorship.
Ly says, “There were about half a million people still homeless and living in the internally displaced persons camps. Despite some aid pouring in, Haitians were hungry and unsafe in the camps. Time and time again, I saw Haitians handing their resumes to Westerners, sometimes typed and other times handwritten. Some savvy Haitians even went to internet cafes, used Google Translate to convey their situation and work experience from Creole to English, find certain Westerners, and message them through Facebook to look for work. I was struck by how resilient and intelligent people were, but also saddened by the severe lack of income earning opportunities in Haiti.”
That is when Ly co-founded Emprofit, an organization that she stated, “Is a social enterprise that is creating jobs through a door-to-door sales team in Port-au-Prince. I strongly believe in the ability of talented locals to be the leaders in breaking the poverty cycle.”
“The more I travel and meet people, the more I realize how interconnected we all are. As humans, we fundamentally want to avoid suffering and strive for happiness. Even when I don’t speak the language, I still make friends. A smile, laughter and kind eyes are so universal. Children play and cry in very much the same way in different countries. I view human life as equal regardless of what country or circumstance a person is born into,” reflected Ly on her experiences.
Ly says one of her favorite books of all time is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
“I resonate with the central theme of following your heart as well as the quote, ‘when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.’ I truly believe the world would be a much better place if everyone could pursue their true passion,” concluded Ly.
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