Joel and Maiko Bacha: Following Their Dreams, Making a Difference

Written by  //  February 11, 2012  //  Alumni Stories, MIIS Match  //  No comments

The origin of using the word “love” to mean “nil” in tennis is thought to be derived from the phrase “to play for the love of the game.” For Joel Bacha (MAIPS/MATESOL ’04) and his wife Maiko Bacha (MAIPS ’03), it was during their regular matches as students at the Monterey Institute that their love of the game brought them together. After graduation, Joel moved to Japan, found a job close to Maiko, teaching at Kanda University, and “everything just clicked from there.”

A year after their joyous four-day wedding celebration in Hawaii, Joel and Maiko took a “leap of faith” and moved to Southeast Asia to follow their dreams to work in international development.

Joel is now the Southeast Asia Program Manager for Literacy at Room to Read, a rapidly growing learning organization. “It is extremely rewarding to work with teams in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to promote literacy among primary school children,” says Joel of the organization that has been lauded by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and more recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a forum with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Maiko works at the Japanese embassy in Laos, where last year she and her colleagues provided over one hundred scholarships for study in Japan. Through her work, Joel and Maiko say they have experienced a “special” side of humanity—solidarity. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March of 2011, Lao citizens lined up for days outside the embassy to offer condolences and financial support. Over half a million dollars were raised—a very substantial contribution considering Laos is one of the world’s least developed countries, with a population of only 6.2 million.

Joel and Maiko feel very fortunate to live in Laos, to wake up to the sound of roosters, drums and chanting monks, experience gorgeous sunsets over the Mekong River, and to enjoy delicious Lao coffee among the banana, papaya, and coconut trees in their garden. Most of all, they are thankful for the experiences that got them there and the very rewarding projects and people they get to work with everyday. “We would not be doing what we are doing without the doors opened to us by the MIIS learning community.”

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