Lakeridge grad is traveling 1,500 miles to help villagers in Cambodia

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Marisa Monroe poses in the United Kingdoms countryside during a summer hike to raise funds for the Trailblazer Foundation.Marisa Monroe hopes to raise $10 to aid impoverished people for every mile her legs take her.

At almost 6 feet tall, the 2004 Lakeridge High School graduate’s long stride will be a boon for her 1,500-mile trek through Europe this summer. Monroe, 27, now has roamed the highlands of Scotland and taken a ferry to France, where she began the centuries-old Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The Marisa Walks Across hike, also a fundraiser for the nonprofit Trailblazer Foundation, is as long as the drive from Portland to Fargo, SUBMITTED PHOTO: MARISA MONROE - Marisa captures the beauty of the United Kingdoms fauna.

“I see new places every day, and while I’m walking, I’m also nature watching, talking to new people, exploring small towns and villages and taking in superb scenery,” Monroe said. “It’s a unique feeling, walking alone for 10 or 15 or 20 miles a day, slowly seeing a new country present itself to you.”

Her journey to help others

Monroe has been considering such an ambulatory undertaking for years, getting an up-close view of a place using her main mode of transportation. She chose Europe because she is already on the continent, working in Spain teaching English.

Her job starts Oct. 1, and, by the end of September, she expects to polish off the long walk she kicked off on June 8. Her estimate accounts for a few days of rest.

Monroe’s goal is to raise $15,000 for the Trailblazer Foundation.

“Walking long distances is also a spiritual journey, and mixing travel with the meditative feeling of long walks appealed to me,” Monroe said. “Deciding to tie it with a charity came later. I decided, as long as I’m doing this, I might as well try to make a bit of a difference.”

She said she also knew committing to a charity she believed in would make it hard for her to SUBMITTED PHOTO: MARISA MONROE - The Marisa Walks Across journey included a visit to Cape Cornwall, where ruins top cliffs.

The Trailblazer Foundation helps rural villagers in Cambodia become self-sufficient, providing livestock, regular access to clean water and other support. Monroe’s project will supply villages with water filters that cost $60 apiece, last for many years and help prevent deadly waterborne diseases. If she reaches her goal, her project would create 250 water filters.

“I wanted to donate to a charity where $5 can make a difference, since I think so many people are cynical about donating money, that (they think) it won’t make a difference in the scheme of things,” Monroe said. “However, when $60 ... can provide clean water for decades, it’s easier to feel like you are making a difference.”

She has a special interest in Cambodia because of the experience she had on a visit there. After teaching English as a second language in South Korea from 2009 to 2012, she backpacked through Laos, China and Cambodia.

“When I was visiting Cambodia, I noticed, and what most people notice, is a kind of zealous friendliness,” Monroe said. “On the surface, it’s a country catering to tourism, especially in Siem Reap, and a traveler can get lost in the superficialities of a tourist town.

“But after a short conversation, you find someone curious about your life, asking questions and eager to share their own ambitions, whether that be to travel abroad in an airplane, or to start their own business.”by: SUBMITTED FILE PHOTO: SUSAN SERTIC - Marisa Monroe hugs her mom, Margo Monroe, when her family visited the young woman at her Hamilton, N.Y., school, Colgate University.

She had to cut the trip short when her mother, Margo Monroe, died in July 2012 of breast cancer. She was 65. Marisa Monroe said she regularly writes a travel blog in honor of her mom.

“Although she’s not here anymore, there’s a bit of a motivation to keep up writing about it, just because I know she would have wanted me to,” she said.

Because she is traveling alone, the blog also gives her family peace of mind, but she said the United Kingdom’s countryside hasn’t been too threatening.

“For the most part, I’ve encountered more sheep than people so I haven’t been nervous,” she said.

Her family and supporters

Her father, Tom Monroe, said as parents, he and his wife got used to their daughter’s quiet accomplishments.

A member of Lakeridge’s top-tier performance ensemble, Company, she has a melodious voice. During her senior year, she mentioned to her parents that she was in a production of “Guys and Dolls.” She didn’t say she was the female lead, Sarah Brown.

“We didn’t know that she had a major role in it,” Tom Monroe said. “We went to see it, and there she was.”

Steve Ticen, former Lakeridge choir director, said he doesn’t remember every student he taught in his 31 years, but he remembers Marisa Monroe’s beautiful voice and bright personality.

“She was just one of my all-time favorite students,” said Ticen, who retired in 2006.

Her volleyball coach at Lakeridge, Wendy Stammer, said Monroe was a “quiet leader” who always supported her team.

“She’s incredible,” said Stammer, a volleyball coach at Lakeridge for 15 years. “She’s not about her. She’s about helping whoever she can help.”

After high school, Monroe headed to Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., where she earned a degree in international relations. Her older brother lives in Portland, not far from Lake Oswego, the Monroe family’s home base since 1990.

Her aunt, Susan Sertic, said Monroe has been far from home for years, and family members weren’t surprised when they heard she was journeying hundreds of miles for charity.

“That’s just Marisa. ... We just all know when Marisa puts her mind to something, she just does it,” said Sertic, of Veneta.

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