Ashley Westerman

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.

Ashley was a summer intern in 2011 with Morning Edition and pitched a story on her very first day. She went on to work as a reporter and host for member station 89.3 WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she earned awards covering everything from healthcare to jambalaya.

Ashley is an East-West Center 2018 Jefferson Fellow and a two-time reporting fellow with the International Center for Journalists. Through ICFJ, she has covered labor issues in her home country of the Philippines for NPR and health care in Appalachia for Voice of America.

Freshman Taylor Vibbert has always wanted to be in a sorority. When she signed up to rush this fall at Western Kentucky University, she was looking forward to the fanfair, house tours and meet-and-greets.

Then she got some bad news: Greek recruitment would be mostly virtual this year.

"That was a bummer," the 18-year-old from Louisville, Ky., said in early August. "Honestly, if I would have known, I probably wouldn't have signed up."

Vibbert was concerned she would be more outgoing in-person than over the computer, but she was willing to see how it goes.

"In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism," says Philippine journalist Maria Ressa.

Ressa, who is internationally known and lauded for standing up to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's escalating attacks on the press, tells NPR that circumstances in the Philippines have forced her to evolve as a journalist.

If you spend any time on social media, you know it can be a war of words out there. Whether it's the debate over wearing masks, the racial unrest sweeping across the U.S. or the impending presidential election — everyone's got an opinion and someone is always ready to give a hot take.

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New leadership has taken over at a company known for a particular brand of cute.

Shintaro Tsuji, the 92-year-old founder of Sanrio, the Japanese company that created Hello Kitty, handed over the reins to his 31-year-old grandson Tomokuni Tsuji, who officially became Sanrio's president and CEO on July 1. It's the first leadership change in the company's 60-year history.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will discontinue two lines of skin-lightening products popular in Asia, making it one of the latest major companies to change business tactics seen as racist amid the global debate over racial inequality.

There's something about the video of the George Floyd killing that makes it very specific to the Twin Cities.

The video shows a white police officer and a black male victim — a familiar dynamic in similar videos and killings seen nationwide — but there's a third identifiable person: an Asian American officer seen running interference with the crowd and standing watch. He's now-former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, a Hmong American — which is how you know this isn't "any" city. It's Minneapolis.

The best thing about being 17, according to Shawn Richardson, is freedom.

"I'm able to go out more with my friends," he says. "I can do things solo."

Shawn is a rising high school senior in Minneapolis. School is fine, but what he really loves is track. His friend timed him running the 100-meter dash in 10.71 seconds.

The track season was canceled because of COVID-19. But if he can run that time officially, he will have the school record. Distance running isn't his thing. Shawn is a sprinter.

"It's like gathering energy and then just letting it go," he says.

It's graduation season. But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, ceremonies are likely to be anything but typical for the class of 2020. For seniors at Webster County High School in Dixon, Ky., that meant a no-contact, drive-through ceremony.

Officials in the Lao People's Democratic Republic say they are ready to further lift lockdown restrictions. Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia's only landlocked country have remained steady at 19 for over a month, and there are zero reported deaths.

The Bangladeshi government has quarantined 28 Rohingya Muslims on a cyclone- and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, citing fears of exposing residents of the country's sprawling refugee camps to COVID-19.

Officials say the group — mostly women and children — had been stranded at sea for weeks, reportedly trying to get to Malaysia.

Indonesia now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in all of Southeast Asia, according to numbers released by the government on Friday.

The Health Ministry in Jakarta reports 5,923 positive cases — following the country's largest daily jump of more than 400 new infections since Thursday. COVID-19 has killed 520 people in Indonesia. In the region, only China, where the novel coronavirus originated, has a higher death toll.

Just months ago, David and Michaela Parker felt like they were finally nearing the end of their two-year journey to adopt twins Ariella and Claira from Chad.

As COVID-19 cases in the remote Pacific climb, it turns out that even natural isolation is no match against this pandemic.

Glenn Hurst didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a doctor. But eventually, he made his way into health care, taking a job placing doctors in small towns. Traveling farm country, he says, the work moved him in ways he didn't expect.

"To see the physicians in those communities helping those people stay in their fields, helping those people's families be safe ... I decided that I wanted to be part of something rural and I wanted to be part of health care," he says.

"The people have spoken," says Albert Punghau, an official in Bougainville, speaking about the region's referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea.

After nearly three weeks of voting and counting, the results announced on Dec. 11 showed residents of the South Pacific island group overwhelmingly voted to break away from Papua New Guinea and form their own nation.

Updated at 1:15 a.m. Monday

This month, the Trump administration formally began the yearlong process of pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement. It will be the first and only country to quit the 200-nation deal to combat climate change. That's a big concern for some of the world's most vulnerable countries, including the small island nations of the Pacific.

Cambodia's top opposition leader is vowing to keep a promise to return and lead demonstrations against the country's long-time authoritarian leader after he was barred from boarding a flight to Southeast Asia.

Sam Rainsy, self-exiled head of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, says he was not allowed to get on a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday, despite having purchased a ticket.

Earlier this week, Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn stripped his consort of all her ranks and titles, just months after officially granting her the role. A statement from the palace accused her of disloyalty, ingratitude and over-stepping her role.

Federal prosecutors say two businessmen had a motive for making illegal contributions to U.S. political campaigns. The two men sought to remove an American diplomat in Ukraine, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday.

The two men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were associates of President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. They also have business interests in Ukraine.

In recent weeks, children marched, nations made promises and teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg scolded world leaders for "failing us." But while one of the groups most vulnerable to climate change, the Pacific Islands, may have received fewer headlines, it was among those making the strongest calls for action.

Updated at 6:12 p.m. ET

In Singapore, a law intended to crack down on "fake news" went into effect Wednesday, much to the dismay of free speech advocates and journalists.

Any peace in Afghanistan must be negotiated for Afghans by their elected leaders, the country's national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, says.

"We have objected to being part of the negotiations and not being a central part of this discussion," Mohib, 36, tells NPR's Rachel Martin from New York City, where he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.

"And if we want to see peace in Afghanistan, the Afghan government must be at the forefront of any negotiations," he added.

As China celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party's rule, China's ambassador to the U.S. says that it's thanks to that very system that his country has climbed the ranks of global leadership.

"We have had our own setbacks over the years," Cui Tiankai tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "But generally speaking, as a whole, we have gradually found a path for China's development that works for China."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says his country will not succumb to economic pressure by the Trump administration.

"We are resisting an unprovoked aggression by the United States," Zarif told NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview in New York City on Sunday. "I can assure you that the United States will not be able to bring us to our knees through pressure."

Pro-independence protests in Indonesia's restive Papua and West Papua provinces have resulted in violence for a second week, according to activists and reports from the area, where most Internet access has been shut down since Aug. 21.

In early July, Bangladesh became the first country to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans. From now on, its rivers will be treated as living entities in a court of law. The landmark ruling by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court is meant to protect the world's largest delta from further degradation from pollution, illegal dredging and human intrusion.

A record 70.8 million people had been forcibly displaced by war, persecution and other violence worldwide at the end of 2018, according to the latest annual Global Trends report by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

A U.S. permanent resident who was recently released from prison in Iran is finally making his way back to America, where his three sons live.

Nizar Zakka, 52, who is a citizen of Lebanon, was arrested in September 2015 in Tehran while trying to leave the country and charged with spying for the U.S. He denied the charges, but he was sentenced to 10 years in Iran's Evin Prison.

China and the United States are locked in a trade fight, a technology race and competing world military strategies. Leaders of these countries seem to be pulling the world's two largest economies apart.

These tensions are especially felt by those living with a foot in each country. The NPR special series A Foot In Two Worlds reveals the stories of people affected because of their ties to both nations. Reports from both the U.S. and China show how deeply and broadly the two nations are connected and what's at stake as they reshape their relations.

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