I recently wrote a piece about PEPY Tours on World Nomad’s website. I am reposting it below as it relates to a lot of the themes of this blog: Responsible Giving, voluntourism, Cambodia, etc
Fast Five Profile: PEPY Tours
One of the PEPY riders on her bike for Cambodian based PEPY Tours
1. Who are you? Brief description of trips you offer
Daniela Papi, Director, PEPY and PEPY Tours.
PEPY Tours offers educational tours where travelers have the chance to learn about development issues and support programs committed to making change even long after the travelers leave. Our tours of Cambodia and neighboring areas range from bicycle trips and high-end educational adventures to service-learning programs for school groups. The required donation portion of our tour fee supports the ongoing educational programs of our partner non-profit organizations.
2. How do you define Responsible Travel?
Responsible Travel is a conscious and educated approach to tourism which incorporates learning about and supporting local initiatives and goals in the areas we visit. If we have limited knowledge about an area, it is very difficult to make the most responsible decisions, so the most important aspects of responsible travel are the research stage and the monitoring/follow up sections. If we want to be responsible, we need to understand the true impacts of the choices we are making.
3. What does your company do to make sure it travels responsibly?
We are willing to change, transparent about our mistakes and the lessons we are learning, open to suggestions and new ideas, and we work to educate travelers on ways they can improve all aspects of their future travel. Our tours bring travelers to meet with the people and organizations making changes in Cambodia and helps them develop a framework for which to better analyze and understand the issues facing Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and community groups. Our goal is that travelers with PEPY Tours will change the way they give, travel, and live as a result of their trip with us.
4. Tell us about a successful initiative. And an unsuccessful one – what did you learn?
We used to bring people to visit a variety of programs in Cambodia, including model orphanages. Our trips were supporting these orphanages through on-going funding, so we felt that the chance to visit the place where their money was going would be a great way to connect travelers to their local impact. This view was too traveler focused, as even if it would increase fundraising potential, the cost of bringing groups of foreigners into a home which is supposed to be a safe-haven for children is not a responsible practice and should be replaced by less voyeuristic fundraising initiatives. We did not have any direct incidents as a result of bringing travelers to these orphanages, but we felt that we were contributing to a growing trend of orphanage tourism which we believe is, overall, very harmful to both the children and to efforts to reduce corruption in Cambodia. If donor dollars can be linked to orphanage tourism, then more and more fake orphanages will continue to be created as business, as we see here in Cambodia.
In the first few years of offering tours, we used to indulge the travelers and our own desire to “give back” on our tours through tangible ways. Most people feel more connected to a project if they can physically “help” – paint something, build something, “see results”. The problem with this mindset is that most of the actions travelers are contributing involve giving things away to people or building items, not building people. We have learned that what Cambodia needs most is capacity building among leaders who are looking to improve their own lives and that things like teacher training and skill building will do more to improve education than building schools. If we continue to only offer travelers ways to give back physically, we will teach them that improvements are equated to developing infrastructure but not a nation of people.
For the last few years we have taken the time to expose our travelers to these ideas and concepts through reading materials, educational activities, and sharing our previously incorrect assumptions and mistakes. Travelers now leave our trips better able to support sustainable on-going projects designed to leave Cambodia and Cambodians better equipped to improve their own country rather than fostering a continued dependency on outside support.
5. What’s some advice you can offer to travelers wanting to travel responsibly?
Read up before you travel. Do NOT give money to any organization you do not know and have not researched. To do your research, speak with people working in a similar sector in a nearby area as they will have more honest feedback about a group’s work than their own website will offer.
As one of our NGO partners said, “You have to earn the right to leave your money in this country.” If we all recognize that we, as individuals, DO NOT HAVE THE POWER TO FIX THE PLACES WE VISIT by giving money away, we will have less negative impacts of funding corrupt and ill-planned programs. Sustainable changes take long-term efforts and need to last much longer than a short visit to a new place on vacation. By finding the people and programs committed to finding ways to make long term change, your money will go much further than giving it to a child-beggar on the street. In fact, perhaps that child would not be begging in the tourist area you are visiting if it was not profitable to do so. By cutting off that funding stream to the “pimp” who possibly rents that child out per day as a beggar and redirecting it to on-going programs supporting the needs of children living on the street, you will likely have a much better impact on the places you visit.
Our focus is really on encouraging travelers to be socially responsible. The media and public relations campaigns from large tourism corporations are full of green travel tips, such as conserving water and energy, recycling, using refillable water bottles, and making sure your hotel is doing everything they can to conserve. These are certainly important things to work on. At that level, though, the entire social aspect of sustainability is just missing.
If you are looking to volunteer abroad, ask a lot of questions about how they choose their partners, monitor their impact, and what mistakes they have made. The most responsible groups will offer you transparent and honest answers to those questions. Ask about how your specific program was designed. I have asked English teaching volunteer programs which travelers pay a significant fee for why they have chosen to offer English teaching as their volunteer opportunity when they seem to always be scrapping to find NGO partners as the response has been “That is what travelers are looking to do.” Do we want our impact to be designed for YOU, or designed to fit actual needs? If we want to fit actual needs, then sometimes we need to be willing to do the less glamorous jobs, have less opportunities to visit orphanages and pet children, and be satisfied that we are indeed doing good rather than “getting a rewarding experience.” It shouldn’t be about us. If you want to be comfortable, have fun, and get to play with kids, go to an amusement park.
If you want to know more, visit the PEPY Tours website.
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