I called this blog ’Lessons I Learned’, but really it would be better titled ’Lessons I’m Learning’. I believe in sharing what we learn to help others avoid our same mistakes and also exposing ourselves to the criticism and questions which might help us improve. I am skeptical of the popular approaches to both voluntourism and development work, though those are both areas in which I have worked as I’d love to be part of learning how we can do them both better. I think we need to learn before we can help, so I believe “service learning” should be “learning service”. I feel like I am learning more every day about how to help create the world I want to see my future kids and their future kids living in, and sometimes what I learn contradicts what I thought I knew was true. I have learned that good intentions are not enough and that the only person you can “improve” in the world is yourself, so I had better start improving the world by starting there. I hope the dialogue generated through this site will give me more chances to do that and to share the lessons I am learning with others who could benefit from avoiding my mistakes.

21 August 2009 ~ 2 Comments

NGOs, show me your failures!

Another post inspired from the Tales from the Hood blog, this one about honesty and NGO propaganda.

A comment from Mo-ha-med (below) is something I really agree with:

I’m particularly curious about a remark of yours about how the PR dept needs to communicate things in a certain way and that we shouldn’t “believe our own propaganda”.

So essentially, yes, we do lie, and it’s okay for the PR department to lie to some people (or donors), but we should keep our heads cool?

My thoughts I posted are these:

I couldn’t agree more.  Mo-ha-med – that is just what I was thinking, why are we even jumping to the conclusion that we should consider that our PR team would be overstating what we actually accomplish?  That is like accepting defeat or admitting failure at honesty before we even start trying.

I would not trust any NGO that does not have a very open and honest answer to the question “What mistakes have you made recently and how are you working to improve your organization based on what you learned?” I would also not be inclined to give money to any organization which only has positive things on their website – every group ever makes mistakes!  We should be sharing those so others can learn and until we start realizing that that IS our PR teams job, to BE honest, we are not going to get very far in the honesty department.

I also think it is SO important that those of us who work in or support NGOs ASK to see mistakes, failures, and current issues.  It isn’t enough to expect that we will be told, particularly as managers or donors.  For example, I was once trying to convince a large NGO working in Cambodia that their programs were negatively effecting education in the hundreds of schools across the country that they were working in due to ill-planned rules and regulations, lack of monitoring, and a backwards incentive system.  When I made my “You are harming education in Cambodia” presentation in their main office in the US, the reaction from the person in charge of the program globally was “But, when I was in Cambodia last year to see the project, the two schools I visited seemed to be doing well?’

The fact that she hadn’t ASKED to see the ones that were failing Continue Reading

20 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Moving Blogs

I decided to move my blog from its old location on the PEPY NING site here so that I could:

– better distance my opinions from that of the whole PEPY organization

– allow people to comment more easily even if they are not part of the PEPY network

– write about things which might not have to do with PEPY at all (though there are relatively few things in my life at the moment which can not be connected in some way to my work in Cambodia)

As such, ta da, “Lessons I Learned”.  This is why I made the page, and I hope that I learn as many lessons as I’m able to share through my blogging here.

20 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Voluntourism, PEPY Tours, and Worldchanging

A blog I wrote was featured in an article on Worldchanging today… funny how the social media world works… you never know who is reading what you say.  (sort of fun, sort of scary)

Anyway, Carissa Bluestone is clearly a much better writer than I am and was able to take my verbose and train-of-thoughty blabbering and put it in a much more comprehensible format in this article.

Read up here: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/010362.html

20 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments


One of the few blogs I check on a semi-regular basis is Tales from the Hood which recently had a post about dependency.  I added these thoughts:

This reminds me a bit of the World Food Program.  Last year, during the food crisis, rather than cut back on what food was delivered, stop programs which were the least successful, or a variety of other options, they stopped the program all together for the last quarter of the school year here in Cambodia.

Now, I don’t happen to agree with how the WFP organizes their programs to begin with, importing food (at the cost to our planet of a lot of shipping from the US and the EU) when it could be bought locally to support the local economy.  “That would be difficult: quality control, pesticides, supply consistencies…”, sure, I hear you, but because something would be “difficult” should not be the reason we undermine local economies in the name of “donating” and in effect underwriting our own farming economies…. anyway, I digress.  Point being, I don’t agree with how it is organized, but I do think that a dependency was created, and then all of a sudden children who were no longer being fed breakfast at home as they had been feed at school for many years showed up at school and there was no longer breakfast.

What’s worse, starting something and then taking it away, or not having started it at all?  This is a question we have to ask ourselves a lot in our own work, wondering what the negative implications will be when we some day stop the programs we are currently doing…. I hope it won’t be as devastating as the donut disappointment, though I do fear for some programs it will be much worse.

18 August 2009 ~ 3 Comments

Tourism Development Ethics 101

At university, I took a class called “Medical Ethics”, and it was one of my favorites.  Rather than telling us what he thought was right or wrong, the professor would have us read real medical case studies and then discuss and debate the ethical decisions which had been made in each case.  I would love to teach a class like this on Tourism Development Ethics, not because I have all of the answers, but because I have a lot of questions.

My first real case study to share:  I’m looking for your thoughts and opinions here….. what would YOU do?  What do you think is ethically right in this situation?  What other options or questions can you think of that I have not listed?

Continue Reading

13 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments

NGO Program Success as the new Stock Market (dividends paid in “warm fuzzies”)

These thoughts are in response to this blog on “Tales from the Hood”.

“If you are somehow involved in aid work and receive any form of compensation, the fact is that you benefit.” – I think we are missing the discussion about the MAIN way we benefit, and if we miss that, than maybe we shouldn’t be here.

Those who believe passionately in the changes they are working to make in the world are compensated by the steps they see made towards those changes. If we don’t view that as the highest form of compensation we get, then maybe this isn’t the right field for us.

If we want the programs we are working on to succeed so that we can get more money and get promoted and get better compensated, aren’t we looking at this the wrong way? I think a key to the most successful development work might be leaders (local or non) who LOVE what they do and benefit so much emotionally from the success of their projects because the believe in the CAUSE they are trying to improve. High or low salary, if positive changes are the currency of success, then program success will become the NGO stock market. Continue Reading

13 August 2009 ~ 1 Comment

1000% increase

Wow! Check it out! We gave out 106 bikes year year for the fourth installment of our Bike-to-School Program.

This year, we have nearly 100% increase in students graduating from grade six since we started PEPY and nearly 1000% increase in the number of kids completing grade seven. A huge factor in that is that the junior high school programs are now much closer to the student’s homes thanks to so many of you.

Yeah! http://journal.pepyride.org/pepy-news-and-updates/367-bikes?tag=PEP…