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.

29 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Flat Stanley (and Flat Channeang, and Thavry, and Sela) at the PEPY School!

If you haven’t read this yet, nor signed up to receive your own flat friend in the mail, PLEASE DO!


26 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

My thoughts on Data Entry

… as a means of supporting development, helping people “follow their dreams”, and Digital Divide Data.

(in the comments section)


26 May 2009 ~ 2 Comments

“Volunteering” or “Voluntourism” – who cares! It’s how you design it!

There is a discussion about volunteering/voluntourism going on here, Part 1 and here, Part 2.

I decided to add my long-winded and opinionated post obviously tainted by working in Cambodia and being passionate about the responsibility implicit in these issues.


As someone who has worked in Cambodia for almost five years, this is a debate I often find myself in, especially since I run what could be considered a “voluntourism” organization.

Due to the fact that “volunteer” is a word people are utilizing in their internet searches, much more than “service learning” or “experiential education”, I have allowed the word to stay on our website, but I don’t like our guests thinking of themselves as “volunteers”, as that highlights the “giving”, and what I want to highlight for them is the “learning”. Continue Reading

25 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Is PEPY making a good decision?

I put this post up on our team journal called “Is PEPY making a good decision?” looking at our choice to send students from Chanleas Dai to camp in the US.

Feel free to add your thoughts here:


15 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

PEPY’s Geotourism Entry

PEPY has entered the Changemakers “Geotourism Challenge” and, in doing so, our entry is open forcomments/questions.

Recently, a Changemakers representative asked us some questions that relate to how we manage our projects, implement our tours, and work with partners. I am including my responses here, as they might shed light on the way PEPY works, which is not otherwise visible on our websites. Continue Reading

15 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Beyond Good Intentions

Have you seen this website? www.beyondgoodintentions.com is the best site I have seen recently which takes the issues of development and tourism and makes them digestible for everyone to easily think about. LOVE it!

After watching the volunteer travel one, I of course felt the need to comment, and did herehttp://www.beyondgoodintentions.com/share/read.php?6,45 (copied below)

Happy watching! Continue Reading

14 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

More of my thoughts on “Voluntourism”

I read this piece today on volunteering in Cambodia and added some comments about voluntourism in the area. The comments are “awaiting moderation” so in the meantime, they are posted below.

For those people looking to give back when they travel to Cambodia, there is also the possibility to “voluntourism”, typical designed as more short-term tourism combined with volunteer work. Some of the benefits of choosing voluntourism is that those who do not have a long time for their vacation can see the sites they want to see while still giving back.

For me, if you choose your voluntourism operator wisely, I think voluntourism can often be the best option for a first visit to a place as the best voluntourism operators (in my opinion) offer a chance to LEARN first, and give second. In a place like Cambodia, with one of if not still THE highest NGO to population ratio, it sometimes feels like there are just as many development agencies doing good as there are those doing harm. By taking a trip designed to teach you about development issues in the area and expose you to well researched NGO programs, you will hopefully walk away with a better understanding of how and where you might want to volunteer more long-term in the future.

This is how we design our tours at PEPY (www.pepytours.com). There is a chance to physically support the projects you visit, but that is secondary to the learning incorporated into our trips. In addition, there is funding provided to the groups we spend the our volunteer time with on our tours. Why? Because a) we wouldn’t be partnering with a group unless we had researched them and found that we wanted to support their work in the long-term, not only for a few days of volunteers b) we recognize that volunteers are not free. Taking the time to train someone, bringing the Executive Director away to give a talk about their programs, etc, are all at the expense of the opportunity cost of lost work which is more in line with the core of their mission. We want the impact of our volunteers to last far beyond the duration of their stay so we invest funds from their trip in these groups and commit to updating our travelers on their impact of their stay for years to come.

As you can see in the documentary film “Changing the World on Vacation” by Daniela Kon, in most cases volunteers “do not change anything. They START something, they spark an idea.” and those are like seeds which need to be tended to and need time to grow. You can see the selects reel from the film here: http://deedaproductions.com/trailer.htm

In other words, I’m very skeptical of short term volunteering and “voluntourism” if it is marketed as THE change agent. Instead, as travelers to a new place, if we recognize that we need to learn first in order to support the development of the area/programs in the most sustainable way, I believe we can have a better impact.