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.

19 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Help us out!

Thank you for being a part of the PEPY Cause! Only 5 years ago PEPY hadn’t even been named yet, and now we are one of 10 finalists in a 600+ entry contest by Nat Geo/Ashoka thanks to the lives our small group has helped to change and the over $1 million dollars y’all have helped to raise. WOW.

We need the help from ALL those of you in our little tribe to gain more exposure for PEPY by winning this contest. You can help support PEPY by giving us a few minutes of your time today, and that will make us smile, support education in rural Cambodia, and get you good karma points to cash in later :-) All you need to do are steps 1-3 (the rest are extra karma bonus points!)

1) go to http://geotourism.changemakers.com/en-us/node/16599/vote

2) click “login or register to vote” in the middle of the page above the list of finalists

3) vote for THREE finalists (we hope one of them is PEPY!). They will not register your vote unless you vote for three finalists Continue Reading

18 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Let’s start being honest!

This blog post is my response to a post calling for regulation of the NGO industry. It can be found here:http://talesfromethehood.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/regulation-anyone…

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An “industry-wide conversation about regulation” is not going to happen until there is an “industry-wide conversation about honesty”. Why would you politely tell that person that you agreed with where they gave there money if you don’t? Here in lies a big problem, I think. Let’s all BE HONEST! When people ask us about NGOs that we don’t think are doing a good job, we NEED to tell them the truth, in the nicest way possible. PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR THAT! You say, “But nothing really happens to those NGOs who don’t feel like following best-practices or participating coordination meetings.” – If we all spoke up – there would be – popular opinion would go down; people would redirect their giving. We NEED to be honest! You say, “It makes me cranky to think that such organizations can implement such bad relief” – so start talking to us about WHAT you have seen! There are no real examples in here – TELL US THE STORIES! Let people learn from your experience. Continue Reading

18 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Do you need to be a “professional” to change the world?

This is a very similar blog to my previous post – actually it is the first draft of what I wrote there (and by “draft” I mean – the first things that came out of my head after I read this blog – un-edited and very conversational, as my writing tends to be). Here is the blog I am commenting on.

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What does a “professional” mean to you? Your degree in Cultural Anthropology, does that make you a “professional”? In what fields? Development overall? Agricultural projects? Does one need a PhD to be put in charge of the lives of others? Does someone with an accounting degree who has never left the US but is volunteering with an NGO to improve accounting practices count as a “professional”? What if they are teaching math?

You said “Relief and development work frequently defies generalization.” I would argue that PhD’s and people outside of the projects can generalize all they like, just like you and I do on our blogs, about things we only have a small hand in, but at the end of the day it ALL defies the type of generalization that uses words like “volunteers should/shouldn’t” and “it must be done by ‘professionals.'” Continue Reading

14 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Displacing Local Labor

I was recently asked what I thought about the argument that international volunteers often take work away from local people. I thoroughly considered this objection when we designed our trips at PEPY, and I’m constantly aware of the question. At the same time I believe that it is important to encourage a spirit of volunteerism, because even in completely local projects, where the community is encouraged to provide volunteer services, it is always difficult to establish a good balance. As I reflected on the projects we have done, groups I have worked with, or other volunteer experiences offered in Cambodia, I expected to come across a great deal of local labor displacement. Instead, my initial relfection could be summed up as “there is less displacement than you would think.” My initial response to the question is summed up below in the “Physical Labor” section. After thinking about it for a few more days, I realized that I mistakenly omitted volunteer teaching and service positions from my review, because those positions are less subject to the “lost labor” criticism voiced by opponents of voluntourism. Instead I came to understand that it is precisely those types of teaching projects that I DO believe deprive local labor resources of opportunities. Continue Reading

05 July 2009 ~ 11 Comments

Giving things away can cause more harm than good (voluntourism & traveler philanthropy gone wrong)

Someone asked what the impact of many tour companies and individuals looking to offer philanthropic opportunities in developing areas might be…. here are my thoughts and a story from my experiences in Cambodia.

I think that it can be a tricky line to walk for those entering a new culture or area and looking to help. Knowing who to trust, what to do/give, where to put support, what that support should be designed like, if/how their should be community by-in/support/funding to make it happen, who will monitor it, how changes will be made, etc etc, is a lot to take on. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t but it means there is a lot to learn, and even more to learn once we start and make mistakes. There are so many groups in Cambodia coming in and digging wells or giving away filters and sometimes those things do harm (wells leeching arsenic from bedrock, breaking and sitting unfixed as there is no local ownership, etc). Here’s a story for you:

Continue Reading

03 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Development Tourism – Is it good?

My thoughts are, it’s not black and white – it’s not “all good” or “all bad”. In fact, personally, I find it mostly bad. Yet, it’s an industry I work in and believe in, because I think it CAN be done better.

Added my thoughts to the discussion started by Easterly’s criticism of MDV projects here:
http://tinyurl.com/kqu882

When reading the first 25 pages of White Man’s Burden a few years ago I felt like Easterly was putting into words the exact problems I had seen working in development in Cambodia. In our tours at PEPY, we often have half of the travelers read this section detailing his planner/searcher mentality (with the other half of the group reading from Sachs and then discussing the differences). In those discussions, like in the above post, I tend to agree with Easterly often, but not 100%. Why? Because it’s not black and white – it’s complicated – and I think that some arguments from both camps completely disregard the majority of projects which are in the grey area. Continue Reading

03 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

More Development Tourism Thoughts

I added more thoughts to this week’s development tourism discussion here.

I very much agree with your final paragraph: “voluntourists… should not be led to believe that they’re directly contributing anything other than cash to a development project on the ground.” The fact that many voluntourism and even longer term “volunteer” projects, marketed as ways for people to aid the aid industry DON’T include financial contributions when they often suck resources from the groups they are meant to serve drives me nuts. We make it clear to those who travel with us at PEPY that the impact they are having will come after they leave: 1) with the funds they are donating to the projects as part of the trip fee and hopefully donations in future years as well as 2) the impact they will have on the world when they change how they travel, give, and teach others about their experiences in the future. Changes do not come because people worked with a community to paint a mural about not drinking unclean water from a pump. Changes come from community members working together to do research about clean water and educating each other about the ways they can stay healthy, and the foreigners who painted the mural with them can fund that. Continue Reading