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.

22 January 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Learning Service Video Series & Contest


Anyone who has been following me on Facebook or Twitter already knows about this, but here is another little plug:

After about a year and a half of work on the Learning Service guidelines, videos, and website, we’re finally launching the six part Learning Service video series…. hooray!

To gather interest and momentum, and give people a chance to digest one video at a time, we’ve decided to release one video per week for six weeks. We’re on week three now, so there’s enough content up there for you to take a peek at!

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I made a cameo in this third video, so if you want to see my bloopers and outtakes, take a look! Plus, you can answer one question about each video, and each time be entered for a chance to win gear from KEEN & Eagle Creek, as well as a stay in Cambodia!

For those of you who:

– Know of people who are considering taking a volunteer travel people

– Work with schools, travel companies, or other groups that interact with groups of people who might be considering international service

– Have gone on or considered volunteer travel yourself

… we’d LOVE your help!  We spent so much time/energy/resources on making these videos, we now need your help to make sure people SEE them! If you have ideas for ways we could promote them, groups we should reach out to, people we need to speak with, or just general tips, please write a comment below or reach out to us on Twitter (the Learning Service team @learnser or my personal account @danielapapi)

Thanks for helping us to create more global conversations around responsible volunteer travel!


The videos were made by an AMAZING duo from Colombia, Luis & Dur. I highly recommend them for any filming/website needs! More info below:

Luis Barreto and Dur Montoya are a multi-media savvy couple who are passionate about exploring the world and sharing the lessons they learn along the way.

Dur and Luis were born in Colombia and have traveled around the world helping community-based organizations and NGOs spread their message using multi-media, videos, photography, and online/print advertising material through their online magazine Look At the World and their consulting company Zoom In Projects.

Luis and Dur are currently based in Siem Reap, Cambodia where they have provided youth media workshops in partnership with PEPY Cambodia and coordinated a collaborative youth photography project for Anjali House in partnership with UNICEF Cambodia. They have also helped to develop, design, and launch the trailblazing online resource Learning Service: Re-thinking Volunteer Travel Through Education

Luis Barreto’s photography project Faces of the Road has been featured multiple exhibitions including Kensington and Chelsea College, London – UK 2010, Botanical Garden of Medellín, Colombia 2011, Café Zorba – Medellín, Colombia 2012, and as part of a collective exhibition in New York – Art Takes Time Square 2012. View Luis’ work at: www.luisbarreto.com.

21 January 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Join our Monthly Resolutions Club

I spent new years hiking in spain with some friends…. which was a FABULOUS way to ring in a new perspective on a new year.  As I noted previously, I made some tech-fast resolutions, some of which I dig into here in this Huffington Post piece called “Calling All Email Addicts: A New Year’s Resolution of a Healthier Email Diet

I removed email from my phone, no longer check email on Saturdays, and all is going well so far…. and then I realized, the key part of what made me stick to trying out these commitments, was that I stated them publicly. Then I read a piece about a group that was helping to hold each other accountable to monthly resolutions – which sounded fantastic… so I thought I’d try start my own group of friends to do the same thing… here goes!

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Join the Monthly Resolution Club if you want to share 12 mini-resolutions with the group this year, report back each month on how you’ve done, and track your monthly progress. Twenty of us have already started…. want to join?

Monthly Resolution Club: www.monthlyresolutionclub.com

01 January 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Hibernate with us!

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Happy New Year!

I wanted to share my New Years resolution with you, and invite you to join me, if you are interested!

As a 2014 resolution, I’m committing to taking at least one 24 hour E-fast per week. That means, that at least once per week I will take 24 hours completely off of email.

Now, for some of you, that might not seem like a lot of time, and high fives to you for already having a responsible email diet! For others, like me, who are on their email all the time, via their phone, or other devices, getting back to work emails every hour for about 17 hours a day, then perhaps you too will join me.

My friend Ben describes why he too is committing to 24 hour E-fasts each week this year in this blog, and has done so more eloquently than I could, so read up!

Join us as we Hibernate from email each week: http://www.hibernate.cc

05 December 2013 ~ 0 Comments

A piece I was asked to write for “International Volunteer Day”

Here you go: http://www.childsafetourism.org/international-day-volunteer-voluntourism-harm-children/

14 November 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Unreasonable Values

A Huffington Post piece I wrote on the Unreasonable Values of the Unreasonable Team: http://bit.ly/UnVal

10 November 2013 ~ 0 Comments


Watching yourself on video can be painful (especially when you had just cut all your hair off in an attempt to cut out the straight perm you should never have had – and the fact that you were being filmed in frizzy sweaty Cambodia!). Tara Roberts, founder of girltank, had come through Phnom Penh a few years ago (2009 perhaps?) and had taken videos of women who were leading organizations. She later went on to build a website, and other resources, and a few months ago sent us some cuts of the videos she had taken. I have been cleaning through my “to read” email box, and finally watched these short videos.


In this modern world, where we are recorded on our phones and cameras all the time, we’re more easily able to look back in time and see where and how we have changed. Watching myself give advice to others in these videos is actually like watching someone else speak, as now that I am back in a place of trying to figure out “what’s next”, I need my own advice as much as the next girl. If you like frizzy hair and cheesy statements, these might be up your alley. If not, go back to reading your copy of the Economist!

04 November 2013 ~ 1 Comment

Why is sexism ok in development work?

I just posted a piece on The Huffington Post called “Why Is Sexism Okay in Development Work? Reconsidering the ‘Women are Better’ Dialogue.” Read up if you are interested.

It was inspired by hearing multiple people this weekend say “I don’t hire men,” when speaking about their social enterprises or NGOs in emerging markets.  This is a dialogue we hear more and more. Imagine if they had said “I don’t hire women….”

I had added this part below, and then removed it, as it is a bit of a tangential issue: the employment of men vs sexist dialogue.  I thought it might be worth including some reflections on the problem of actively not employing men as I saw it in Cambodia, not just from social businesses, but from corporations and other entities:

While living in Cambodia, I noticed that the job opportunities in the capital city, have an infiltration of these anti-men biases in all sorts of jobs. Nearly all garment factories in the country hire only women, with tens of thousands of women pouring into the streets during lunch breaks and shift ends. I visited a crab canning factory shipping crab all around the world, and it was like entering the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: hundreds of people wearing blue full-body covers with only their faces visible, cracking crabs and using black-lights to pick out any remaining pieces of shell. All of the employees were woman. The salt flats being pounded into flat uniform planes to later be flooded and dried reveal rows of women pounding the earth with a wooden peg, called an “elephants foot.” (Note: The fact that most of the managers in all of these cases were men, and that the men walking next to those women got to conduct the action without doing any of the heavy lifting is a whole separate issue. But let’s leave that for a future discussion.)

The unemployment problem is very bad in Cambodia, and often skewed towards men as women are typically fully employed, if not financially gainfully, then they are usually working full-time in the home. Many men sit on the streets on their motorbikes all day, hoping to be paid to give people rides, while often not making enough to cover their family’s needs. (Note: At least one organization has noted this discrepancy in the entry level employment options for men and woman, and has started a men’s skills training centre offering electrical training, air-conditioning repair, etc and an iron workshop)

To read the article on the Huffington Post, visit here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniela-papi/why-is-sexism-okay-in-development-work_b_4210184.html