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.

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:

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

20 June 2009 ~ 0 Comments

PEPY in Hong Kong

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the International Women’s Forum event in Hong Kong. I not only got to speak about PEPY and the lessons we’ve learned, but also to meet many amazing women making changes all over the world.

A friend of mine, who is the founder of the M restaurant group in China and an IMF board member in Hong Kong, had recommended me as a speaker — lucky me! The panel I was invited to was called “Social Entrepreneurship in a World Without Borders” and included Katharina, a German woman doing work in North Korea you wouldn’t believe possible, and Jennifer, who works in senior management at the Grameen Bank. Ann, our moderator, made sure that the panel became a success. She started out by saying, “If any of you talk for too long, I’m hitting you over the head with my microphone”, and even though her 5′-nothing stature seeemed to imply that it wouldn’t hurt too much, we did indeed believe that she was serious. Ann kept us in line and was fabulous at figuring out the flow she wanted from the panel and at asking just the right questions to get it. Continue Reading

17 June 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Join the PEPY cause on facebook!

Please :-)


Join the cause! And let others know about our work in Cambodia! We need your help to spread the word as the way we typically raise money is through our tours – and with both the economy and tourism down, we need your help to be our marketing arm, please thank you! Continue Reading

16 June 2009 ~ 0 Comments

In defence of the “why pay to volunteer” arguement

First off…. we aren’t charging people to “volunteer”. We are charging people to go on a tour, feed them, put them up, and give them a chance to learn.

But that’s besides the point….

Here are my other thoughts in response to a post asking why people should pay $280 to join our August PEPY Tour.
Continue Reading

12 June 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Non-Profit vs. For-Profit Voluntourism… is there a difference?

Our friend Voluntourism Gal (Alexia Nestora) put this post out on the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s Hub asking for others thoughts. What do YOU think?

Trad. Non-Profits vs. Volunteer Sending Organizations


The voluntourism field seems to be divided when it comes to the non-profits versus for-profits, but what about within the non-profit sector? I have heard a lot of companies describe themselves in different ways – some are development organizations some are volunteer sending organizations. Now that defining your marketing message is more important than ever, how do you describe your organization?

Never one to stay away from controversy, I found this blurb in an email I received from a friend in the industry and wanted to get your thoughts on it.

Continue Reading

12 June 2009 ~ 0 Comments

“Faceless” NGOs

Also on VoluntourismGal’s website, I added my thoughts about “Faceless NGOs”. Should volunteer sending organizations list the name of their partner organizations on their site? Do they often fail to do so because they are trying to prevent people from working with that NGO directly? Does that then imply that their desire to support their “partner” NGO is limited? or is there another reason? Your thoughts?