Educational Adventures in Cambodia and Nepal


PEPY Reader Top 10 Favorites from 2012

PEPY Reader Top 10 Favorites from 2012

By Sarah Brown


On all of our PEPY Tours adventures, we ask our participants to do a little reading from time to time. We introduce articles on a variety of different topics – ranging from the Khmer Rouge trials and education in Cambodia to community development and responsible tourism globally – and then facilitate discussions and debates based on the arguments these articles put forward.


We keep a record of all the things we’re reading in the office – and all the things we’re asking our participants to read – in a kind of ‘online library’ we call The PEPY Reader. We update this resource regularly with a range interesting bits and bobs, including news articles, videos, blog posts, and more, with the aim of providing a range of perspectives on topics that are important to us.


Here’s a round-up of our favourite PEPY Reader additions from 2012…


The seven worst ideas in international aid – This tongue-in-cheek article provides a concise, humorous, yet all-too-true run-down of the damage that can be caused by ‘helping’ before doing your homework.


Empowering communities through relevant education – DevEd produced this creative video to explain the importance of culturally, historically, and geographically relevant education in community development.


Beyond TOMS – Many have criticised TOMS and similar enterprises for hindering rather than helping. This interview talks to the founder of Oliberté Footwear, a social business working hard to provide a responsible alternative to TOMS.


When volunteering becomes big business – This year Al Jazeera produced a number of different videos and articles about the problems in Cambodia posed by voluntourism. This video gives an interesting insight into the world of badly managed volunteer projects, and their repercussions.


Street children, free meals, and lessons learned – Both PEPY Tours and PEPY – our sister NGO – like to be very honest and open about the mistakes we’ve made along the way (the evidence!). It’s great to see other organisations sharing the lessons they’ve learned while working on community development projects in Cambodia.


The heritage curse – This video provides an interesting insight into the various damages caused to places (in this case in South East Asia) when they are officially recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The obsession with easy – This blog post from PEPY’s own Anna McKeon puts forward a convincing argument for why not everything in life should be a piece of cake.


Six questions you should ask before donating goods overseas – Donating things that you no longer need feels like a good way to help those in need, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out the way you’d like it to. This handy guide will help you donate in the way that is more effective than destructive.


International voluntourism guidelines: Feedback from the industry – The International Ecotourism Society and the Planeterra Foundation joined forces to produce a set of guidelines for international tourism. This comprehensive article provides an overview of what those in the tourism industry (including our own founder Daniela Papi) made of those guidelines.


Obama in Cambodia – This year Barack Obama made history by being the first American president to visit Cambodia. This article explains the problems in Cambodia that Barack was keen to highlight through his visit, and how his trip contrasted with his time in nearby Myanmar.

Beyond Temples and Tuk-tuks: Responsible Tourism Training

Beyond Temples and Tuk-tuks: Responsible Tourism Training

By Sarah Brown

While leading learning adventures around Cambodia is a big part of what we do at PEPY Tours, we also spend lots of time thinking of ways we can promote responsible tourism practices, both among travelers and tourism professionals.


In the past we have given talks at conferences and produced informational resources, which have been available to people all over the world. This year, however, we decided it was time to turn our attention a little closer to home.


After a number of conversations with lovely tourism and hospitality folks in Siem Reap, we came to the conclusion that that there was a real local need for cross-cultural communication training for tourism professionals. Lots of people knew the basics of responsible tourism, but weren’t sure how to talk to travelers about controversial topics like child protection and cultural sensitivity.


Luckily, we knew just the person for the job, and together with the experienced instructor Claire Bennett we put together two different training courses. Claire comes from an extensive global development education background, and has worked with everyone from the UK Government to small grass-roots organizations in rural Nepal over the past 10+ years – quite a resume!


The first training course took place over three evenings, with a session each on responsible tourism, child protection, and cultural sensitivity. Delivered in both English and Khmer, this was designed as an introductory course for participants that have never attended this kind of training before, and included lots of group discussions and sharing of experiences. We learned of many insightful personal feelings and concerns about tourism and tourist interaction from the perspective of tuk-tuk drivers and temple guides who really appreciated the rare opportunity to speak their mind and openly share with others who faced similar challenges.


We also ran an intensive two-day training course specifically focused on cross-cultural communication. Along with Claire, we designed this course to help those working closely with travelers feel confident in discussing topics relating to responsible tourism and cultural sensitivity, so they can in turn ensure visitors to Cambodia enjoy the country in a conscientious and engaging way. The training included lots of practical tricks for clear and respectful communication with people from other cultures, as well as tips on how to deal with difficult topics and situations. At the end of the first day participants put together skits on different tourism issues, where they got to practice their newly-learned communication techniques and test out their acting abilities too!


We were pleasantly surprised by the strength of the response to these trainings from the tourism community, with a total of over 60 people attending these trainings. Some participants traveled from as far away as Phnom Penh, Kratie, and Stung Treng to join the fun, and staff from Sokha, Soria Moria, Journeys Within, Sam Vesna, Osmose, CRDT, and Haven all attended, as well as lots of independent guides, tuk-tuk drivers, and trip leaders. There were also a lot more people who were unable to make it to this session but wanted to come to any future training we offered on this topic.


All in all, we thought the trainings were a success with an average participant satisfaction score of 3.4 out of 4; but what this experience has really shown us is just how hungry the tourism community is for better tourism practices and how much opportunity there is in helping responsible tourism practices grow.

Grab Life By The Handlebars

Grab Life By The Handlebars

By Anna Baranova



There are many great organizations working all around the world and we love joining our forces and connecting our supporters. One such organization is Otesha Project. Otesha is a registered charity that seeks to mobilize and equip Canadians to create local and global change through their individual and collective choices. Much like PEPY Tours, they create learning cycling adventures that take participants across Canada meeting local changemakers, environmental experts, and exciting projects. As participants traverse the region by their pedal power, they share the lessons on social innovation and change with young students across the country.


Otesha offers a number of themed tours, from environment conservation to indigenous culture. In the words of Otesha’s past participant: “I met someone who chose to build a house that doesn’t draw electricity from the grid. The family has been living this way for 12 years. I’d only heard of this kind of thing before, and now I know it’s possible and that I could do it.”


If you want to join them on any of their 2013 adventures (and you should!), they are kindly offering past PEPY Tours participants some great discounts and free resources. Feel free to contact Kira at [email protected] for more information (please specify that you are past PEPY Tours participant when reaching out).


50 Shades of Grey and Orange

50 Shades of Grey and Orange

By Anna Baranova

PEPY Tours launches a new online look, new features, and more informative resources.


Our new PEPY Tours website is just over a month old and we’ve greatly appreciated hearing kind feedback from a number of you. It appears that people enjoy the new look and new features and we sure are glad to give both our new visitors and existing followers an inspiring place to e-roam.


So what exactly makes the new site so different? Why the upgrade? Here is a quick rundown of the most important changes and why we needed them:


1. BLOG-ALICIOUS! – PEPY Tours and PEPY NGO have been running a joint blog about educational programs and tours for a number of years but we couldn’t resist sharing even more ideas about responsible tourism practices, global citizenship, and experiential education with the world. So with the new site we launched a separate PEPY Tours blog to share all the amazing lessons and ideas on these topics. Going forward we are looking to write a lot of our original content as well as feature guest writers from our tours and an ever-expanding support base. Maybe your idea can be the next blog-post?


We have also included a feed from PEPY Reader in the sidebar so you can catch up on current global development issues and responsible tourism news as you visit the blog each time. So check it out and come back regularly for more exciting content (or just sign up for the RSS feed and you’ll get the updates in your reader of choice).


2. MAKEOVER – It’s not just about looking better (though it is pretty) but also giving visitors a better user experience. We’ve trimmed down a lot of the weight, making the site cleaner and neater. Don’t worry, we didn’t delete any groundbreaking PEPY Tours content, just learned to summarize better.


We’ve tried our best to make relevant information easier to find. PEPY Tours has a lot of various-purpose content to share. We’ve got our tour offers, responsible tourism, Cambodia-specific, and participant resources, the mission and vision of our social enterprise, and more. Each of these topics now has its own section or tab. The information for general public is available in the top menu while audience-specific information is located at the footer (like resources for participants, media, or job opportunities). At the end of the day though, you be the judge. We would love to hear from you about your experience finding relevant content on our site. Is it more comparable to a walk in the park or an episode of Survivor?


3. IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS –While we trimmed a lot of the lengthy descriptions, we also added useful details to our tour offers in response to the many similar inquiries we’ve been receiving from interested participants. Each tour now follows the same visual template with learning goals, sample itinerary, tour-specific testimonials, and a photo gallery. Most importantly, we’ve added a section about what makes PEPY Tours and that specific tour unique. Our educational focus, long-term impact, and an amazing local trip leader team are just a few points of difference; you can read about the rest here.


There are a number of smaller additions like a twitter feed, homepage tour features, more and better imagery, and custom graphics (thanks to our amazing designer Wei Peng), which we hope will all add up to a more fulfilling visitor experience for you. Whether you are on the site to book a tour, learn about Cambodia, use the tools and resources, we hope that your each visit is enjoyable, informative, and inspiring (yes, we dream BIG). Feel free to linger for a while, come back often, and share your findings with the world.




Special thanks to:

  • Wei Peng for developing and designing the site as well as patiently embracing her team’s daily new feature ideas and improvements;
  • Sarah Brown for writing a lot of the wonderful pages as well as vigorously editing and trimming original content making us all sound much better in the end;
  • Daniela Papi and Claire Bennett for developing many of the resources and tools as well as the ideas behind our vision, mission and tour curriculum;
  • Soe Thiha for developing the PEPY Tours awesome original site that lay most of the groundwork for the new one.


Volunteering in Cambodia: Interview with Daniela Papi

Volunteer Painting a Wall

Content originally published on Move To Cambodia.


Is there any way for people to volunteer responsibly in Cambodia?

Travelers looking to ‘help’ in Cambodia, or anywhere they don’t know well, should remember the most important lessons I learned during six years in Cambodia: We have to learn before we can help. If we skip over the learning part and are driven by our sympathy, we can often cause more harm than good: working for a corrupt organization, investing time and energy in efforts that perpetuate rather than counter poverty, etc.


If we want to lead with empathy, rather than sympathy, we need to be able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. And in order to do that, we have to know them, their culture, their history, and have a view into the long-term impacts of our work. So we should travel to learn first.


But can people volunteer responsibly? Of course! The problem is, people usually don’t go abroad to volunteer with a goal of maximizing their impact. Understandably, they usually also want to have fun, so oftentimes they want to do something active–paint something, build something, or play with kids–rather than less ‘fun’ work.


If you are an accountant, there are probably tons of NGOs who need to understand accounting and tax law practices in your country, if it is a source of their donations. Or if you are a web or graphic designer, there are always tons of people who would want your help. The best matches will be ones where an organization has identified a need and is looking to have someone fill that role as a training position for a more full-time staff person, and where the volunteer applies to fill the role with the specific skills necessary.


How can someone figure out if the organization they want to volunteer with is a reputable one?

Once again, making the choice of where to give our time requires us to learn first. It requires us to do some work. You can’t just go online and see which ones are ‘great’ organizations, as unfortunately in international aid the beneficiaries themselves rarely get a chance to directly voice their feedback (and reviews from other donors or volunteers are not what you should be looking for).


Ask people online, such as others you are connected to in that sector or who are working in that country, and ask the organizations themselves for feedback. Any organization that will not engage you in discussions about their own weaknesses or areas of growth, or that is willing to put you in a volunteer position that you are not qualified for, is probably not one you want to be giving your time to.


Why shouldn’t I volunteer with kids? And what’s wrong with volunteering at orphanages?

A recent UNICEF report showed that 76 percent of Cambodian ‘orphans’ living in orphanages have one or more living parents. Actually, the number of true orphans has gone down, but the rate of orphanage growth has risen with the growth of the tourism sector. Any orphanage that will let you in off the street for a day or a week without requiring background checks or without requiring that you are qualified for a specific role is not one at which you should be volunteering.


Many orphanages in Cambodia are businesses. They will ask you to take a ‘free visit to our orphanage’ and then tell you tales of poverty. These institutions are separating kids who have parents from their families and communities, oftentimes for their own financial gain. I’ve done this kind of volunteering myself, and I’ve learned from watching the negative impacts of this harmful practice grow: a volunteer visit to an orphanage might be a feel-good experience for a traveler, but it is an immensely damaging practice for the families of Cambodia. Don’t do it.


For more from PEPY Tours founder Daniela on the dangers of volunteering, watch her recent TEDx Talk titled “What’s Wrong With Volunteer Travel?”