Do What Makes You Feel Alive
Aileen Cameron, a PEPY participant on the recent Golden Week tour to northern Cambodia, conducted interviews and wrote a piece about the origins of PEPY. She is publishing the article for i-News, a bilingual magazine in Imabari-shi, Ehime-ken, Japan. Thanks Aileen!
Do What Makes You Feel Alive
An Interview with Daniela Papi
by Aileen Cameron
Cambodia is a country with a heart-wrenching history. As a result of frequent invasion and civil conflict, poverty is rampant and approximately 35% of Cambodians now live below the poverty line. Because many teachers were killed under the communist regime of the 1970s, the educational situation in Cambodia is equally troubled. While 98% of children are enrolled in primary school, only 26% make it to secondary school. This is a far cry from Japan, where one woman working as an ALT found herself questioning what she could do to help those who really needed it. I spoke to PEPY (Protect the Earth Protect Yourself) founder Daniela Papi about her journey from internationalisation in Japan to grassroots education in rural Cambodia.
Compared with Japan, one of the world’s leading spenders on education, the situation in Cambodia was shocking to Daniela during her initial visits to the country in 2002, “One of the saddest things we saw was a lack of educational opportunities available to the people who wanted them, so we wanted to find an educational project to fund. We found a group that was building schools and decided to try and raise money for them.”
PEPY began as a cycle trip across Cambodia in 2005. Participants visited schools and orphanages while raising funds to donate towards the construction of new schools. It grew into a successful non-profit organisation in the space of just three years. PEPY was developed from a desire to give back while travelling, to help people to achieve the goals that seemed unattainable, and to create and make available the opportunities and resources necessary to do so.
So what is PEPY today? Daniela explains, “PEPY is an educational non-profit organisation which supports educational initiatives around Cambodia especially focusing on environmental and health education projects. We offer bike tours, volunteer tours and custom tours throughout the year to expose people to the organisations that are working to make positive changes in Cambodia”. One of the greatest things about PEPY is the variety of involvement that it offers its volunteers and its range of understanding of educational needs, “You can come and build a building, but if there’s no one there to teach in that building and there’s no one working towards really achieving the educational goal then there’s no need to have built the building in the first place. On the other hand the friendship and the interaction between volunteers and recipients are invaluable. You can’t put a dollar price on that. I think the impact on the people who come on our trips, and the way that we try to design our trips to interact with programs that are already in place is unique”.
People from all walks of life, both young and old, have been inspired to take part in a PEPY adventure and do their part towards the development of education in rural Cambodia. But what is it that inspires the woman behind it all? “All of the people who have joined our PEPY tours, volunteered here in Cambodia, and supported our work. These past three years I feel like I have been nearing overload with amazing people who are inspiring me to try to be more like them in so many ways.” By inspiring each other, a natural equilibrium is achieved and not only between PEPY staff and volunteers is the inspiration shared, but also between the staff, volunteers and the recipients of PEPY’s labours in Cambodia
When asked about her most memorable experience with PEPY, Daniela’s answer came almost instantly, “The first one that comes to mind was in Golden Week of 2006. One of the things that we do on some trips is take some of the students from the PEPY Ride Schools to the temples. So on this trip we’d taken a class there and we had a boy in our class who had been born without any fingers. Because of the area he lives in he doesn’t really see other people with deformities or missing limbs as much as if he were in other areas of Cambodia. At the end of the day as we were just about to say goodbye to the kids we passed by some landmine victims who were playing some instruments on the side of the road. Earlier in the day this kid had bought a flute, and he couldn’t cover the holes but he could just hold it between his arms and try to play it. He was watching these guys who were playing different instruments and they all were missing either an arm or a leg, and I’ve never seen anyone look so inspired and excited in my life! So we stopped, the whole group and the whole class, and probably for a good 45 minutes we were in a circle, dancing and singing while these guys were playing music. It was really great to see this kid at the centre of everyone’s attention.”
Inspiration and determination are the key to what makes PEPY work. Daniela’s advice to anyone interested in volunteering or becoming involved in non-profit organisations is not to let worries deter you from following through on an idea or a passion, “If you have a really strong passion for something you will find the people who will give you the money, who will teach you the skills, and who will help you follow your dreams. A quote which I strongly believe in and which means a lot to me is this: Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you feel like you have come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”
To find out more about PEPY, visit www.pepyride.org