Elizabeth Anthony Features PEPY in School Paper
Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself
by Liz Anthony
During the 1970’s, Cambodia experienced a devastating genocide in which the ruling party, called the Khmer Rouge, killed over two million citizens- almost one third of the country’s population, and more than double the population of the state of Montana (Population of Montana). Since this terrible time, health issues and poor education have plagued most Cambodians. Poverty, sickness, oppression, and disappointment have become what the Cambodian people know as their lives. Luckily, PEPY (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself) is helping. “PEPY is a non-profit organization working to improve educational opportunities in rural Cambodia and offering unique adventures for those looking to give back while they travel” (Welcome to PEPY). The PEPY organization runs tours with the focus of giving back to suffering people and improving environmental education (Protect the Earth). PEPY Tours is an organization that should be supported because it is working to improve Cambodia’s education and environment, it runs spectacularly unique tours for volunteers to experience, and it uses donations to support other organizations that will help to improve the overall lifestyle of Cambodian people.
During Cambodia’s horrifying genocide, dictator Pol Pot and his army, the Khmer Rouge, took over the country. Their goal was to “turn Cambodia into a cooperative, peasant-dominated area.” Thus, the Khmer Rouge sought to kill all educated and talented people in country. The soldiers left Cambodians in awful conditions of starvation, disease, and poverty (Ray 32). In the end, the number of Cambodians the Khmer Rouge killed is estimated to be over two million; that was almost one third of the country’s population at the time of the genocide (33). The effects of this time still jeopardize the country, especially in education. “The Khmer Rouge killed thousands of teachers and almost completely destroyed the educational system” (Cambodia: Environment and People). Daniela Papi, founder of PEPY, believes that another huge effect is the lack of education in the older people, because their lack of schooling leads them into thinking that learning is not important for their children (Interview). Because of the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge, present-day education has suffered. Fortunately, PEPY’s overall goal still stands as improving education, and this organization is determined to make a difference.
In Cambodia, the illiteracy rate of the adult population is over 30% (Ray 22). Fortunately, more than 40% of the population is under the age of 15 (46). This means that while many adults have had an insufficient education, there are still many children’s lives that can be changed with new teaching skills. PEPY supports many programs such as the expansion of curriculum, teacher salary raises, and community improvement (Spalton). Furthermore, PEPY provides inspiration to the children that can only come from their experiences with the programs at PEPY schools (Papi Interview). All of these ideas are brought to rural places, where the work of many other companies has yet to reach (Papi “A Letter…”). So far, PEPY Tours has constructed two schools. The PEPY Ride School, their original school, began in the Chanleas Dai rural village. This school provides many wonderful opportunities to the attending students. And, because the first school was such a success, PEPY recently started another school known as the PEPY Friends School (Go Where Your Money Goes). Both schools exceed expectations and give a level of education that is far beyond most of the country’s other schools.
While both of PEPY’s schools meet government requirements, they also offer “wider curriculum and additional teachers” (School Program). By having a larger learning base and more numerous staff members, PEPY students receive many programs and benefits that would not otherwise be given to them. PEPY funds very high quality computer and English language programs (Go Where Your Money Goes). These two programs will both help the students a great deal when applying for jobs because of the rarity of these skills in the country. PEPY also recently added a library in the PEPY Ride School and hired a local librarian to run the library and offer additional reading programs. PEPY also plans to offer classes for adults learning to read (Road-to-Literacy Program). This addition to the community is simply one more way in which PEPY is improving education.
Of Cambodian children in elementary school, 78% drop out before secondary school. However, 60% of those kids would most likely attend school if they had a bicycle. After seeing these shocking statistics, PEPY created their Bike-to-School Program in December of 2006 at the PEPY Ride School. Many children find the distance to secondary much too far to travel by foot, so attendance is impossible without other means of transportation for them (Bike-to-School Program). Many parents will also require their children to stay home from school to work at very young ages. Fortunately, many families consider having a bike in the family more valuable than their children staying home to work. Since PEPY implemented the Bike-to-School Program, they have given or lent 190 bikes to sixth grade graduates (Bike-to-School Program). While PEPY has considered giving bikes at an earlier age, the workers feel that this program gives children motivation to work hard (Papi Interview). This program has been such a success, PEPY is expanding it to the PEPY Friends School, and possibly other schools across the nation. Nationally, less than 35% of sixth graders continue to the seventh grade, but after the implementation of the Bike-to-School Program at the PEPY Ride School, 90% of sixth graders continued to seventh grade (Bike-to-School Program).
In addition to improving the regular education in Cambodia, “PEPY Tours sponsors environmental lessons in schools across the country” (Protect the Earth). PEPY teaches Cambodians about the connection between the environment and their health. When explaining “PEPY,” the workers often say “Protect the earth, and, in effect, you also protect yourself” (Papi “A Letter…”). PEPY hopes that supporting environmental education today will make a difference with the next generation (Protect the Earth). Because one of PEPY’s core missions is improving the environment, eco-education is very important to the true success of the organization. However, while PEPY believes that education is an exceedingly important tool, the staff also knows that people need to act now.
“We realize that our ecological footprint is inevitable, and we believe that we can minimize this impact by making smart choices in our daily actions” (Protect the Earth). One of the steps taken by PEPY to cover its footsteps was to plant over 200 trees and to donate money to GERES Cambodia, a business focusing on conserving energy (Protect the Earth). Both of these contributions are already significantly improving the environment today, and are showing promising signs of changing the environment in the future. PEPY also cuts environmental damage in small, yet significant ways every day. Instead of air conditioning, their offices have fans, instead of taking cars, volunteers ride bikes, and instead of taking short plane rides, workers take buses (Protect the Earth).
In Cambodia, the environment is suffering in many different and unusual ways. In fact, “Phnom Penh is the only city in Cambodia that suffers from air-pollution” (Ray 59). Many Cambodians have not been educated about the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials. Therefore, many people who used to throw natural packaging, such as banana leaves, on the ground, now litter plastic all over, simply because they do not know the difference (Papi Interview). Also, while tourists that visit Angkor have a positive affect on the economy, they have a negative affect on the environment (Ride the Road Less Traveled). Tourists generate much more pollution from their planes, cars, litter, and other activities that hurt not only Cambodia’s environment, but our world’s eco-system. Rural areas also suffer greatly because of lack of sanitation facilities. The environmental effects from the lack of sanitation facilities cause the death of countless young children (Ray 59). PEPY itself is beginning to help all of these causes by adding environmentally-friendly programs at schools such as solar-paneling, eco-training, clean water, toilets, and internet (Go Where Your Money Goes).
To fund all of the wonderful programs that PEPY supports, PEPY offers different types of tours that “engage the participant, make them think, and get them involved” (Ride the Road Less Traveled). “A trip with PEPY Tours is not only a one-of-a-kind journey, but also a chance to realize the difference you can make in the world” (Go Where Your Money Goes). PEPY’s tours offer a new concept of “volunteerism,” which combines volunteering and tourism to give a new, unique experience. PEPY believes that by using volunteerism “we can revolutionize the travel agency” (Give Back While You Travel). The focuses of the tours are non-profit work, sustainable tourism, world development, and following donations (Spalton). Tours give donors the chance to follow their money and see exactly the causes it is going to. “PEPY Tours takes you into the real heart of Cambodia, giving you an opportunity to interact with its magnificent people” (Ride the Road Less Traveled).
Because PEPY is such an environmentally-focused organization, all of the tours are designed to reduce the environmental impact that they have (Protect the Earth). Bike tours are PEPY’s claim to fame and the most popular venture they offer. On these excursions, volunteers have the opportunity to experience a fund-raising bicycle trip through Cambodia that shows visitors “a need for educational resources and advocacy in developing areas as well as a global desire for meaningful travel options” (Papi Interview). However, bicycle trips also provide volunteers with fun, adventurous experiences too! On one popular bicycle tour, volunteers cycle all the way down the Mekong River visiting places such as Phnom Penh, PEPY Friends School, the natural beauty on Cambodia’s borders, Angkor temples, and so much more (Upcoming Tours). Participants spend their time on these tours learning about a wonderful, suffering country by volunteering their time for people who need it, and changing their own lives forever.
If participants do not want to take a bike tour, they still spend their time with PEPY learning about how to be kind to the earth (Protect the Earth). Rural Experiential Tours offer volunteers the chance to support one local project for two or three days. “This gives an in-depth look into the partner organizations’ programs, and also offers an overview of Cambodian history and current issues” (Papi Interview). Other thrilling tours include PEPY’s adventure tours in which volunteers can visit the PEPY students, meet the PEPY eco-club, visit Angkor temples, see the One-Laptop-per-Child program, and also spend time at an adventure park flying through treetops and living out their inner dare-devil (Upcoming Tours). The wide range of tours give an option for everyone, and a cause to support that is doing a plethora of work for a poverty-stricken country. Finally, PEPY offers a fun, meaningful way to volunteer!
While volunteers enjoy a fantastic tour, they are helping PEPY reach their goals. PEPY’s tour participants are required to pay a tour fee and fundraise a certain amount of money to take part in one of the trips (Papi “A Letter…”). PEPY combines the “writing a check” form of donating, and the hard-core volunteering methods to create tours that turn “donors into investors and volunteers into partners” (Go Where Your Money Goes). In addition to PEPY benefiting from these visits, the tours use mostly businesses run by Cambodian people to be sure that Cambodia fully benefits from tourists’ visits (Ride the Road Less Traveled). Using these businesses is only one more way that PEPY is focusing on truly improving the overall living conditions in Cambodia. PEPY also gains a large amount of its support from an estimated 70% of their volunteers who were so inspired by their time with this organization that they continue to support PEPY and its programs (Papi Interview).
PEPY receives its money in a number of ways, and it is used for many different projects. While PEPY alone is doing a plethora of work to improve Cambodia, the workers there also understand that they cannot change Cambodia by themselves. In order to accomplish the many goals that the workers at PEPY have, they find other non-government organizations with similar missions. Papi says that donations must be seen as investments, and focus on sustainability. “If we focus on sustainability, both for our own organization and for Cambodia’s development, we can help ensure that our funds are used in a way that will promote positive changes in peoples’ lives” (Papi Interview). PEPY supports many programs in Cambodia, but the workers especially like to help programs that focus on the environment and its relationship to everyone’s health (Spalton).
One major organization that PEPY supports is Resource Development International-Cambodia, or RDIC, an organization whose work is believed to be the best example of sustainable development in Cambodia (Papi Interview). Mickey Sampson is the founder of RDIC, and his new and innovative ideas use “a combination of technology, education, and heart to deliver sustainable progress to rural Cambodia” (Find Inspiration). Some of RDIC’s projects include health and water education, creating bathrooms, sinks, and water filters where they are needed, rain water harvesting, drinking water stations, and education in movies. These projects greatly relate to many of PEPY’s ideas and strategies that the staff uses to improve Cambodia as well. RDIC also uses long, city-wide projects to improve water quality and education using the whole town. RDIC workers complete these projects by living in small towns, forming business relationships and friendships with the people living there, and then trying to help. RDIC includes villagers in their projects to let them feel more ownership of the new changes they are making to the towns. However, RDIC also uses education all across the country to teach children about new technology such as toilets and sinks that they are implementing in many small towns (The RDI Strategy). The RDIC workers form personal relationships with many Cambodians to form trust, educate themselves about a foreign culture, and better tend to the needs of these wonderful people.
In addition to RDIC, PEPY supports many other organizations. One of those is the Cambodian Children’s Fund, or CCF. The CCF was founded by a Hollywood executive who visited Cambodia, was devastated and inspired by the children’s living conditions, and decided to give up everything he had to help them. While this program originally began with one building for 45 children, it has since expanded to three buildings for 300 children. The donations that this organization receives help to supply health care and education for orphaned and poverty-stricken children (The Cambodian Children’s Fund). Another organization that PEPY promotes and supports is the Cambodian Living Arts. Cambodian Living Arts supports traditional Cambodian expression in all types of arts. This organization wants to help Cambodia’s talented people generate income through art (Cambodian Living Arts). In addition to these three organizations, PEPY supports numerous other organizations that are improving Cambodia (Go Where Your Money Goes).
PEPY Tours is an organization that should be supported because of all the spectacular programs and ideas they have that are improving Cambodia. The tours that PEPY runs give all volunteers a wonderful and unique experience that will inspire them to change their life. PEPY is truly improving education all across the country, giving benefits to these children that they would never have otherwise received. Environment is a huge concern in the world right now, and PEPY is taking the initiative to really make a difference in the world. Donations will also be put towards the best cause because of all the magnificent organizations that PEPY partners with. PEPY is truly a remarkable organization that deserves to be supported by everyone concerned with making a difference in someone else’s life.
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