Reflections from Aileen Cameron, Golden Week Trip May 2008
Over a year has passed since I first thought “Hhmm…..this PEPY organization sounds interesting, I wonder what they do.” Nearly a year has passed since my first trip to Cambodia with PEPY. And there’s only a little over a month left until my next one, and I can’t wait!
Although I had heard of PEPY before, and even sponsored a friend who was taking part in a PEPY trip, it took me about a year of living here in Japan, before I actually started to find out what PEPY was all about. Even just from the general feeling I got for the organization from what I read on the website, I knew PEPY was something I wanted to be involved in. As an English teaching assistant with aspirations to be a teacher in the future, the importance that PEPY places in education and the genuine consideration it gives to the welfare of its students was eye opening and encouraging. The organization seemed young, fun, self critical, ever improving, accessible, and above all, inspirational. And so I signed up for my first trip with PEPY in Golden Week 2008.
After a great week spent in Northern Cambodia visiting schools and students, and learning about PEPY I’ve gone on to spend an awesome 8 months (so far) as president of the AJET PEPY Special Interest Group promoting PEPY amongst the foreign community here in Japan. This opportunity gave me the chance to continue working with PEPY’s tireless and passionately determined staff. And the more I have worked with, read about, heard, seen and experienced with PEPY, the more I feel certain that my initial assessment of the organisation was accurate. And so I decided to mark my one year anniversary as a PEPY enthusiast by returning to Cambodia this year in Golden Week too!
Although we met some students of the PEPY Ride School during our trip last year when we took them to Angkor Wat, I have yet to actually visit Chanleas Dai. After all the videos I’ve seen and news I’ve read about the area and PEPY’s presence there, this is the perfect chance to go and see the work that PEPY have done there over the past 5 years. The trip will allow people a chance to see ongoing PEPY programs, such as the Bike-to-School program, English and computer classes, or the Child to Child clubs, in action. What excites me about things like this is that having heard so much about these programs, it will be interesting to see just how well they are working. In the regimented world of Japanese education, where students watch, listen, and copy, and it’s sometimes a struggle to get them to even raise their hand in class, it can be hard to imagine elementary school students being able to research, think and create for themselves, to solve problems and present them to a community of their seniors. That is the kind of inspirational experience that sparks people’s enthusiasm for PEPY and the work that they do. So I can’t wait to get to Chanleas Dai and see exactly how PEPY has influenced and shaped the education of the students there.
In light of the recent setbacks PEPY has faced in the construction of the new schools in the Chanleas Dai area, this trip is a great opportunity for participants to see where their money goes, and to be a part of turning that money into something more solid and sustainable. With the main focus of the trip on contributing to the building project, participants will hopefully gain a sense of achievement through seeing concrete results at the end of their time spent in the village; be it a flower bed, a painted toilet door, or a smile on a child’s face. Four new schools are being constructed, which is a big task, so there will be jobs for everyone, not least raising the funds to get building materials in the first place. So this is where PEPY volunteers step in and “save the day”. Some might argue that one week isn’t enough to make any considerable difference, but the great thing about PEPY is that, participants are never just involved for “just one week”. Due to the dedication of the PEPY staff, there will always be someone there to follow up on the contribution of short term volunteers. Due to the continued support of PEPY volunteers, the PEPY experience is so much more than the physical contribution made during trips, it is the time, money and enthusiasm that continues even once they’ve left Cambodia. And due to the inspiration and motivation that PEPY triggers in its trip participants, that support is felt for a lot longer than “just one week”.
This is one of PEPY’s biggest challenges yet, and while good progress is being made, there is still a long way to go. So the timing of this Golden Week trip has never been better. This is the perfect opportunity for keen and adventurous travelers to get involved and get their hands dirty in giving PEPY a chance to continue to support the students of Chanleas Dai. It’s a chance for first time PEPY participants to get right into the heart of what PEPY is about: development and meaningful travel.
I can’t think of a better way to spend my one year anniversary, can you?