Riding to Break the Cycle
This is a reflection from Anna about her cycle trip across Cambodia with PEPY and Global Agents of Change. Anna shares with us the lessons she has learned, who she wants to be, how she wants to get there, and how we can all use similar shifts in mindset to set us on a path we believe in. Thanks for sharing, Anna!
This was the second year that “change agents” from Canada, the United States, Britain, and Australia came to Cambodia for the “Ride to Break the Cycle” trip. The 2-week trip began with a great day of team-building, a motivating visit to Chanleas Dai, and PEPY’s five-year anniversary party which we (the riders) had the privilege of being invited to attend.
After a frenzied scavenger hunt that led us scrambling through the streets of Siem Reap all the way to the temple at Phnom Krom, we bid farewell to 2010 watching the sunset and listening to traditional Khmer music from the peak of the hill. For those of us who had the energy to stumble out of bed , a morning cycle ride allowed us to greet 2011 with an incredible sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple. Simply put, this was the best New Years of my life.
We had almost nearly forgotten that we had signed up for a cycling tour! This we were reminded of quickly as we began the journey from Siem Reap to Kep… that is, after our relaxing cruise down the Tonle Sap River, lounging on the sundeck! Our luck ran out when low water levels left us with more than40 extra kilometers to cover to get to our first stop, Kampong Chhnang…let the adventures begin!
The journey to Kep had some long and tough days: 115km to Phnom Penh, over 100km to our homestays in Diem Po and a shorter journey through the sandy and hilly (which, by the way, seemed mountainous to us!) back roads that led us to our final destination, the Vine, in Kep. Despite the burning in our legs and the hot sun looming over us, we were so excited to learn that we were the first group in PEPY Tours history to not require a truck for any riders! Aside from having succeeded in building an amazingly supportive team, here are some things that I think made this possible: coconut and sugarcane juice stops, iced coffee (with condensed milk!), constant sing-a-longs, dance parties, rounds of rural limbo and hula-hooping with local kids, high-fiving entire villages full of children running onto the street to greet us with their infectious choruses of hellos!, engaging discussions, Khmer lessons, ridiculously entertaining guides Lucky, Rithy, Joe, Adam, and Daniela, being totally impressed with Lucky’s knowledge of every back road in Cambodia (to the point of cycling through people’s backyards), post-ride games of mafia, humorous nicknames, the fact that V, our oldest rider, was kicking all our butts, and just being in the company of the most diverse, wonderful, friendly, and interesting group of people that we could all mutually learn from.
Learning is a big theme for PEPY and this sure resonated on the tour. Aside from learning about PEPY programs, we visited various NGOs, social enterprise ventures and spoke to some Cambodian-based change agents on the way to learn about current development issues. At Meta Karuna we had the privilege of learning about the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.
We visited Resource Development International – Cambodia (RDIC) in Phnom Penh to learn more about the ceramic water filters we had been drinking out of. We met with Tim from Hagar and had an exciting discussion about social enterprise in Cambodia, ate at Neymo, a woman’s social enterprise in Phnom Penh, and Friends, a restaurant dedicated to providing training to street kids in hospitality. Our homestay in Diem Po allowed us to spend some time in a real Cambodian home and support the community development programs there. Thanks to our guides, we also had the opportunity to learn about Cambodia’s ancient and more recent history. Adam and Rithy gave an amazing talk about the Khmer Rouge Regime when we visited an abandoned Khmer Rouge airport in Kampong Chhnang, and the sobering realities of that period of time hit everyone hard during our visit to the S-21 detention center and the Killing Fields.
Responsible travel was another theme that we all began thinking about more throughout the duration of the trip. The operative word here is thinking. You begin to realize and think about the real impacts that we leave as travelers when we visit a place like Cambodia or anywhere else in the world. Photo-fasting became a topic of discussion- some became more conscious of how they approached people or situations with a camera in their hands while others ditched their lenses altogether over the full two weeks. As hard as it was, we also learned to fight against our human instincts to help and not give money to children begging on the streets after having learned that doing so is just feeding into a system that will keep them there. Additionally, the sheer fact that we all managed to cycle across a country and see it illuminated from a different perspective promoted more responsible and environmentally friendly travel, which for me had not previously seemed like a viable possibility, or within my abilities.
Originally, when I signed up for this trip, I was confused by its title, “Ride to Break the Cycle”. Surely, it is not the Cycle of Poverty that this trip was going to break by virtue of cycling through a country. People are not going to be pulled out of poverty just because we came, paid a little money to take a trip and visited and learned about their issues. Furthermore, I certainly hoped that it was not my bicycle that was going to break down — although for some riders, this was the case on our last fateful day to Kep! What cycle do we actually manage to break? Here are some of my own personal thoughts after being a trip participant:
– Breaking the Cycle of Apathy
It is so easy to get caught up in our daily lives and only see problems within our own little bubbles: getting up early in the morning, commuting to class or to work, studying to pass a test or staying up all night to finish writing a paper, putting in overtime in hopes of getting a promotion at your job, going to the gym after work, and then catching your evening television shows, going out for a drink or napping because you simply have no energy for anything else. On top of that you have to be a good friend, deal with relationship issues or problems at home. You wish you could do more: volunteer, join more clubs, be more social, be better, but you just don’t have the time or energy to do it. The exposure you get to global issues of poverty through class, the news, work or anywhere else you become strangely numb to because of this bubble. What happened to your motivation to contribute to the common good?
One thing this trip did for me was provide a swift slap in the face to remind me who I am, where I came from, what my values are, and what I want to achieve for myself and the world. It brought me back to where I was five years ago when I graduated high school and began studying to earn a degree in International Development Studies at University. Why did I go into this field? It was because I wanted to effect positive change in the world. Why haven’t I yet? I don’t know at which point I lost the motivation to but there was something about this trip that made me come alive again. I think for me, and I hope for many others on the trip, they left being reminded of not only who they want to become in the future, but also of what they already are: agents capable of bringing about change, agents that care. For me, this trip will not only affect the way I approach my future studies, work and employment opportunities, but also will instigate some serious attitudinal and lifestyle changes when I return, from rethinking the way I travel, to how I spend my money, to the people I meet and how I interact and participate in society.
– Breaking the Cycle of Self-Doubt
I think one of the reasons I have not done more up to this point was because I have always felt like I need to know more, learn more, be more, before I can actually make a positive impact. I never thought I was quite smart enough, mature enough, confident enough, fit enough, to achieve many of the amazing things I saw my peers achieving. More is such an unattainable concept when you are focused on wishing for it instead of acting to become it. When do you achieve “more” and get to “enough?” I think it is through leaving behind this self-doubt and acting. We become better through our actions, taking risks and learning from mistakes. That is a message that came through clearly on the PEPY trip.
If we keep living in the ifs and buts and not enoughs nothing will get done. Start caring. More importantly, start acting. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Don’t wait for others to come around that will do it for you. The fact that you see a situation that you want to fix means that you already have identified some problems that you perceive which means it is within your abilities to find solutions to them. Take responsibility and ownership. Effect change. Everyone is capable. Just do it. Daniela did it. She took responsibility, made mistakes along the way, took ownership of them, learned from then, and ended up with an organization I highly respect. So many of the PEPY staff have taken initiative in finding resources to educate themselves and are becoming a part of a movement of incredibly impressive youth in Cambodia seeking to change the situation their country is in. Why can’t I do the same? I just biked 1000km across a country. No excuses.
– Breaking the Cycle of Ignorance
This was a learning trip and really encouraged active and critical thinking. Participants will definitely think about their future travel choices. They will think about the environmental footprint their day-to-day actions are leaving. They will think about where their products come from and seek out more ethical methods of purchasing where they are available. They will pick up a newspaper and read it a little differently, with some more global perspective. They will join a club, organization or NGO that works towards finding solutions to problems that they are passionate about in their communities. They will make an effort to make others less ignorant of these ideas and issues.
– Breaking the Cycle of Poverty
After careful consideration, I have begun to see how this trip may contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty. Our fundraising goes to supporting programs that were supported by people who came before us and people that will come after us. After visiting some of PEPY’s partner schools, I am convinced that the money I raised will have an impact on improving the education of youth there, and contribute to the movement to make the organization increasingly sustainable. More importantly, I strongly believe that by breaking our own personal cycles, or breaking down our own personal barriers to become the best people we can be is what will contribute the most to breaking the cycle of poverty. This is what I witnessed here. PEPY focuses on investing in people, whether it’s the students in the partner schools, their own staff, or even short-term visitors like me, to provide the support and conviction that we can all be great. I know this must have been quoted a million times in PEPY newsletters, journals, websites, etc… but I think once again that it applies here: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I have never encountered people that live this more literally than PEPY people.
Thank you PEPY for whipping me into shape, inspiring me, motivating me, and educating me. I had the time of my life!