Tips for Travelers Looking to Volunteer Abroad

Posted on: November 16, 2009 Posted by: Kaia Smith Comments: 0

Tips for Travelers Looking to Volunteer Abroad

This is an article, which appeared on It is an interview with Daniela about her thoughts on what someone who is thinking about volunteering should consider.  It also speaks to some of
our ethos and learnings at PEPY Tours.  Read on!

Considering Voluntour-ing? Tips for Travelers – Daniela Ruby Papi, PEPY Tours

12 November 2009

what it’d be like to participate in a voluntourism trip? Interested in
making a difference through travel but not sure where to start? This
week, TIES asked Daniela Ruby Papi of PEPY Tours and Danielle Weiss of Planeterra Foundation
for their insights into on-the-ground voluntourism experiences and some
advice for travelers interested in learning more about voluntourism.

Read on to find out what voluntourism means to Daniela and PEPY Tours!

Ask Daniela – PEPY Tours

TIES: If you were to summarize, in 100 words or less, the reason PEPY Tours is engaged in voluntourism, what would it be?

Daniela: Our goal is that people who join
us on a trip will be inspired to live, travel and give differently
after their trip to Cambodia. We aim to expose travelers to the people
and ideas that are having the most impact on the issues we are looking
to effect change in: education, the environment, and health. We focus
less on service and more on learning, and like to look at our trips as edu-ventures:
educational adventures which allow travelers to support projects,
programs, and people we believe in. We think experiential learning is
the best way to change attitudes and actions, so rather than teaching
the lessons we have learned about development via writing and books, we
want to expose travelers to these ideas in an experiential way through
our tours.

IES: Have you received any requests or
suggestions from travelers who have participated in PEPY Tours’
voluntours to change the way the tours are run? If so, what was the
feedback and how was it implemented?

Daniela: We have been operating PEPY Tours
for four years and our initial tours were very focused on giving
travelers volunteer opportunities. Slowly we realized that the best
projects we wanted to support were working to build human capacity and
to improve systems in Cambodia, not building or giving things. As such,
it was harder to incorporate travelers into all of the projects we were
supporting because they couldn’t add value to teacher training the way
they could with school building.

As we began to offer less service and more learning, we started to
get feedback from travelers that they wanted more hands-on volunteer
projects. Rather than cater to those requests, we began changing the
way we marketed our trip to be more focused on the learning aspects of
our tours and, even more importantly, on the how’s and why’s of the
decisions we have made to our travelers themselves.

Now, when guests turn in their feedback forms at the end of trips,
they often reflect that they had previously thought they would be able
to add value physically on their trips, but were grateful that they
learned on the trip that the biggest ways they were adding value were
through funds supporting longer-term projects and by the actions they
will take when they leave. That is EXACTLY the attitudes we want people
to walk away with!

TIES: Tell us about your first voluntourism experience (personal or professional) and the impact that the trip has had on your life.

Daniela: My first voluntourism experience was with Habitat for Humanity in Nepal.
I left that experience so grateful for the chance to interact with and
learn from Nepalese people during our building project. I decided that
I wanted to travel that way “at least once a year from now on,” and I
did. I went with Habitat to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea and
then independently to Sri Lanka after the Tsunami.

It took me a while to realize that the key wasn’t to try to “do
good” now and then to compensate for the rest of my year, but to
actually change how I lived and my daily actions to have a better
impact overall. I realized, after starting PEPY, that pursuing a career
which allowed me to learn from and with other travelers to improve the
impact we all have when we travel was a way for me to do work I
believed in and was passionate about year-round. I attribute that first
trip to Nepal as an influential.

TIES: What would you recommend first-time
voluntour participants to do before their trip so they will be prepared
to make a difference?

Daniela: Learn! Learn about the
organization you will be working with, the area, the issues, etc.
Setting the historical and cultural context of the place will help you
learn even more when you travel. In addition, I would read things like “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich
or other critics of western aid travel. Though not any one of these
views is “right,” it is just important to hear other voices than just

The best impact we can have are with how we live our daily lives and
the influences we have on the people and the world around us. Setting
up your mind to be in a place to learn during your travels, not just to
give, will set you up to be better able to transfer the new skills and
ideas you learn into your daily life.

TIES: What should travelers participating
in PEPY Tours’ Cambodia voluntour program expect from their
voluntour-ing experience, and what should they not expect?

Daniela: Don’t expect that the world can
be changed in a week or a month or a year. What CAN be changed is YOU.
If you expect that you will be plugged into a hole and be able to add
value right away during your trip then you will probably be
disappointed. Instead, you will be most likely to make the most impact
by being willing to do whatever is needed of you at the time.

Sometimes the biggest impacts you can have are meeting people,
sharing and learning from them, and showing them that you care about
learning about their culture and their work. By seeing how your work is
a part of something much larger, that started before you got there and
will continue after you leave, you will see how your investment of time
adds value.

The biggest changes don’t always happen in a short time so if you
expect to start and finish a project in your time there, you will be
disappointed. Instead, look to add value when and where you can, and
then follow up to learn about the longer term impact you are having
even after you leave!

About PEPY Tours

PEPY Tours offers
edu-ventures, from bike tours to service learning experiences in rural
Cambodia. By traveling with PEPY, your funds and time are channeled
into on-going educational programs operated by PEPY’s local staff
members. PEPY Tours are designed share lessons about development and
responsible travel and influence how we all live, travel, and give in
the future. This is highlighted by PEPY’s tag line: Adventurous Living. Responsible Giving.TM
The team at PEPY Tours worked with a range of industry professionals to
create internal monitoring guidelines for voluntourism which was just
launched on PEPY Tours was recently chosen as a winner in the National Geographic and Ashoka Geotourism Challenge.

About Daniela Papi, Director, PEPY & PEPY Tours

Daniela Papi is the director of PEPY, an educational development
organization working in rural Cambodia. PEPY is funded in part through
PEPY Tours, and edu-venture tour company offering cycling trips and
service learning experiences in South East Asia. Driven by a young
group of social entrepreneurs, in the past four years PEPY has grown
from a one-off bike ride which funded the construction of a rural
school to a non-governmental organization working in over 10 schools
and employing over 30 local staff. Daniela is active in the
voluntourism sector, speaking regularly on the both the negative and
positive impacts of this growing trend and encouraging industry players
to be self-reflective and proactive in measuring their impact. Daniela
was a finalist for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. Daniela grew
up in New York but has spent the last seven years in Asia working in
education and tourism. She currently manages PEPY from her home in Siem
Reap, Cambodia.