Tips for Travelers Looking to Volunteer Abroad
The following interview with Daniela was featured on yourtravelchoice.org 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
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
TIES: 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 hows and whys 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 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 those saying “GO ABROAD AND SAVE THE WORLD!”
The best impact we can have is 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 to 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. The team at PEPY Tours worked with a range of industry professionals to create internal monitoring guidelines for voluntourism which have just been launched on Voluntourism101.com. PEPY Tours was recently chosen as a winner in the National Geographic and Ashoka Geotourism Challenge.
About Daniela Papi, Director of 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 Southeast 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.