“We have to learn before we can help,” is the motto behind PEPY Tours, a development education tour company, where the focus is learning rather than volunteering. PEPY stands for Promoting Education, empowering Youth in line with its mission to inspire people to improve the way we give, travel and live. What Daniela Papi, the founder of PEPY Tours who has been traveling and volunteering for many years, realized is volunteer travel can be problematic. It risks giving the impression that volunteers are superior to those they are helping, and/or fostering that false belief system. At times, it can cause more harm than good. When someone volunteers in another country where they don’t understand the culture, they may be working on what their ‘perceived’ versions of the problem are, rather than the actual problem itself. In Daniela’s case, she spent time building a school in Cambodia, then stuck around after its completion... only to find that the school was not being used, as there was no one to teach in it. Volunteering can risk supplying short term solutions, rather than sustainable aid.
PEPY is unique in that it integrates travel and sightseeing in Cambodia with experiential learning, all the while raising money to support local community development. They offer student study trips, where the students learn about the culture of Cambodia and about sustainable development, and also get to experience it all firsthand. They also offer custom adventures, and social enterprise adventures, that follow a similar structure. Learning about the culture of those you are trying to help can allow you to see what the real problems are, which will lead to effective, long-lasting solutions.
And if you’re into adventure, it’s PEPY Ride that will really get your heart racing. PEPY Ride is their annual cross-Cambodia cycling adventure that introduces bikers to community development projects. It gets you off-the-beaten track, up close and personal with the culture and people while you bike the rural back-roads of Cambodia. As you do so, you focus on learning about development issues and responsible tourism in Cambodia.
You start out in historical Siem Reap in the north, and bike all the way down to beautiful, coastal Kep in the South, with the option of finishing early in the capital city of Phnom Penh. The group size ranges from 5-18 people, with at least three English-speaking trip leaders. You can bring your own trusted bike, or rent one. You’ll be staying in a variety of accommodations, ranging from basic hotels with hot water to mid-range hotels. It’s a strenuous trip, with a medium-high level of physical activity (some days you will travel over 100 km!), but you don’t need to be an experienced cyclist.
There is also a fundraising requirement that is both a great way to learn, and a great way to give, as it lets you contribute even after you have left. Each biker is matched with a mentor who will provide ideas and resources to help you reach your goal of $1,500. The money is spent on the local groups working on sustainable development programs in Siem Reap, one of Cambodia’s poorest provinces, directly benefiting them.
PEPY believes in a world where “travel offers two-way learning... and a lot of fun,” and PEPY Ride aims for both, which is what makes them so unique. If you’re looking for adventure, cultural immersion and a chance to give back, look no further. Not only will you be making a difference, but because of PEPY’s focus on learning about culture you will know why and how you are making a difference. This is the keystone to PEPY’s philosophy.
So if you’re interested in PEPY Ride, check it out here.
If you’re not a biker, but are still interested in PEPY’s mission, learn about their other trips here.
TRIP INFO: Dates: PEPY Ride begins on December 24th, 2012, and ends on January 12th, 2013, lasting a total of 20 days, with the option of finishing early in Phnom Penh. Prices: $1,650 for the full 20 days.$1,425 for two weeks, if you leave early in Phnom Penh. Price includes accommodations, entrance tickets, in-country transport, instructors and guides, donations to the NGOs you will visit, and most meals. Airfare not included. The fundraising portion of the trip is spent on the sustainable development programs in Siem Reap.
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Chantal Stein can never reply to the question “where are you from?” because there are too many answers. She has traveled extensively and now lives in New York City. Her favorite place (so far!) is Easter Island, and her dream is to one day visit Antarctica.