I had no idea that a trip with PEPY would have such an impact on my life. Well, actually that’s a slight lie. The friend who had recommended the Cambodia-based NGO to me had warned that it would, but I didn’t quite believe it. After all, I had volunteered before, I had travelled Southeast Asia before and I had been working with children for two years. What possible magic formula could PEPY bring to the mix? I found out during a 10-day Golden Week PEPY tour in rural Cambodia.
PEPY was started by two admirable young ladies with a passion for the environment, Cambodia and progress. I had the pleasure of sharing the Golden Week Adventure tour with one of them and her energy, drive and zest are both inspiring and contagious. This girl could give Obama a run for his money! The ‘Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself’ (PEPY) message is apparent in everything the leaders do and they will take every opportunity to spread the word. PEPY isn’t your average NGO.
After two months of fundraising for the money required to embark on the trip, I wondered if the tour would be as organised, fruitful, enlightening and above all enjoyable as I was hoping. If I arrived in Siem Reap skeptical, I left with wishes fulfilled wishes and eyes wide open.
The rural tour I joined really was just that – rural. Think sleeping under a mosquito net in the jungle with neither electricity nor hot running water, but bugs galore. Having come straight from Japan – land of efficiency, cleanliness and modern technology – it was not a light shock to the system. But getting back to nature, including setting aside the internet, my mobile phone and 24-hour access to the rest of the world, was a personal highlight.
The purpose of the Golden Week tour was twofold, as all of the PEPY tours are. First, participants gain the chance to “go where their money goes” whilst learning about a wide range of issues, such as sustainable tourism, Cambodia’s history and politics and our environment. Second, the children on the receiving end of the PEPY efforts benefit from a wide range of activities; on our tour we introduced a computer system to the school that allows for individual learning (there is a severe shortage of teachers), taught extra English classes, painted school buildings and taught baseball to the children through a two-day camp. A lot of time was spent one on one with the children who were impossible to say goodbye to each night.
In the evening we discussed environmental issues and learned about sustainable technology and travel; days were spent acting on ideas and realising that small changes in our daily behaviours really can have a positive effect on our surroundings. The tour leaders encourage open criticism and debate; they stress that they are on a learning curve as much as the rest of us.
PEPY is incredibly conscious of remaining a responsible tourism organisation; as it grows and expands it does not lose sight of its original goals. Voluntourism is the best way to describe the style of PEPY’s tours as time is also set aside for seeing the mesmerising Cambodia away from the voluntary work. Sharing the beauty of Angkor Wat with Cambodian elementary schoolers was a precious experience.
PEPY runs a number of annual tours in addition to the Golden Week programme (early May). You can choose an area of interest – from environmental education and action programmes to literacy camp or bike-to-school programmes. Or, if you’re really up for the challenge, why not join the PEPYride signature tour: a three-week cycle across Cambodia spreading PEPY’s wonderful message? Guaranteed, PEPY magic will get you too!