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

Wondering 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!
*For our interview with Danielle, see: “Considering Voluntour-ing? Tips for Travelers – Danielle Weiss, Planeterra Foundation”

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.

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 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 those saying “GO ABROAD AND SAVE THE WORLD!”.

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 Ruby PapiDaniela 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.

AYNI – The gift of giving and receiving with tourism

Discovering opportunities to help develop “Rural Living Tourism” in Peru has become a real passion for me. My visit in September 2007 led me to a community in the Lake Titicaca area that truly captured my heart. I feel blessed to be able to offer opportunities to a segment of Peru’s tourists who wish to participate in unique and rewarding activities, and return to Peru, to my heart of hearts.

The local residents of a village called Atuncolla (pronounced atoon coya) are the descendants of the Qolla Kingdom in the Andean highland region. The Qollas rose to power following the collapse of the Tiahuanaco culture in the 12th century, and were later conquered by the Incas. Fourteen families have organized in this community with the compassionate guidance of Victor Pauca to form an Association of Living Tourism—LOS QOLLAS SILLUSTANI, ASTURIS.

The president of the Association is Santiago Monteagudo Bruna, and his main assistant Julio R. Vilca Monteagudo, who is tremendously dedicated to helping their piece of the planet improve on all levels. Victor Pauca, a retired engineer and native of Peru, now dedicates his life to organizing and aiding the local communities. He honored me with an invitation to visit Atuncolla and see if my company, Ancient Summit Enterprises, would be interested in participating by sending tourists and volunteers to donate their time and talents while experiencing life in the community.


At Ancient Summit, our goal is to offer opportunities to a segment of Peru’s tourists to participate in unique and rewarding activities. These visits help support families and communities with very few resources. In order to help, we design special visits provided by local member families. We are training locals as guides and helping prepare them in general to succeed as a new product of Rural Living Tourism.

To qualify, the project must meet conditions to ensure respect for the environment, customs, and traditions of locals, develop selfesteem, and provide a system to educate the children. In other words, we create an ecotourism product which is auto-sustainable and sustainable over time.


AYNI is an ancient Andean word meaning RECIPROCITY. The development of this class of Participative Ecotourism provides the opportunity for AYNI. Visitors are able to lend a hand to people with limited access to economic resources in order to give their children a better chance for the future, helping them become productive members of society as well as mindful custodians of the planet.


Tips on Giving & Receiving

“Wear and pack clothing and shoes that you will not mind leaving behind. This serves a double purpose: you are recycling your clothing in a wonderful way, and you will then have plenty of additional room in your bags for purchasing handicrafts from the local artisans, helping support the community. For children, used sports team uniforms are great gifts.”

Nina Fogelman & Ancient Summit

When in 1983, Nina accepted a one year contract in Peru as Director of an Alternative Healing Arts Institute, little did she imagine she would end up living there for the next six years. Through a series of circumstances during her stay in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, she “love” adopted 4 local children who are now grown into extraordinary adults with children of their own. This led her to a chain of events that have helped her to support others to have similar experiences, resulting in the creation of Ancient Summit Enterprises, Inc., which dedicates to personalized and unique visits with a conscience to Peru. Nina’s love of Peru and her ability to move between the two cultures broadens and enriches your Peruvian experience. Nina can be contacted at:

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2007 through TIES EcoCurrents “Sustainable Suitcase” edition. Check out the October 2009 ecoDestinations Peru feature to learn more about Ancient Summit and other members’ great ecotourism and community initiatives in Peru!