Adventures with The Awesome Lady, Fiji

Vinaka Fiji’s volunteering programme educates and inspires in a beautifully symbiotic relationship between volunteers and locals in the remote Yasawa Islands, Fiji. Angie Aspinall finds out more.

The word ‘awesome’ is somewhat over-used but, every now and then, it is the most appropriate word to use to sum up a person or a situation. Take ‘The Awesome Lady’ from Fiji: if ever there was someone to inspire awe, it has to be Elle. Elenoa Nimacere is a truly awesome lady.

She was instrumental in assisting the owners to set up Awesome Adventures Fiji in 2002, offering independent travellers access to some of the most beautiful, remote places in the Fijian Islands but, her contribution to tourism and the local people of Yasawa doesn’t stop there. This inspirational woman is leading projects in sustainability, public health, housing, education and in securing solar power and clean water for the villages of the islands. She manages so many projects, it would make the average person’s head spin.

I was fortunate enough to meet Elle whilst on a Blue Lagoon Cruise. The cruise company is a partner of Vinaka Fiji – The Yasawa Trust Foundation and there’s a genuine ambition to introduce visitors to the real Fiji, whilst also giving them opportunities to help tackle poverty.

Blue Lagoon Cruises has had a partnership with the people of the Yasawas, since the business was established in 1950. And, in 2010, The Yasawa Trust Foundation and the Vinaka Fiji Volunteer program were established as a way of saying thank you (‘vinaka’) for the pleasure the people of the Yasawas have brought to so many people’s lives in sharing their beautiful islands with visitors.

The aim of the Trust is to improve the provision of basic needs, taken for granted in modern society, yet lacking from life in the villages. The volunteer programmes cover areas of education, sustainable communities and marine conservation and guests on the cruises are given a brief taster of some of the work of the Foundation and its volunteers.

Elle showed us round Yasawa High school and primary school and told us about her vision for a new library block, her dream to introduce computers into the school and her ambition to create a space for one-to-one tuition for pupils with extra needs.

There are over one hundred primary school aged children from the five islands on the village. They travel to school by boat every day – one boat serves the three villages on one side of the island and another services the remaining two. The high school students – also over a hundred of them – come from further afield and they board at the school from the age of fourteen.

And whilst the entrance to the school is from a pristine white coral sand beach, and the walk to the classrooms is between two lush green sports fields, looks can be deceptive: in this idyllic setting is a woefully under-resourced school in need of investment. And this is why Blue Lagoon Cruises brings visitors every Thursday throughout the season; as with the visitors comes the much-needed resources – pens, pencils, reading books, sports equipment and generous donations.

On some tours, such cultural visits can make visitors feel uncomfortable as though they are on some kind of ‘human safari’ with all the discomfort that voyeurism of the lives of people less well off than you can bring. Thanks to Vinaka Fiji and the nature of their enduring partnership with Blue Lagoon Cruises, this was not the case. Elle explained that there was genuine excitement amongst the pupils each Thursday – Visitors’ Day. (They don’t call us ‘tourists’ but ‘visitors’ and I think the distinction was felt in both sides.)

Visitors’ Day is an opportunity for the school to welcome visitors from all over the world and for the pupils to meet with us, chatting informally in small groups or one-on-one, learning about where we come from and practising their English. On our cruise there were people from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Croatia. That’s quite some melting pot of cultures with a wide variety of accents for the children to experience.

We were invited to wander round the school and speak to pupils and teachers. Some pupils positively encouraged interaction with beaming smiles and greetings of ‘Bula’ (hello). Others quietly got on with their studies. Much of the learning in the high school is self-managed study, something we don’t often see in the UK until college. The maturity and the confidence of the pupils was astounding: it was a humbling experience.

I met a group of boys of about eight or nine who were having extra tuition in English. One read to me shyly from his reading book. He was word perfect. Another (Jim) was keen to write his name for me and for me to write mine and those of my mother and father.

In the high school, where students board from ages 14 to 17, I met a girl in the middle of her history lesson. She told me that when she leaves school she’d like to be an air stewardess and that the place she’d most like to visit was New Zealand. Other students may take vocational lessons in agriculture and farming. They are involved in another of The Awesome Lady’s projects – sustainable food production.

Elle arranged for us to visit the community gardening project a short boat ride away at a nearby village where the Chief and the farm manager greeted us and led us through the village, past an array of colourful shacks and more comfortable-looking bungalows, (with even more colourful washing billowing in the breeze) to one of the two agricultural projects.

Our tour was of the garden tended by the local community. The village Elders had given the land to the community for food production. All 72 men in the village participated in clearing the undergrowth beneath the coconut palms and other trees and they planted crops of cassava, beans and aubergines. The women’s role is to fetch the water: this is no mean feat – which is why Elle is on a mission to find them a water tank to make tending the plants easier.

The Chief then led us to the greenhouse. In the same way that their plot is not like ours back home in the UK, neither is their greenhouse. Unlike ours, which is made of glass to keep in the heat, theirs is covered in fine green mesh to provide shade to tender seedlings. The staging for the seedlings was just the same: unmistakable to any gardener back home in the UK.

Our hosts were as keen to learn about our growing and foraging experiences as we were to learn about theirs. It’s obvious that they see every new meeting as a possibility for new ideas, contacts and support. And this is why Bula Maleya (the welcome song) sung from the shore by the pupils of Yasawa high school was such a warm and friendly greeting. They are genuinely excited to meet visitors (and some of our fellow passengers were on their third and fourth visits) – and why the Head Teacher and The Awesome Lady are always keen to meet new people.

Vinaka Fiji invites volunteers to share the magic of Fiji whilst helping the people of the remote villages of the Yasawa Islands. Their volunteer programmes cover key areas of need, from helping children learn, to planting crops, installing water tanks or working in baby clam nurseries. Programme length is flexible from 1 to 26 weeks, and the range of opportunities to help means there is something for everyone.

If a holiday in Fiji, combined with the opportunity to become more involved in the island life of the Yasawas, to genuinely ‘give back’ and lend a helping hand, and to make a difference through your travel sounds like a good idea to you, then Vinaka Fiji Volunteering will be a highlight of your travel experiences.

Further information To find out more visit To donate online, please visit: You can support projects in each of these areas: creating sustainable communities, education and marine conservation. Please note: Awesome Adventures Fiji is now a trading brand of South Sea Cruises, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fijian Holdings Ltd. Awesome Adventures Fiji is managed in conjunction with Marine Tourism Management, who also manage: South Sea Cruises, Blue Lagoon Cruises and Coconuts and Coral in Fiji.

About the author Angie Aspinall is a freelance journalist and travel writer living in the UK. Like her husband, fellow journalist and professional underwater photographer, Richard Aspinall, she is a member of The International Ecotourism Society. Angie is interested in sustainable tourism, agrotourism and different food cultures. She writes for a range of travel websites and has been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2014 in the Travel category. You can follow her on Twitter or visit the Aspinall Ink website and Facebook page.

Volunteering Abroad for Women’s Rights

According to the Human Rights Watch, “Millions of women throughout the world live in conditions of abject deprivation of, and attacks against, their fundamental human rights for no other reason than that they are women.”

Women all over the world are fighting for the protection of their basic human rights. From the extremes of “honor” killings in Pakistan and female genital mutilation in Africa, to a universal lack of educational opportunities and reproductive choices, to worldwide domestic and sexual abuse, there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality.

Luckily, there are many opportunities to get involved with women’s issues on every continent. The most common and best ways international volunteers can contribute to empowering women are related to creating new opportunities and a sense of self-worth by teaching vocational skills, supporting women’s shelters, and giving them access to education and health opportunities, to name a few.

Take some time to educate yourself on gender equality issues and the programs that address women’s rights. Here are five great examples…

United Planet: Women’s Empowerment Volunteer Quests

Description: “Women’s empowerment and vocational training programs offer sustainable solutions, giving women the tools necessary to gain social and economic independence to lift them and their families out of unhealthy circumstances. United Planet’s unique Volunteer Abroad program combines volunteering abroad, language learning, cultural activities, learning excursions, and special Cultural Awareness Projects to provide an incredibly fulfilling experience for volunteers and valuable support for communities in need.”

  • Time commitment: Short-term (1-12 weeks) or Long-term (6 months or one year)
  • Dates: Short-term Women’s Empowerment Quests are available year-round with two start dates per month. Specific start dates vary by location. Long-term Quests begin in January and August of the year.
  • Fees: Short-term fees start at: $945, Long-term fees start at: $5285
  • Locations: Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru

Cross-Cultural Solutions: Empowering Women

Description: “Our volunteers work with local community organizations that are striving to help women in a variety of ways, from teaching vocational and language skills to offering micro-credit loans to educating about proper hygiene to providing a safe shelter for abused women and their children and more.”

  • Time commitment: 2-12 weeks
  • Locations: Ghana, India, Brazil, Morocco, Guatemala, South Africa, Peru, Tanzania

The Cornerstone Foundation: Women in Belize

Description: “Celebrating Women’s Wisdom, Worth & Ways.” You will be working with local women’s groups and government agencies directly. All the work that you do will immediately help local women that really need this assistance. Issues that affect women’s development: financial dependency, inadequate education and vocational skills, size of families, and domestic violence.”

  • Time commitment: 1 week up to 3 months
  • Fees: Starting at $385, the cost covers all program fees and accommodation (group living) including one midday meal per day.
  • Locations: San Ignacio, Belize

GeoVisions: Improving the Lives of Women

Description: “This project began in 1975 in honor of a famous Argentine woman who, during the foundational process of the Argentinean state in the 19th century, fought unfair conditions of women and proposed a free and public education where women could learn the same disciplines and subjects as men. The project regularly organizes workshops and seminars in local schools to promote and raise awareness on gender equality and women’s rights. There are also debates about violence against women in other associations and public places. There are also lectures and teaching women about law, prevention and health issues.”

  • Time commitment: 1-3 months
  • Fees: $2,435-$3,015
  • Locations: Cordoba, Argentina

Institute for Field Research Expeditions: Women’s Development Projects

Description: “IFRE’s Women Empowerment project helps with both formal and informal education (“street smarts”) as well as skills to earn a living by manufacturing crafts, producing various works of art and arranging for their sale.”

  • Time commitment: 2-12 weeks
  • Dates: First and Third Monday of each month
  • Fees: Starting at $648
  • Locations: Delhi, Alwar, Jaipur (India); Arusha, Tanzania; Kenya; Costa Rica

Learn more about the need to support women’s empowerment:

  • Office of Women’s Global Issues (WGI) in the U.S. Department of State: Promoting women’s social, political, and economic equality around the world.
  • Global Issues, Women’s Rights: Articles on global issues highlighting their inter-connectedness.
  • Human Rights Watch: Dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
    Women Watch: Information and resources on gender equality and empowerment of women from the United Nations.
  • World Health Organization’s section on Gender, Women and Health: Highlights how gender and gender inequality affect health.
  • World Volunteer Web, Gender equality & women’s empowerment: Supported by the United Nations Volunteers program, the World Volunteer Web supports the volunteer community by serving as a global clearinghouse for information and resources linked to volunteerism that can be used for campaigning, advocacy, and networking.

About the Author: Katie Boyer

Katie studied public relations at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA and is now working with Go Overseas in the Bay Area. Her experiences with traveling abroad combined with her passion for Latin American culture and community service fuel her writing and creativity. Follow Katie on Twitter @VolunteeReviews, Google+ and her Blog.

Go Overseas: Global Community of Volunteer Reviewers and Passionate Travelers

Many of our readers are interested in volunteer opportunities around the world, and are active supporters of travel experiences that help give back to local communities. We’re therefore very proud to collaborate with our blog partner Go Overseas, a leading review site for international study, volunteer, internship and teaching programs. We’ve interviewed Katie Boyer, Volunteer Abroad Director for Go Overseas, to learn more about their work and get to know the volunteer travel field better.

Interview with Katie Boyer, Go Overseas

TIES: Please explain what Go Overseas does and its mission. What do you do, what do you seek to achieve, and how do you approach it?

Katie: Go Overseas started because our founders, Mitch Gordon and Andrew Dunkle, were unhappy with the existing resources, or lack of resources, that listed and reviewed international programs. People have more resources and options for buying a new TV than for spending thousands of dollars on a long-term trip abroad. Our mission is to help travelers make the most informed and educated decisions possible about study, intern, teach, and volunteer abroad programs. We give anyone who wants to go abroad an online community to find reviews, articles, inspirational stories, photo essays, and share their own experiences.

TIES: What is the best advice to offer someone who wants to give back to the country they are visiting?

Katie: It’s important to be mindful and conscious of your impacts on your host country, no matter how big or small. Sometimes we forget the little things that matter, like supporting and buying goods from locals. Preparing as much as possible before your trip will help. Know what resources will be available to you and what the needs are for volunteers. You always want to keep your host community in mind to make sure you are doing more good than harm.

TIES: What is your favorite travel/voluntourism experience?

Katie: I have a fascination with Latin American culture and have volunteered in Peru and Mexico. This past fall, I volunteered in Oaxaca, Mexico with a women’s group and a bicycling/environmental organization called Mundo Ceiba. It was one of my best experiences abroad because I got to tailor my schedule and volunteer work to my interests.

TIES: What are some of the most popular destinations for people who want to travel with a purpose?

Katie: People wanting to travel and volunteering generally migrate towards developing countries where there is the most immediate need for volunteers. African countries (like Ghana and South Africa) and Latin American countries (like Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador) are popular choices. I’ve seen a rise in interest in lesser-known countries like Tanzania.

TIES: What types of trends have you seen among traveler’s who use Go Overseas?

Katie: Most of our users are in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia and are college-aged or recently graduated. This seems to be an easy time for people to take time to volunteer. However, boomer volunteering and teen volunteering is becoming more popular. Our diversity of users allows us to offer a wider range of content.

TIES: Have you seen a rise or decline in people wanting to volunteer abroad since the global financial crisis?

Katie: People may be spending less money, but the desire to help people and explore cultures is constantly growing. Today, we are more drawn to having meaningful experiences than luxury vacations.

TIES: Often people forget to discuss the re-entry process after extended stays abroad, what kind of advice can you offer to those coming back from teaching/studying abroad?

Katie: Great point! I definitely agree that culture shock can go both ways. The re-entry process can be extremely difficult, especially after a long-term travel experience. You get so used to your life abroad sometimes that you forget daily routines you had back home. Routines will help you get used “real life” again. One of the biggest things I learned from culture shock was appreciation. Instead of feeling sad or overwhelmed, try to appreciate your time abroad and continue to learn from it and share your experience. Help others learn from your experience as well by writing a review on Go Overseas!

TIES: Name one of the biggest misconceptions about volunteering abroad?

Katie: Many people see volunteering abroad as an expensive form of travel that only the well-off, educated can participate in. However, it’s more common to see a range of people from economic statuses giving back to communities. There are always cheaper options – from hostels to group homes to sponsorships to off the beaten track options – saving money abroad can be done if you get creative.

Short-Term Voluntours – Can You Really Make A Difference?

Voluntourism has generated a new wave in travel, the growing feel good factor creating opportunities for the everyday traveller and not just the career minded charity worker. But the question remains, can you make a difference when you’re a short-term tourist? The debate appears to be ongoing, however, it’s not essential to be on a three-month sabbatical or longer stint if you want to give something back to the country you are visiting.

The African continent is a good place to start, adventurers in search of the Big Five also helping out on more practical projects.

Building and painting local schools in Uganda is valuable input. Of course, you might be visiting the project for just one day, but you’re still a much needed pair of hands, and non-profit projects with little in the way of budgets will welcome that kind of practical assistance with open arms.

Your first step into the world of vouluntourism – On an overlanding tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit seven or eight countries in Africa, and along the way there are usually various community and conservation based programmes on offer. Whether you decide to participate in an ethical project or simply gain some understanding from the local scheme on a guided tour, you’ll bring back some relevant insight that might help you decide on a more focused voluntour next time you visit. Remember, even on a two-week experience it’s a real commitment, and it’s important to invest your time in something you believe in, making prior hands on knowledge invaluable.

More specific voluntour itineraries will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the project’s aims and build closer relationships with your fellow travellers and members of the local community who also help to make it happen.

Where to Head?

Zanzibar is often seen as a sun sea and sand destination, but it’s now home to an exciting educational project. Illiteracy affects over 40% of the Spice Island’s population, then again you don’t need to have a teaching qualification to get involved. The activities range from assisting with the education of with primary school classes to adult education, and you will also have the opportunity to be involved in recycling and tree planting programmes; the scheme endeavouring to engineer a more well-rounded approach to the needs of the community, whether its education or conservation.

With the Big Five being central to almost any itinerary in Africa there’s the option to combine game viewing and volunteering on many tours. Undoubtedly, the wildlife is still the main draw for anyone choosing to travel on the continent so organisations involved in the protection of endangered animals are becoming part and parcel of the whole voluntour industry. And, what better place to start than the Masai Mara, host of the annual migration. Volunteers coming on board from July to October will certainly be assured of a little more excitement, and a two-way ethical scheme, there is the opportunity to learn from the Masai tribe, ethical travellers assisting on conflict management programmes and helping to improve educational facilities in the area.

Your Checklist to Voluntouring
* If you’re not sure how to make the best of your skills, look out for one day voluntour experiences within a tour, you’ll gain much needed insight when it comes to taking a longer commitment

* There are plenty of voluntour experiences out there, but quiz the company you are booking with. If the travel advisor is able to give you a detailed description of what’s on offer, it will speak volumes about their involvement

* Check out the options in Africa, as you may well be able to combine a voluntour holiday with some additional sight seeing and game viewing

* Ask about the ratio of local and tourist involvement. In general, voluntour projects that show a strong concern for local labour are rated more highly when it comes to their values and ethics

Volunteer Tourism: Interview with Dr. Stephen Wearing

Volunteer Tourism: Seeking Experiences that Make a Difference by Dr. Wearing, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology, and Dr Lyons, University of Newcastle, will be published by CABI in 2012. Concentrating on the experience of the volunteer tourist and the host community, this new edition builds on the view of volunteer tourism as a positive and sustainable form of tourism to examine a broader spectrum of behaviors and experiences and consider critically where the volunteer tourist experience both compliments and collides with host communities. Learn more.

*Through TIES partnership with CABI, special discounts (20~% off) are available to TIES members on all online purchases of CABI publications. Please go to Member Center to access the discount codes, or contact for information on this and other TIES member benefits.

Interview with Dr. Wearing

TIES: You’ve contributed to the research and development of the TIES Voluntourism Guidelines project – how do you think that these guidelines, once completed, will impact volunteer tourism?

Dr. Wearing: I feel that the value of the volunteer tourism guidelines is largely that they will provide a yardstick for all stakeholders to operate from. This is especially important given the diversity of stakeholders, and the different interests of each. Stakeholders range from those in remote rural communities in developing nations, to large tour operators in developed countries who see volunteer tourism as simply another profit revenue stream, to not-for-profit organisations trying to provide assistance within a development context. This diversity means we can find conflict between stakeholders, particularly when examining outcomes. I feel that these guidelines will enable a dialogue to occur based on an acceptable common measure. This should reduce conflict and improve outcomes for host communities. I see the Voluntourism Guidelines having a similar role to the Ecotourism Society’s Ecotourism Guidelines for Nature Tour Operators (1993), a project which I believe was successful in achieving its goals.

TIES: Volunteer tourism is now a part of the mainstream tourism industry and a common tourism experience. To what do you attribute the rise of volunteer tourism in recent years?

Dr. Wearing: I think that international volunteering has existed for a number of years: the industry report, ‘Volunteer Travel Insights 2009’ (GeckoGo 2009) notes that ‘it was not until after the September 11th incident and the Indonesian Tsunami that travelers started to think about this type of travel and the market came to realize that they could volunteer on their vacation.’ I would suggest that the rise is then a mixture of three things: the success of ecotourism (aligning the altruism for nature which has now moved to communities), the entry to the tourism market place of NGO’s offering these types of volunteer trips, and finally to the industry seeing this – leading to bigger providers also offering this option. This seems to have created a serendipitous alignment. Now these trips abroad have become easier to make, and people are beginning to seek a sense of community which seems to be lacking in neo-liberal societies. People have begun to seek out this sense of community through travel experiences.

TIES: How can volunteer tourism be used as a strategy to increase the sustainability of a destination?

Dr. Wearing: Communities that are living an existence that is marginal often will take assistance in the form of projects directed to assist them, without any critical evaluation of these projects. It is important that these communities are encouraged to take a more critical look at what they are allowing to happen within their communities so that they are able to use this input in an advantageous way. Initially, one of the ways this can be achieved is by finding assistance through organizations that offer volunteer programs to work on such projects. This focus on projects that are not solely economically driven and have input and control from the local communities provides a mixture of elements that are likely to ensure the sustainability of the destination that these activities occur in. I believe this will ensure the sustainability of the destination more than anything else, for example through the empowerment of the communities within the volunteer tourism framework rather than other destination’s frameworks.

As an additional note, I have changed the title from the first book on this topic that I published in 2001 from ‘Volunteer Tourism: Seeking Experiences That Make A Difference’, CABI, Oxon. The new book will now be called ‘International Volunteer Tourism: Integrating Travelers and Communities’. The title of the book reflects my belief that the focus of research needs to be more orientated toward the context of the experience – the host community and their role in the creation of this experience. I hope in this new book to address some of the criticism and to reinforce some of the main points I have made in my earlier work.

TIES: What are some of the greatest benefits – for example cultural, economic, political, or social – of responsible volunteer tourism operations?

Dr. Wearing: Voluntary tourism with community involvement can support a wide range of benefits, for example site and species surveys, practical conservation projects, and longer term care and management which contributes to improving biodiversity. People can gain social and economic benefits including understanding, knowledge and skills. Volunteer tourism can take place in varied locations such as rainforests and cloud forests, biological reserves and conservation areas. Activities can vary across many areas, such as scientific research (wildlife, land and water), conservation projects, medical assistance, economic and social development (including agriculture, construction and education), and cultural restoration. Indeed, volunteers can find themselves anywhere and working on a multitude of projects including assisting with mass eye surgery operations, tree planting, conducting a health campaign, teaching English, improving village sanitation, constructing a rainforest reserve, and assisting physicians and nurses with a mobile clinic.

There is usually always, however, the opportunity for volunteers to take part in local activities and interact further with the community. Hence the volunteer tourist contribution is bilateral, in that the most important development that may occur in the volunteer tourist experience is that of a personal nature – that of a greater awareness of the self as a global citizen. Also of interest, however, is that volunteer tourists will almost always pay in some way to participate in these activities. Furthermore, the amount is usually more than an average tourist would expect to pay on a ‘normal’ holiday to a similar location. While there are some sponsorship programs and alternative contribution arrangements provided by some organizations, the financial contribution required of the volunteer tourist is illustrative of the wider nature of the experience; of greater benefits for host and tourist alike.

TIES: What are some of the greatest risks and/or challenges associated with volunteer tourism worldwide?

Dr. Wearing: I think that getting a set of guidelines in place to ensure we are able to examine the success of volunteer tourism or otherwise of its contribution is critical. Development agencies are suggesting that it interferes with what they call proper development. This criticism is based on the projects volunteer tourists work on which they say are often short term. In these cases the voluntary work is often low skilled, and risks displacing locals who need the employment. My experience is entirely at odds with those criticisms, and often projects only occur because of the volunteers being available and the additional labour they provide. Much of the work required is labouring and the often young and unskilled volunteers can provide this.

Additionally, many volunteer tourism organisations work over the long term with communities, where they do a variety of projects and are not present all the time in the communities. This gives these communities time to assess and reflect on the presence of volunteers – this maybe being an improvement on having more established, older, skilled development workers in these communities for long periods of time that then can reemphasise the colonial issues inherent in this, and give communities little change to reflect independently on their value. These conflicting views of volunteer tourism highlight a need to avoid a generalised assumption that volunteer tourism is automatically good, just, and altruistic. It is a layered phenomenon, with multiple stakeholders who have multiple needs and agendas, and requires a more critical analysis and untangling of its components. Thus a set of guidelines will help, I believe, in overcoming these risks and to provide the basis for a way forward.

More about CABI

CABI is a not-for-profit science-based development and information organization that applies scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment, to address the challenges of food security, and to improve access to agricultural and environmental scientific knowledge. CABI’s mission and direction is influenced by member countries who help guide activities undertaken. These include scientific publishing, development projects and research, and microbial services. CABI has published numerous books on the subject of tourism and ecotourism. For a complete list of these publications, visit the CABI bookstore here.

About Dr. Stephen Wearing

Dr. Stephen Wearing specializes in the social sciences in natural resource management and has degrees in environmental and town planning. His PhD is focused on community development within the context of leisure and tourism. His research and publications range across the areas of the sociology of leisure and tourism. He has been project director for a range of social sciences in natural resource management projects and research and a team leader for a variety of ecotourism, volunteer tourism and outdoor education activities internationally. His latest book, Tourism Cultures: Identity, Place and Traveler, contributes to the growing area of ‘critical tourism studies’ – a movement that seeks to bring an alternative commentary and new theoretical thinking to the understanding of tourism in contemporary society.

About Lindsay Milich

Lindsay is a graduate of Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, where she studied Recreation and Tourism Administration with an emphasis in Sustainable Tourism. She has developed an interest in tourism-related research on topics such as poverty reduction through tourism, the cultural implications of tourism, and culinary tourism. She has studied abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, and traveled to Eastern Europe and Spain. Her lifelong passions for travel, culture, and cuisine have led to her to recently venture into the world of blogging. On her site, Coffee Cup Travels, Lindsay explores the vibrant food and lifestyle of the Mediterranean and shares original recipes with readers. She believes that educated and responsible travel can bridge gaps and promote cross-cultural understanding. She is thrilled to have joined the TIES team as Research and Communications intern.

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Yurt to Yurt Travel with Mongolian Nomads

Yurts are all the rage these days, with posh camping (glamping) sites springing up all over Europe. You are probably familiar by now with the yurt concept – rounded wooden structures, canvas covered, comfortable, spacious, more like a home than a tent. It’s no wonder they have converted many an ardent anti-camper. Easily dismantled and moved (in theory), Mongolian yurts evolved as the home of choice for the nomads of Central Asia. In Mongolia, one of the regions yurts originally hail from, an innovative foundation called Ger to Ger (or ‘Yurt to Yurt’) is working with nomadic families to invite adventurous soles to discover their world.

Since setting up in 2005, Ger to Ger have worked with dozens of Mongolian nomadic herder groups and their communities to develop a travel network of nomadic trekking, horse riding and 4×4 routes through the Mongolian steppe, taking you literally from Ger to Ger, staying with host families and sharing their way of life. It’s possibly as close as the modern adventure traveller will get to understanding life as a nomad. North, South, East and West, new trails are continuously being coordinated with the local communities. Check out their website for a full list:

For those less interested in being continuously on the move as the ‘nomadic’ lifestyle dictates, the agency have helped local community groups set up a series of cultural and homestay programs allowing you a rare insight into the local life and customs, including, for example, a trip that offers the chance to spend a week learning to train Kazakh eagles in Bayan Ulgii province. Here, Mongolian Kazakhs maintain a 2000-year old tradition of training female Golden Eagles to hunt foxes, rabbits, owls and even small wolves, and you will learn just how it’s done.

That might not be to everyone’s tastes, but is certainly going to be memorable, as would opportunities in different communities to, among other things, learn the language, work with horses, become a Mongolian archer, or discover embroidery and felt making techniques.

Ger to Ger is a unique travel foundation and social enterprise which takes an innovative approach to mobilize, train and support rural communities to develop sustainable livelihoods through community tourism.

Through tourism incomes, they say that rural nomadic herder groups and their communities are developing an understanding that they are custodians of nomadic culture and heritage, and guardians of local environment (as it becomes an income asset). The results are certainly tangible. One nomadic herder’s testimony mirrors that of many others: “Our household income has increased. So now, I can pay my daughter’s tuition. I have learned many things during the training and project.” (Mr. Chimiddorj)

Travelling to Mongolia to discover the origins of the yurt will certainly leave you with a different perspective on life, and gives you the chance to support others in their fight for a sustainable future in this brave new world.

Waves for Development: Surf Volunteer Programs in Lobitos, Peru

It is no secret among the surf community that the Pacific coast of Peru is something of a surfers paradise, with consistent off shore winds and few crowds. With a few exceptions, many waves can be found still breaking clean and empty for the more intrepid surfers to discover and enjoy. Word spreads and things are changing fast though; every year brings new surf businesses, foreign investments, more accessible waves. Good news for some, but, as is so often the case, not so good for the locals, who typically become frozen out of developments in their own backyard.

Travel to the coastal town of Lobitos, however, and you will see just how ‘much better’ a surf holiday could be.

With consistent swells, a world-class left hand break, and other waves suitable for all levels of surfer, the small town of Lobitos, 65km south of the surf capital Mancora, is well placed for surf tourism. Seeing the potential, a group of travelling surfers who had witnessed first hand the grim reality of surf-related development elsewhere, decided to get in first and see if they could change the future, simply by empowering the local community to take control of their own surf destiny.

WAVES for Development started out a little over 2 years ago, and since clinching a donation of 400 surfboards, has gone from strength to strength. Their surf volunteer programs have delivered classes in swimming, surfing, English, photography, surf board repair, guitar, environmental management and social entrepreneurship among others.

They are also developing micro-finance initiatives to help local businesses establish themselves and service the growing surf tourism industry. The aim is simply to provide the local community with the skills, resources and knowledge to develop in whatever way they see fit. All this while giving volunteers plenty of time to enjoy the fantastic surf and to experience a side of Peru no tourist could ever hope to.

“We believe that surf travel should benefit the people and the communities where it happens.” – WAVES for Development

Much Better Adventure caught up with Dave Aabo, one of the Waves for Development project founders, to find out a bit more about the surf, and what lies in store for Waves.

Which break do you surf most at Lobitos?

While there are a number of waves around Lobitos, I typically surf the point the most. Generally speaking it’s the most consistent and offers the longest rides.

Is there normally a favourite among volunteers?

With options to surf heavy barrels at el Hueco, the Point sucking and peeling for hundreds of meters, and additional quality lefts at Muelles and Piscinas, there are non-crowded options for everyone. It is the sort of place where you can get surfed out every day!

Volunteers typically like the wave that’s working the best at any given point in time. The Piscinas wave can be a bit mellower of a drop than the point so intermediate surfers occasionally favour that wave. Other times it can throw tubes and even close out. The swell direction and amount of sand at the breaks oftentimes dictates where volunteers favour. For beginners, the protected inside of the Lobitos point has mellow waves offering ideal learning conditions. Peeling waves provide ideal opportunities to improve your surfing.

For surf travellers, where else would you recommend for surfing in Peru?

Chicama, Huanchaco and Mancora all have fun waves.

What activities can you locally do aside from surf?

Aside from surfing, you can take a trip to the local caves, go for a boat ride with the local fisherman, learn about the amazing history and culture of the area. Additionally, other nearby towns such as Negritos have attractions including the most occidental point in South America and beautiful flamingos.

WAVES Projects have being going less than 2 years. Are you pleased with progress and results so far?

February 2008 was our first two-week pilot program in Lobitos. At times I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. Adding Naomi Godden, our Program Manager, to the team in June 2009 really catapulted us forward in the development of the program. Now we have over 6 local staff and ongoing programs that over 200 youth have participated in (including school and after-school programs). That’s more that half the local youth population. We have anywhere from 10-20 regular participants aged 8-20.


Was it always going to be Lobitos? Did you consider anywhere else?

We discussed some other options, but we wanted a smaller community to get started. Our intention has always been to see if it can work in Lobitos then expand to other communities both within Peru and in other countries. In and around Lobitos was where the majority of us met for the first time.

What is your long-term vision for WAVES and Lobitos?

Our vision for Lobitos is that some of the younger participants, both male and female become the future leaders of the program. We have a few ‘assistant-ships’ that allow some of the more mature youth to take a leadership role in the current programs. Ideally, as an organization, WAVES will pass over the reins to the local leaders and start a similar program elsewhere.

We see you have been making a film. Where can we see it?

Any other exciting projects and plans in pipeline?

Keep your eyes out for new developments related to WAVES in the towns of Chicama and Negritos in Peru.


Dave, a founder of WAVES for Development, has been providing his energy to making WAVES a reality since 2005. His love for adventure, curiosity of new cultures, and commitment to changing the world through social enterprises are contagious. Since 2000, he has lived and worked in Africa, South America and the United States. He has spent more than four years in Peru developing small business and conservation initiatives that incorporate tourism in rural communities located in the mountains, coast and jungle of Peru. Dave has also worked with ProNaturaleza, the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, to support the development of community-base voluntourism programs in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, located in the Peruvian jungle.

Dave will be presenting at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2010 (ESTC 2010) (September 8-10, 2010, Portland, Oregon, USA) on a panel “Voluntourism: from a community project to a consumer product.” The session will take place Thursday, September 9th, 2010, from 4:15-5:45pm, sharing various local and international best practice examples of effective approaches to developing, implementing and marketing voluntourism projects.


MuchBetterAdventures_logo Much Better Adventures are searching for the world’s local, sustainable and harder to find travel choices for adventure seekers, collecting them in one place. This is a community you can’t buy your way into – those that meet the criteria are offered free membership, so travelers can get in direct contact. Their mission? A wide, fair and independent collection to quench your thirst for adventure, while supporting not-for-profit, community and innovative ecotourism projects who often cannot afford to appear on mainstream travel resources.

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!