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In 2009, my friend asked me if I wanted to bike across Cambodia to fundraise for an organization I had never heard of before called PEPY. The money we raised on the trip, called The PEPY Ride, was going to support educational programs for young people in rural Cambodia.
I was up for it because it was a great cause, an adventure in a country I had never visited, and I wanted to get a preview of international development projects since I never took the time to do work outside of Canada where I grew up.
By the end of the trip, I was hooked on Cambodia and couldn’t believe how much we experienced in just two weeks. We connected with very friendly people around Cambodia, ate amazing food and immersed ourselves from the tranquility of the countryside to the buzzing streets of Phnom Penh. We even got to meet Luong Ung, the inspiring author of First they Killed my Father.
I could write pages about each aspect of the trip from food to NGOs to overcoming physical challenges. But I’ll touch on my most memorable parts of the trip and what I learned the most.
The ride began in Siem Reap and we cycled down all the way to the south of Cambodia’s beachside to Kampot. It was amazing to meet people from New Zealand, Australia, America, Canada and Japan.
The cyclists who signed up for the full three-week trip, which Christina and I weren’t able to do, had the unforgettable experience of staying at homestay families, including survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime who killed around 2 million Cambodians when they took power between 1975-1979. This was a very emotional and powerful experience for the other riders.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
Before the trip started, I was skeptical about the transparency and effectiveness of the projects we would see because I have read a lot of academic articles about the flaws and damage that development projects can do to communities.
During this trip, I really respected PEPY for being open about past mistakes and we also learned what to look for with other organizations when deciding where we’ll donate our money.
We were fortunate to hear and learn about effective and ineffective stories on international development from one of PEPY’s founder Daniela Papi. Some of the key lessons we learned from PEPY’s experience and other organizations like Resource Development International Cambodia include why some organizations stopped giving things away for free and technology without education is useless.
My interest in social enterprises is constantly growing. A social enterprise is an organization that uses its revenue to improve social or environmental problems.
It was inspiring to learn the stories of the people who benefit from the places we visited and we felt great that our money was going to social businesses during our journey. And the food was top quality at the social enterprise restaurants.
One of the restaurants we went to in Phnom Penh was called Romdeng (Phnom Penh). All the people who work at the restaurant, including servers and cooks, are former street children and marginalized young people who have been given vocational training so they can be self-sufficient in the long term.
Among other great organizations we visited, our trip ended at The Vine, an ecologically conscious bed and breakfast with an organic farm in the rural part of the Kep province, south of Cambodia. All of the spectacular food we had was cooked with the ingredients grown in the garden and the space was perfect for meditation and yoga.
While it was a perfect and calm place to end our trip, it was also sad as we said goodbye to our fellow riders whom we’ve experienced this unforgettable journey with.
Pushing beyond self-defined limits
I have never pushed my body so hard until I did the PEPY Ride. Of course it didn’t help that I didn’t do any training before the ride and not used to humidity and high heat, but that was my own fault.
But by the end of the trip, I learned how much my body could handle and tolerate when I pushed myself every day in the heat, wind and humidity. I really believe that we set our own barriers and mental limits and it’s important to continuously challenge ourselves in order to discover our full potential.
Back in Cambodia
Within the few days of the PEPY Ride, I thought, “I could totally see myself living here for a longer period.” Fast-forward a few years later, I’m now in Cambodia volunteering as a Communications and Social Media Officer for PEPY Tours and PEPY NGO for six months and loving it here!
Join PEPY Ride IX and it could be a life-changing experience. You may very well find yourself back in what my friend calls this “sticky” country. People always come back the Kingdom of Cambodia.