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Presentation: Socially responsible tourism in the 21st century

Volunteers with Journeys Within Our Communities
Dan and Monica at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

On Sunday, April 19, 2015, Journeys Within travelers Dan Hanson and Monica Weiss gave a Sunday Platform presentation to the members of the New York Society for Ethical Culture all about their “voluntourism” travels through Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, and their involvement with the non-profit Journeys Within Our Communities in January of 2015.

With an itinerary that began in Bangkok and continued through Chiang Mai (including the Elephant Nature Park), Luang Prabang, Vientiane, the Mekong River and Siem Reap, the Hansons were able to speak to their unforgettable experiences and the impact they were able to have while in this special part of the world.

While in Siem Reap, they participated in the JWOC Clean Water Program which provides rural villages with a holistic clean water solution by installing and repairing wells, providing hygiene training and distributing water filters and hygiene kits, all of which you can see in their presentation below.

Video slideshow of their talk (skip to 15:27 into the video):

Click here to skip to their talk

Click here to skip ahead to their involvement with Journeys Within Our Community

Siem Reap Floods: Emergency Appeal

Rainy season is part of life in Southeast Asia, but this year flooding throughout Cambodia is putting those who are marginalized at further risk. Here, Journeys Within Our Community appeals to supporters for help with immediate flood relief.

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Dear Supporters,

As you may have heard in recent news, Cambodia is experiencing severe flooding with the death toll currently over 100 and more than 60,000 people have been forced from their homes so far. There is growing concern over disease outbreak from water-borne diseases due to a lack of sanitation and hygiene in these extreme living circumstances.   The flooding has seriously affected nearly all of Cambodia with Siem Reap Province, the communities Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) works with, hit especially bad. The flooding is damaging homes, crops and causing harm to roads and infrastructure.

flood

For those living off the main roads just getting out of the house means wading through dirty water that in places is well above knee height.  In the rural parts of the Province villages are becoming cut off as roads are washed away. People in the communities JWOC works with are so far surviving but it’s an anxious time as the risk of water related and mosquito-borne diseases, such as Dengue Fever, is high and growing as the flooding is not receding.

flood6

As well as the large concern over the risk of disease there is also recovery to consider once the water goes down, with clean up and repairs to roads and houses needed. Many families are losing their crops as their rice fields and poultry are destroyed by the flooding, a source of both income and food for impoverished families.The longer- impact of the flooding is fear for food security with concerns over food shortages.

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We are asking for you to donate towards JWOC’s Relief Fund during this difficult period to allow us to help with current emergencies, reduce risk of disease and to give us the ability to contribute to the recovery of the communities that mean so much to us.

With a donation of $15 you can help 10 families prevent and treat water related diseases they are contracting from living in flooded homes and drinking contaminated water.  Each hygiene pack contains clear water purifying tablets, iodine antiseptic and soap.

Donating $50 can help 10 families stop their sleeping children from being at risk from fatal mosquito-borne diseases.

Donating $100 you would help provide food for 10 families for a week to help them through the food shortages and difficulty in securing food for their children.

To donate please go here. Please mark your donation Flood Relief.

Thank you and best wishes,

Sincerely,

Alex and the staff, volunteers and beneficiaries of JWOC

Journeys Within Our Community visits the U.S

Dear Donors,

narla

We are so excited to announce a US Journeys Within Our Community Fundraising Tour! Many of you will remember when Narla joined me in the US in 2009 and together we visited schools, clubs, and many of our wonderful donors – all to raise awareness and to generate donations for the projects we’re working on in Southeast Asia.

We decided that it was time to do it again, so in September Narla, Makara, Somit and Vantha will be coming to the US to visit and to help fundraise. Narla is such a great JWOC success story and of course is now our expert on US travel so he’ll be coming along to help the other guys learn the ropes.

Makara has been working for Journeys Within Boutique Hotel for years, so for him this is a bonus trip from the company. Since he’s also a scholarship student alumni he’ll be put to work fundraising as well! Somit and Vantha have both been working for JWOC for years so this trip is to thank them for their amazing service and because their experience and passion for JWOC is just such a joy to be around.

Below is our tentative schedule for the trip; and the reason I’m writing is because we need our supporters help to make this trip a success. Not only do we need places to stay in each stop on the tour, but we also need an audience! On our last trip our donors and supporters hosted, and/or held dinners or gatherings so we could tell friends and family about what we’re doing with JWOC.

narla and class
Narla speaking at a school in Stockton, California in 2009. Looking to connect with the young crowd, Narla spoke the school about the importance of education and his early days in a school that lacked electricity.

The events donors arranged included invitations to their book clubs, to their Rotary group meetings and to their kid’s schools as well as hosting events in their homes. Because of incredible donor support we were able to raise money, awareness and get more people involved in what we’re doing here in Southeast Asia. If you would be interested in hosting a dinner or if you have a group that you think would be interested in having us to speak please just let me know and we will start putting together a wonderful two weeks for these guys!

All the best, Andrea

Schedule for the trip

• September 20th: Our JWOC representatives arrive in San Francisco

• September 21st: We will be in Sacramento, CA

• September 22nd: We will fly from California to New York City!

• September 23rd: We are hoping to attend World Savers in New York City

• September 24th: In New York

• September 25th: We will head from New York City to Washington DC

• September 26th: Washington DC

• September 27th: We will head back to California

• September 28th: Everyone will attend the JWOC Board Meeting in Truckee, CA

• September 29th – October 4th: We will be in California, but we would be willing to travel if you have an opportunity for us!

• October 5th: The guys depart to head back to Cambodia

If you can help host our team please email andrea@journeys-within.com

Luang Prabang Film Festival: Taking the Show on the Road

By: Nicole Long

This past December, Journeys Within had the pleasure of supporting the Luang Prabang Film Festival (LPFF) first annual road show. JW supplied the LPFF road show with a private van and driver to transport the project’s representatives to bring four films onto the big screen for the people of Oudomxai, a province in northern Laos.

The LPFF was founded in 2009, bringing films created by Southeast Asians or with a Southeast Asian theme to the locals (and tourists) in Luang Prabang, Laos.  Laos has made very few films over the past few decades and not until 2008 had it even produced an internationally-recognized feature film. Even though the people of Laos are heavy consumers of films from around the region, they have yet to produce much themselves.

The aim of the project is to generate a film industry in Laos, promote and celebrate films produced in the region, and to inspire and educate Lao people on film and its industry.  In addition to showing selected SE Asian films over a four day period in nontraditional venues (Luang Prabang has no functioning cinema), they hold lectures, workshops and special programs throughout the year.  To reach more people beyond Luang Prabang, the LPFF travels to two neighboring provinces with four films from the festival in late December.

This past December was the first time the festival was able to bring the films to towns in Oudomxai and Xieng Khouang (eastern Laos, near Vietnam) provinces. Journeys Within believed in the LPFF mission and helped this project by supplying transport over a four day period. I happened to interview one of the festival’s organizers, Dirk Lloyd, who went and set up the road show in Oudomxai.  Unable to join the group myself for the first LPFF road show, I wanted to know how he felt about how it all went and its success.  Below are some excerpts from our Q & A:

1.   What is your official title for LPFF? 

I was the Assistant Director.

2.  What was your role in the LPFF roadshow? What were the responsibilities that were entailed to make this all happen for the first time (for the LPFF)?

I managed the roadshow but none of it would have been possible without Somboun Keoduangchit, the local official from the Ministry of Information and Culture who facilitated the entire event.  Apart from simple logistics, the bulk of preparation entailed meeting with government officials for each of our stops, and helping them understand exactly what we wanted to do and what we needed from them in order to be able to do it.  Most of them were keen to host such an event, so they granted the necessary permission and assisted us in finding suitable venues for the screenings.

3. What was the goal of this roadshow? 

I suppose the roadshow shared the same goal as the LPFF at large: to promote the regional film industry.  In particular, however, I felt the roadshow reached people who perhaps had a lesser degree of access to international cultural events, due to living in the provinces.  The roadshow events were entirely attended by locals, in contrast to the main festival in Luang Prabang.

4. Why was Oudomxai chosen as a destination for the roadshow?

Oudomxai is one of the most important towns in northwestern Laos, as it lies only 100 kilometers from the Chinese border on the principal highway north from Luang Prabang and forms the most prominent traffic junction.

5. Who went to Oudomxai for LPFF’s first roadshow destination from outside of the destination? Would more (or other) people have made it more helpful to carry out the goal?

The only people who traveled to Oudomxai from outside were Somboun, Blaine Johnson from the Projection Foundation, and I.  It could have been useful to have had another person or two along, but we really didn’t need much more assistance than that.

6. What films were shown? And why? 

We showed At the Horizon (Lao), Lao Wedding (Lao), Queens of Langkasuka (Thai), and Panya Raenu (Thai).  These films were shown because we needed to screen films that would be understandable to the local Lao population who showed up to see the films.  The majority of the films shown in Luang Prabang were foreign films subtitled in English, without a local language option, and therefore inaccessible to a large percentage of the local population.

7. The projector and seats available were smaller than in LP, correct? Was it enough?

All technical equipment was generously provided and operated by Blaine Johnson of the Projection Foundation, and was more than sufficient for the venue.  We had approximately 300 seats available, and on the second night this was insufficient, as a significant number of people ended up standing or watching from their parked motorbikes.

Not enough seating was solved with patrons sitting on their motos

8. Where were the films shown?

The films were shown – appropriately enough – in front of Oudomxai’s old, defunct cinema theater, which now houses the local Ministry of Information and Culture.

9. How did you get word out to the community? Was notice of the showing just the day before or had there been signs up previously? Was this method effective?

This was probably the greatest shortcoming of the undertaking, in that there was virtually no notice given to the community prior to our arrival.  There were, presumably, radio ads that ought to have been aired in advance of the screenings, but apparently they were never prepared or played.  Closer collaboration with the local government officials might have helped this happen.  There is always a certain level of opacity when dealing with provincial bureaucrats, and certainly my own limitations regarding the language barrier didn’t help.  I had to rely on secondhand sources for all information, and in the end the word didn’t get out the way it needed to.  We also had no banners or signs for the event, which we could have hung at the entrances to the venue in the days leading up to the event.  All of these omissions can be easily rectified for future events, and greatly increase the number of people who will show up to see the films.

10. What was the outcome of the showings? Roughly, how many attendees?

The first night was, understandably, sparsely attended, due to the aforementioned lack of notice.  However, word of mouth is apparently a strong tool in Oudomxai, because the next night we had approximately 400 people show up, including an entrepreneurial-minded woman who set up a small vending stand with assorted snacks.

11. What films seemed most popular? 

Although I would dismiss it as Hollywoodesque action/fantasy detritus, Queens of Langkasuka seemed to be the biggest hit.  They all seemed drawn to the action, with the children particularly mesmerized by all the CGI of flying warriors and sea battles.

The kids were transfixed

12. Were there any films that seemed to turn people away? Perhaps you observed that certain times of the showings had more people attending?

I think we could have thrown anything on and the locals still would have stuck around to watch it.  As soon as we fired up the projector and had images showing on that big screen, mobs of people gathered to see what was on.

13. What was a highlight (for you) of the roadshow? Do you believe it was successful in reaching its goal?

The highlight for me was just to see the genuine delight from all of the kids who were most likely seeing a film on the big screen for the first time.  They really were transfixed.  I believe that in spite of limitations the roadshow was a success, and generated a lot of interest from locals who would like to see it continue.

14. Did it seem that people became very interested and expressed excitement for possible roadshow next year? 

Definitely.

15. Any suggestions you think would be helpful for next year’s planning of the event? Do you think it could have been better with more visits to roadshow locations before the showings?

We visited each location once, approximately 2 months prior to the event.  It is possible that a further visit could have helped ensure that adequate advertising and notification was taking place, though I’m not convinced it would be that necessary.  It’s also rather taxing to cover those punishing roads more than once.  I think that the line of communication just needed to be a bit clearer and more consistent.

Perhaps the greatest improvement would just include better support for the events in terms of advertising and promotion before the roadshow occurs.  Better funding would obviously allow more of that to be accomplished, but we also needed to do a better job of thanking and including the sponsors we did have, so that further contributions would be encouraged.  On that note, thank you Nicole and Journeys Within for providing transport for us and all of our equipment to and from Oudomxai!  You were a big part of helping us pull this event off, as was Phu Bia Mining, who funded the roadshow.

Action movie on the big screen was a kid favorite

LPFF is an innovative and exciting project that can help to change the face of film in Laos and produce a new generation of film artists. Please follow this link to discover more about LPFF and how you could help to support their projects. http://luangprabangfilmfestival.org/

Journeys Within in ShanghaiTalk Magazine

ShanghaiTalk Magazine featured Journeys Within in their latest issue in a wonderful article about volunteering during vacation. You can read the text of the article here, but be sure to see the full display on their site, or as a PDF here: Feature story

By: Kyle Patrick Long

It’s a boom that defies generational and professional boundaries, attracting recent graduates, retirees, corporations and families alike. The international volunteering industry, known as voluntourism, has boomed in the past decade, with an increasing number of vacationers skipping the spa treatments and beachside cocktails, opting instead for a more memorable, authentic local experience.

Tammy Leland, a pioneer in the industry and co-founder of Crooked Trails, a small non-profit in Seattle, explains, “We began doing this kind of work 14 years ago. There were very few companies doing community-based travel that gave the locals the power to make decisions about tourism in their own communities. People were talking about ecotourism benefiting the environment but not cultures.”

Edge of Seven was founded in 2000 when Erin Guttenplan noticed an upswing in the interest to volunteer abroad. Seeing an opportunity to connect volunteers with meaningful opportunities in developing countries in a more affordable way, the non-profit is constructing a hostel in the Everest Region of Nepal that will house 40 girls from areas where education sometimes means a three-day walk each way to the schoolhouse.

When a traveler commits their hard-earned vacation time or savings to go on a trip, they often come away with more than the locals they have come to assist. “The moment that a volunteer has a personal transformation and recognizes the need for global social change, those are the moments that inspire me,” says Guttenplan.

The organizational support these groups bring is one of the main growth drivers for the industry. According to a 2009 study by GeckoGo, volunteering with an organization was by far the preferred option, with 89 per cent of respondents saying they would like to volunteer with an operator versus 11 per cent who prefer to organize the trip themselves

Founded in 2004 and based in Sydney, Australia, Inspired Adventures bills itself as a ‘charity challenge company’ that keeps the focus on pre-trip fundraising for various charities. The company works directly with the charities to activate their donor base, getting supporters to raise money for them, with the reward of an exciting travel challenge in an exotic location. The average participant raises RMB 33,000 above their travel costs through a variety of events, such as hosting charity dinners, raffles or chocolate sales.

In May, a group of 10 adventurers who raised well over RMB 330,000 for The Heart Research Centre will spend 10 days in Beijing and trek along the Great Wall while spending the night in local villages. Kyle Taylor, Business Development Manager of Inspired Adventures, explains, “Since I started leading trips last year, I’ve already had four people change their careers. They realized they needed to do more to help people.”

Unlike most other forms of voluntourism, not every trip is exclusively focused on helping charities on the ground where the adventures take place. Taylor explains that Chinese charities are often difficult to engage with, but many of their other trips do offer a chance to volunteer for several days with children, or provide medical services in Vietnamese villages, for example. These interactions also help to bridge long-term connections between the Australian charities they support and local communities that need it most.

“We’re at a stage now where everyone who can afford to travel has probably travelled. They’ve done Europe or a safari, but this is a way to say, ‘How can I go back and have a unique experience, get off the beaten path and do something for a cause that I’m proud to support?’” says Taylor.

Leland has seen first hand that the tourism industry has responded to the uptick in interest in recent years. “We are seeing literally hundreds of operators with volunteer service programs. This, of course, scares us a little bit that once again the tourist industry is looking to make money off of indigenous people who have a project or program to connect with people from the outside world.”

Journeys Within, a tour company that offers an experience with bed & breakfasts and charitable foundations, has a slightly different approach by taking visitors to see what their donation has made possible. They call it ‘active philanthropy’ because travelers don’t just write a check to a charity, but instead travel and visit that charity, participating in the English class they helped fund, meeting the recipients of the well they provided or having lunch with the scholarship student they’re supporting.

Critics are quick to point out that spending upwards of USD 1,000 or more on airfare for volunteers or philanthropists to travel around the world could be better used by the local communities themselves, but proponents argue that voluntourism is not just about the immediate impact of the volunteer work. Establishing long-term ties and transforming the volunteer into a life-long supporter of the cause is an important part of the process.

Guttenplan points out that many of the past volunteers return to their home countries and become advocates, helping to secure grant funding, host fundraisers or speak in their communities about their work. It’s a sustainable approach that has helped Edge of Seven maintain and grow its operations to Cambodia, India and Thailand with meaningful projects.

Leland warns, “The impacts from this kind of travel can have enormous benefit to both hosts and guests, but it can also have many negative impacts if not properly done.” With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to check the background of any company offering these services and check online for opinions and stories from other travelers before you commit.