Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.


with 2 comments

Things happen sometimes. I believe, in most cases, they happen for a reason. Life is too short for what we might consider “coincidences.”

Last night was to be my last night in Siem Reap. I was supposed to get on the 8:30 bus to head back down to Phnom Penh this morning. After being on a small boat on Tonle Sap Lake for a few hours to catch the sunset, my friend Nate and I went back into town to say hello to Sony and Tear, the two bartenders at The Warehouse we had met and chatted with the previous night. We ended up staying a little longer than intended because Sony was entertaining us with magic and card tricks and didn’t mind sharing a little more about life in Cambodia. That’s when a youngish-looking guy propped himself up on a stool on the opposite end of the bar, put down his motorbike helmet, and ordered himself a drink. After sharing a few jokes with Sony and Tear, he turns to us and says, “So where are you guys from?” I tell him San Francisco, and he tells us he’s from Tennessee. We find out that he’s only been working and living in Siem Reap for about two months. (Not yet a jaded ex-pat. Refreshing.) When I ask him who he works for, he says, “I work for PEPY.” Are you kidding me?

Two years ago, an individual named Jonathan (whom worked for the same company that I did), introduced me to an organization called PEPY. We had been chatting about an event I was trying to fundraise for and about my interest in volunteer work in the Bay Area. He sent me the link to PEPY Ride and told me how a friend of his, this young woman from NY named Daniela Papi, attended Notre Dame University and left her home in the States to co-found and oversee the programs and initiatives implemented by PEPY. PEPY was one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Cambodia. After having checked the PEPY site for bike tour dates and “voluntour” opportunities over the last two years, subscribed to their frequent newsletter on Facebook, corresponded with a Team Leader since having arrived in SE Asia, I had thought the time I had in Cambodia would not allow me to fully participate in a project. In fact, Eric Lewis, the TL I had kept in touch with had just informed me that the volunteer and tour package would be a challenge to set up as the time I have here is limited. I had been so disappointed, but figured it would be another reason to come back.

So, imagine my surprise when Tyler, the guy sitting next to us at The Warehouse, tells me he works for PEPY and that his roomate is Eric Lewis. Small world, eh?

He says he’s going outside to make a phone call and comes back saying I need to stay another day. Daniela wants me to come into the PEPY office tomorrow to learn more about the organization and inquire about opportunities they might have where I could bring in applicable skills. I agree to nix the bus ticket already purchased and stay another day.

This morning, we take a tuk tuk to the PEPY house and HQ and are greeted by Tyler. We took a few minutes to meet the current interns and volunteers and be introduced to Daniela, who seemed to be pretty busy (justifiably). Daniela, Tyler, Eric, Nate, and I go into the meeting room to talk about their objectives, the programs they run, the bike and adventure tours they organize and lead throughout the year, and the communities they work with. The challenges surrounding infrastructure, governance, bureaucracy, and corruption are all mentioned. More and more, I hear the phrase “red tape” from bitter ex-pats jaded by the years they’ve lived here to the newbies who’ve only been here for a month or two. It’s like Tyler said this morning, “It is what it is.” (What’s also unfortunate is when a little girl with three roses came up to Tyler last night and said, “Please one dollar, one dollar,” he recognized her and told us, in the past, Daniela had approached the girl’s parents to offer them help with placing her in a school. They rejected this as they felt that the act of selling roses all night to foreign tourists sitting in pubs was more lucrative then starting school at the age of 6 or 7.)

All of the PEPY interns, volunteers, and permanent staff live and work in the same three-story house on a very residential street. PEPY provides free accomodations to their teams while they work with the organization. You basically share a room with one or two other individuals and utilize the living space with all of your “co-workers.” It’s somewhat of a co-op or dorm situation, where you see these other people all the time. It makes for a dynamic group of very dedicated, ambitious, and lively staff. After sending emails to a few Salesforce friends Nate and I both have (PEPY needs technical/back-end support for the database management product they’re using – if you know of someone who is planning to travel into Cambodia soon and wouldn’t mind living for free training PEPY’s staff and helping to customize the software to suit their needs, please shoot me an email!), we go out to lunch with the group, minus Daniela unfortunately.

Spending a few hours talking with them, taking a peek into what their day is like, and walking through their living quarters, I could see myself wanting to spend 6-8 months working with this organization and its surrounding communities. It’s not a commitment that is lengthy enough to make you feel hesitant about staying, but it does offer you a chance to contribute your strengths and skills over a reasonable amount of time. Something Tyler mentioned last night is the notion that PEPY wants itself to be run by mainly Khmer staff at some point. The goal is not to provide solutions to these local communities. It’s to teach these people to teach themselves and also to teach others. It needs to gradually become self-sustainable. That’s why volunteers and interns stay for only 6-8 months. There are exceptions in which you could become part of the permanent staff (if there’s a real need), but it doesn’t happen often.

I told Daniela I would get back in touch with her next spring, especially if I see an opportunity that might make a great match and if there was still availability. With a grassroots approach and demand for a variety of talent, I’m sure PEPY gets bombarded with interested applicants. Who knows – maybe when Tyler takes off after his term, they will need another PR/media intern to help manage their social networking presence and newsletter following. That’s something I could do, right?


Written by winniewongsf

December 4, 2009 at 1:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. We'd take you any day, Winnie. I'm sorry that I was running around so much today and didn't get to speak with you more. But if you come work with us for a bit, I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to talk :-)My father is coming to Cambodia this week (his first time to Asia!) and it was a last minute decision, so I've been rushing to get things done so that I can spend a bit of time with him next week when he is here. I am though glad that other PEPY people could fill you in on our work. Keep in touch if coming back to Cambodia makes sense for you! I'm glad you came by today. Enjoy the rest of your travels!

    Daniela Papi

    December 4, 2009 at 4:34 pm

  2. Wow, you found me. What a pleasant surprise! :)Thanks Daniela. Will be keeping in touch with you. I'll keep my eyes and ears open for Salesforce help…Enjoy the time with your dad!

    Winnie Wong

    December 5, 2009 at 11:20 am

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