Category: Volunteer Vacations in Cambodia
Filmmakers inspire others to go abroad, take volunteer vacations

A LITTLE MORE than three years ago, Steve and Joanie Wynn were looking to get out of a rut. Their video production company, Bayside Entertainment, was in a slump along with the rest of the economy.

So when Joanie Wynn stumbled upon Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy, a fledgling business started by a former New York Times war correspondent, she thought, here’s a chance to do something different — document six women volunteering at a school for AIDS orphans in Tanzania while also enjoying a trip abroad and scaling Mount Kilimanjaro.

The experience was “life-changing.” The Muir Beach couple returned with a lot more than a sense of adventure and some great footage; they discovered a new purpose and passion.

“We both traveled extensively before and to Africa before on various projects,” says Joanie Wynn, who worked in Hollywood for clients such as Disney, Sony and Dreamworks. “But we were amazed by the transformation by the people who were on the trip, and we came back and thought, wow — these are the stories we really want to tell.”

They launched Journey for Good (, a website that lists voluntourism opportunities in hopes of inspiring others to participate. Their documentary, “A Journey for Good: Tanzania,” which aired on public TV stations around the country, garnered four Emmy nominations and two Telly Awards. Now they’re in talks with KQED to turn “Journeys for Good” into a series.

“Travel programs resonate with our audiences” says Scott Dwyer, KQED’s director of programming. “‘A Journey for Good’ was the first travel show I’ve seen that expanded the definition what a vacation can be when you include ‘doing good’ at the same time. I think the producers are on to something.”

The Wynns and their 9-year-old son, Ryan, a third-grader at Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito, left for Cambodia on Dec. 26 with Global Aware to document their second voluntourism trip together. (Last spring, Steve Wynn traveled with a group of women who built a playground at a school in Nicaragua.) This time, the family is joining others in building wheelchairs for land mine victims, teach English to Buddhist monks and a well at a home for the disabled.

Their focus is not only on the projects, but also on the people who volunteer — what motivated them, how it changed them.

“Our goal is to show people that this is a great way to travel differently,” she says. “You can still go and experience a different culture, a different country and have an even richer and deeper experience by working side-by-side with local people.”

Working with locals is an entirely different experience than arriving in a village or community to donate books or schoolbags, she says.

The Wynns got close to the teachers, students and local laborers as well as the bibi — the Swahili word for grandmother — who started the school as they built desks, refurbished classrooms and installed a water filtration system among other improvements together.

“We felt so honored to be invited into her home and share lunch each day,” Joanie Wynn, 48, says. “Those are experiences you don’t get to do just by being a tourist.”

“The connection was not just with the people we were serving but the people we were following,” Steve Wynn, 52, says. “It was really neat to see how they changed and how their view of the world changed. You could see the potential ripple effect.”

Neither had done extensive volunteering before, although Steve Wynn, a Marin native and longtime cameraman who has worked with the Discovery, History and Travel channels, has been a Muir Beach volunteer firefighter since 2009 and the chief for the past year.

Voluntourism has been one of the fastest growing forms of travel, according to, which follows the industry. Last year, global guidelines were developed for the first time to help voluntourism organizations focus on sustainable projects, community needs and responsibility.

That’s important to the Wynns, too, who only establish relationships with nonprofit groups that embrace that philosophy for their series.

“It’s really important that the trips that we do and the trips that we cover, to go with well-vetted organizations who have been around for a while, who focus on sustainable projects and that really have good in-country relationships with nonprofit organizations so you know that it’s a good project that will actually benefit the local people,” she says.

So far the Wynns have had to raise the money for the series themselves. “It’s still a passion project,” she says.

But the stories need to be told, they believe.

“If more people do the smaller projects, bit by bit, it can make a bigger impact,” says Steve Wynn.

Travels to Cambodia with Globe Aware

Journeys for Good is excited to announce our upcoming volunteer trip to Cambodia with Globe Aware.

It will be an amazing adventure and the flagship episode of our television program for public TV, currently in development.   In addition, we will be posting blog entries from the trip, so keep an eye out for upcoming entries at the end of December.  And, of course, upon our return, we will be sharing video content on our You Tube Channel.We chose to partner with Globe Aware because they are an established leader in voluntourism.

Their mission is to promote cultural awareness and sustainability. They seek projects that are based on community need and designed to be sustainable.

While Globe Aware’s financial assistance benefits the community economically, it is actually the involvement and collaboration between the volunteers and community that is the greatest mutual benefit.

Community participation in volunteer work projects is an essential component of Globe Aware’s philosophy.  This is in line with our mission at Journeys for Good, profiling volunteer trips that are sustainable, ethical and mutually beneficial to both the local people and the volunteers themselves.Volunteers deliver wheelchairs to locals in need.

In anticipation, we interviewed Globe Aware’s director, Kimberly Haley-Coleman.

Tell us about the projects we will be engaged in on this trip?

There are so many needs in Cambodia, and the projects we work on are chosen a couple of weeks ahead of time, depending on how much the prior volunteers finished and any higher priorities that have arisen, what the weather conditions will be, etc.

The December program will include assembling and distributing wheelchairs for landmine victims, work with students at a Buddhist school and a couple of visits helping a local orphanage. We usually teach English pronunciation and colloquialisms as this gives a self sustaining job skill for one of the biggest industries in Cambodia.  Its worth taking a moment to comment about orphanages.Orphanages all over the world have real needs that can be very difficult to meet.

In 2005 Globe Aware ceased trying to operate too closely in conjunction with them as many vulnerabilities rose to the surface for which we have not been able to find firm solutions. We do occasionally provide training and services in group settings (like sewing teachers, English lessons) or donations in the form of meals or educational materials. We have a firm policy against any volunteers working one- on-one with any children.

Children should not be treated as an attraction. Understanding the real challenges that needy children face worldwide is important, and we are always seeking the best way to promote such awareness.

How do you develop your volunteer projects within Cambodia?

The local community makes requests for projects, and we run those requests through 4 criteria (safety, genuine need to a needy community, etc) and we ensure its something that non-skilled volunteers are in a position to do. As long as the project meets our criteria, we let the locals decide the where and how.

We firmly believe that we are not in a position to tell what the greatest needs are. We are always learning from the local community.

What types of people take these kinds of trips?

In the past, most international volunteers were college students, often because they have the amount of free time available that most programs required. Our programs are one week, Saturday to Saturday, to allow the full range of busy folk to find time to volunteer abroad.  We’ve seen the biggest increase in multi-generational families traveling together. It’s a beautiful way to experience something unique and also for everyone to appreciate their own lives.

How do you incorporate cultural exploration and sight-seeing into the experience?

We incorporate 3 to 5 planned but optional excursions that are intended to highlight the true culture of a place, not just the postcard beauty. This can mean cooking classes, attending a local wedding, dance lessons, or experiencing local “attractions” with locals to give a different perspective.How can someone else join this trip?Registration is always open by email, phone, fax, or through our website.

Our toll free number is 1-877-588-4562 or you can email at

Great works in Cambodia

Great article in The Christian Science Monitor on Palm Springs, Calif., man who chose to move to Cambodia to help rid the country of land mines. Globe Aware is cited as a great facilitator to help the people of Cambodia through volunteer vacation travel. Enjoy the article:

“We think there are about 5 million land mines in the ground in Cambodia, but we’ve no idea where they are,” says Bill Morse. “Part of the problem is they were laid by 11-year-olds.”

“Cambodians are being blown up by the ground they live on, and have the highest ratio of land mine victims in the world, though we’ve gone from a situation where thousands were being killed or injured every year to 158, so it’s definitely getting better,” Morse says. “Most of them were laid after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and we’re constantly trying to dig them up.”
The Khmer Rouge was a radical communist regime that oversaw the deaths of some 1.7 million people – roughly one-quarter of the population – when it ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s. Vietnam invaded in January 1979, liberating Cambodia and driving the communists to the northwest. From there, the communists conducted an insurgency against the Vietnamese occupiers, and later the Cambodian government, until 1998.
During those years of horrific conflict, every side laid land mines.
While all that was happening, Morse and his wife, Jill, were building their lives and careers back home in the United States. He’d gone from being a schoolteacher, and narrowly missing the draft for military service in Vietnam on a technicality, to a sales manager, to owning his own company. He had traveled all over the world, and the couple had settled into a comfortable house overlooking the Santa Rosa Mountains in Palm Springs, Calif.
Morse is used to seizing life’s opportunities. He has the clear blue eyes you usually associate with sailors: eyes that can see the distant shore and know that the quickest route is not always a straight line.
He and Jill had plans to retire somewhere nice, like Umbria in Italy. Instead, today Morse is reeling off statistics on Italy’s history of land mine production to an Italian member of the tour group.
Morse is here because of Aki Ra, who as a child was recruited first by the Khmer Rouge and later the Vietnamese Army, and ordered to lay land mines all over his country. Years later, his desire for penance drove him to devote his life to digging up the mines and defusing them using only a stick and pliers.
Aki Ra’s dedication has made him the face of the Landmine Museum and of efforts to rid Cambodia of its vicious remnants of war. Morse has become the quiet force behind that face: managing, fundraising, clearing mines, educating, and leading tours around the museum.
“I first heard about [Aki Ra] when a friend came back from Cambodia in 2003 and hit me up for a hundred bucks to help buy a metal detector for this crazy Cambodian guy,” Morse says. “I was intrigued, learned some more, and decided that I had to meet him.”
He and Jill went to Cambodia to look for Aki Ra, but no one would admit that they’d heard of him. Undaunted, Morse finally found Aki Ra at the old Landmine Museum not far from the historical ruins at Angkor Wat.
“I spent the whole day there. It was fairly rustic,” Morse recalls. “He’d charge people a dollar and would use that to go out and dig up more mines. There were 18 children, land mine victims, living with him and his wife, too.
“I told him I wanted to help, and he actually rolled his eyes at me. Apparently he’d heard that before.”
That conversation changed Morse’s life.
“When we first met I thought he was only a normal tourist,” Aki Ra says. “When he said he wanted to help, I thought, ‘Many people say that, and then they go home.’ But Bill always does what he promises.”
Back home, Morse set up a charity to raise funds for Aki Ra’s work. But his involvement kept growing. In 2006 Aki Ra got into trouble with Cambodian authorities over his unconventional methods and his inconvenient mentions of Cambodia’s bloody history in front of the growing numbers of tourists. He was thrown into jail. The museum was shut down.
Morse was “over and back [to Cambodia] like a rubber ball trying to deal with it all,” Jill recalls. Slowly, it was dawning on Morse that home was no longer California.
“In 2009, we were back in the States, and Jill asked me if I’d thought about staying [in Cambodia],” Morse says. “I said ‘yes,’ but I hadn’t the nerve to bring it up.” That was that. They rented out their house, brought the dog with them on a plane, and haven’t looked back.
“I said to myself, ‘I can either help rich people make more money, or I can help people in Cambodia.’ And the people here [in Cambodia], they’re just wonderful. Especially the young: They’re doing the most amazing things.
“And Aki Ra, you know he could have walked away after all the conflict ended, gone off and started his life with his wife [who died three years ago]. But he didn’t.”
Together with a team of young Cambodians, Aki Ra and Morse now run the new, relocated Landmine Museum, which opened in 2008; a shelter for 37 disadvantaged children; and Cambodian Self Help Demining, a team of 30 professional deminers.
Asad Rahman is an American and cofounder of Project Enlighten, a nonprofit group Morse and Aki Ra work with. It gives scholarships to the children who live under the care of the Landmine Museum. Every child who wants it gets a scholarship or support for trade school.
“Working with Bill Morse is a truly humbling experience,” Mr. Rahman says. “He understands the fabric of the culture very well and is very astute at facing and solving problems with great attention to the needs of the villages and people we serve. Bill is selfless…. It has been a pleasure to work with [him], and I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship.”
“I can’t end war or bring on world peace,” Morse says. “But I can do something right here, right now, and I can make a difference.”
Says Aki Ra: “He’s like my brother or my father. Everything is much better with him here.”
The partnership seems to work well for both men: “We’re both pragmatic idealists,” Morse says, though neither man is big on making grand plans. “You miss too many opportunities if you’re stuck with a plan,” Morse says.
While others might impulsively take a long weekend off, these two men are more likely to impulsively build a school. “We don’t seek out all of the stuff we do; sometimes it just happens, and it’s hard to say no,” Morse says. “When you’re surrounded by 130 kids [standing] beside their blown-down school, and Aki Ra says to me, ‘Well, are you going to tell them they can’t have a new one?’ No! I can’t do that!”
That’s the idealism. The pragmatism means they make sure every school they build is properly equipped, with the teachers’ salaries paid.
For now, Morse has no plans to return to the US. But he and Aki Ra do have some ideas for the future, including expanding the number of children they support, training more deminers, and setting up a village for the elderly in need.
Morse says he once asked Aki Ra when he’d stop doing what he was doing:
“He looked at me like I was stupid. ‘When my country is safe again,’ he said.”
Morse plans to be right there with him.
For more information, visit

Learn more / get involved

UniversalGiving ( helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations worldwide. Projects are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.
To help in Cambodia, UniversalGiving recommends the following:
  • Worldwide Impact Now empowers individual and community development. Project: Provide care for victims blinded by land mines.
  • 100 Friends connects youths to the world’s neediest. Project: Help poor schoolchildren in Cambodia.
  • The GVN Foundation works with communities. Project: Volunteer to teach English in Cambodia.
  • Globe Aware promotes cultural awareness and sustainability. Project: Help land mine victims at Wat Bo temple complex in Cambodia.
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The pros and cons of paying to volunteer on your holiday

Writer Maureen Littlejohn considers the pros and cons of paying to volunteer on your holiday in a recent feature article titled Goodwill or Good Vacation? in Monthly Developments magazine.

Examining the growing trend for volunteer vacations, Maureen considers many of the motivating factors, effects and viability of volunteer vacationers. In her research, Maureen examined the numerous trips and destinations managed by Globe Aware:

Globe Aware, a 12-year-old American nonprofit voluntourism organization, has a mandate to promote cultural awareness and promote sustainability. “Since 9/11 and the economic turndown, people are starting to want vacations where they can give back,” explains Aubrey Roberts, the company’s director of social media and outreach. Globe Aware operates 17 programs in 15 countries and sends approximately 1,000 people a year to an assortment of projects, from building schools in Ghana, to assembling wheelchairs in Cambodia, to building an eco-ranch for tourists in Costa Rica. The trips are around $1,200 for one week and include food and home-stay lodging. Flights are not included. “Volunteers do six hours of work a day. People really like our concept. Repeat business is between 40 and 50 percent:’ notes Roberts. Globe Aware partners with local NGOs and communities,    relying on their input before projects are undertaken. “We don’t require expertise from the volunteers, since we mostly are just looking for able-bodied workers, but if someone has certain skills we try to use them. Our coordinators oversee the projects and make sure they move forward as each new volunteer team arrives;’ explains Roberts.

The article in its entirety can be viewed Goodwill or Good Vacation Monthly Development June 2012

Globe Aware Volunteer Vacations in the spotlight!

Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Executive Director, Globe Aware was recently featured in a continuing profile series at, a popular web-resource with a focus on keeping travelers traveling safely:

1. Who are you?  Brief description of trips you offer

Globe Aware is a nonprofit that organizes one week volunteer programs in communities all around the world. Our focus is to promote cultural awareness and sustainability. For us, the concept of sustainability is to help others stand on their own two feet; to teach skills rather than reliance. For example, we build schools in Ghana, homes in Vietnam, assemble wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia.

All of our volunteer programs are designed to be safe, culturally interesting, genuinely beneficial to a needy community, and involve significant interaction with the host community. Globe Aware is not a foundation that focuses on giving out charity, but rather an organization which focuses on creating self reliance.

2.  How do you define Responsible Travel?

Responsible travel, for us, means ensuring that volunteers are engaged in empowering the host communities and ensuring they are involved in project implementation so that they know how to do them.  It also means letting the local community identify where they think they need help and what kind of solution they want. While Globe Aware’s direct, financial assistance benefits the community economically, it is the the actual involvement and collaboration between the volunteers and the community that is of the greatest mutual benefit.

Responsible travel also means respecting the culture and heritage of the community in which you are traveling. A volunteer’s goal should not be to change the host community, but rather to work side by side on projects the community finds meaningful.

3.  What does your company do to make sure it travels responsibly?

We promote responsible travel by ensuring that the communities in which we work are the ones choosing which projects and initiatives our volunteer work on. We do have set requirements for potential projects – that they be safe, culturally interesting, and genuinely beneficial, but beyond that we let the host communities, the experts on their own culture and needs, tell us how we can help them.

Additionally, Globe Aware offsets its carbon emissions with, the country’s leading carbon offset organization. Our carbon footprint is estimated at less than 70 tons annually, and we have chosen to support carbon-reducing projects in renewable energy to offset the CO2 that is produced in running our offices worldwide, from powering our offices to the transportation used to get to and from our work sites. This commitment places Globe Aware as an environmental leader in the volunteer abroad community and demonstrates proactive steps being taken in the fight against global climate change.

4.    Tell us about a successful initiative.  And an unsuccessful one – what did you learn?

A few of our most recent successful initiatives have been the construction of school buildings in rural Ghana. These children in this community did not have good access to education because of lack of facilities. These school buildings have changed that and now these kids are poised to pursue an education and work skills and break free from the cycle of poverty.

Less successful has been promoting projects in communities that are more than 6 hours from the airport of entry. Our primary volunteers tend to be working professionals and they normally only have about a week to take off to participate in a program. Our experience has been that project sites that are too far from the airport of entry tend to be harder to promote to short term volunteers, even if it is a really great project in a needy community.

5.   What’s some advice you can offer to travelers wanting to travel responsibly?

Travelers wanting to travel responsibly should learn about the culture of the community they are going to visit before they set off for the airport. When contemplating bringing additional donations, think about just bringing some extra funds with you and buying supplies at a local shop. This helps the community in a number of ways – they get needed supplies and local businesses are generating revenue.

Another thing to consider is watching your waste. Use a refillable water bottle and the like. Trash has to go somewhere and in developing communities there is a lack of sanitation services to responsibly remove waste. Outside of volunteering, travelers should opt to stay at locally run hotels and eat at locally owned restaurants. By helping locally owned businesses you are directly supporting the community and not large international conglomerates that overrun popular tourist destinations. In essence, put your bucks where they count. However, avoid handing out direct monetary donations. You don’t want to create dependency or reliance on handouts.