Partnerships With Social Enterprises In Siem Reap

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Limited education in rural areas is a major impediment to realizing development goals, which does not only affect the quality of education but also healthcare, economic and community development negatively. For long, Cambodia has been a go-to destination for service learning opportunities.

Besides exclusive community-based tourism initiatives and various infrastructure projects through Angkor Educational Experience at Chan Sar Community, Buffalo Educational Travel has been working with different local social enterprises and brought worldwide student groups to visit and have workshops with these local organizations to learn about vocational training as a tool of sustainable development.

Let’s have a glimpse at two of our social enterprise partners that have been playing important roles in uplifting youths at their communities.

Go beyond the circus at Phare

One of the most exciting activities in Siem Reap is a visit to the incredible Phare circus. This inspiring enterprise works with some of the poorest communities in the area to provide young people with arts training. The organization has been running since 1994 and have educated 1,200 young Cambodians, with a further 500 trained specifically in the vocational arts. Phare has a diverse collection of 9 performances on rotation in Siem Reap at their beautiful big top tent.

Take your chance to go behind-the-scenes with the troupe behind the show, and engage in a unique workshop to learn a collection of circus tricks from the talented young artists. Flip, roll, juggle and balance with the help of the inspiring circus students of Phare – each with a fascinating story and talent to share. The workshop starts with some simple warm-up exercises before stepping up the challenge with flips, tricks and even some acrobatics.

EGBOK – Hospitality training for underprivileged youth

EGBOK (Everything’s Gonna Be OK) provides training for underprivileged young adults in hospitality and empower them to become independent. They aim to break the poverty cycle that still exists throughout the country by building up a qualified local workforce for tourism – one of the most thriving industries in Cambodia. EGBOK believes hospitality can build confidence, leadership, and a spirit of service that can go beyond cultural barriers and act as a universal language.

EGBOK full-time vocational training program equips trainees with professional skill sets, life skills and social supports to succeed in the hospitality industry through theoretical courses and hands-on training at hospitality companies.

Sit down with the management team to learn more about the operations and different activities the enterprise has to offer. Also meet up with some trainees and learn more about their journey with EGBOK and think about how you can give a hand to help lift up these disadvantaged lives. And do not miss out the chance to dine for a good cause at SPOON training restaurant and experience the great hospitality from their current trainees.

Buffalo Educational Travel Team and our friends at SPOON Restaurant

Seuang River – 10 Years And Growing Stronger Every Day

Establish on 13 Dec 2007, Seuang River educational travel programme, is a cooperative-business partnership between the villagers and Buffalo Tours under the auspices of the Luang Prabang Provincial Tourism Department and Pak Xeng District Authority. Tasked with sustainable and responsible tourism development the partnership has grown from 11 villages to 35 villages!

The people of Seuang River are a mix of lowland Lao, upland Khamu and highland Hmong ethnic groups. Each have distinct language and culture. Many have migrated down from high mountain villages to the river valley to be ‘on-road’ for better health, education, communication and market access. The result is most villages are now a mix of various ethnic groups.

During the past ten years our visiting school and university groups have taken an active role in village life. Going well beyond meaningful service learning opportunities, there are opportunities to create exchanges with local schools, plenty of outdoor education activities, and of course the traditional crafts, dance and food. Every programme provides a clear understanding of social, educational and health related issues facing rural people in northern Laos.

Partnerships between our visiting schools and universities and the Seuang River communities, have generated almost $500,000 in direct financial benefit since 2007. This includes employment for cooks, guides, traditional crafts & dance, local teachers and health care workers. Village Stay accommodations and food also are a major source of the income.

The community development projects also had great impact. Over 24 community projects and dozens of community health educations projects have been successfully completed with a total budget of $379, 726USD. These include:

  • Hua Keng Village community water supply storage tank (2008)
  • Hua Keng Village housing project (2008)
  • Hat Sang Kindergarten project (2008)
  • Napho Village Community Hall project (2009)
  • Huay Pho Village Elementary School building project (2009)
  • Po Nowan Village Food Security / Bridge Project (2010)
  • Pak Keng Junior High School Renovation project (2011)
  • Sop Jak High School Sanitation project (2011)
  • Sop Jak High School Electrification project (2011)
  • Sop Jak Community Health Clinic Toilet & Water Supply (2012)
  • Sop Jak High School Dormitory project (2012)
  • Po Nowan Village kindergarten project (2013)
  • Po Nowan Village Kindergarten toilet project (2013)
  • Sop Jak Community Water Supply project (2014)
  • Sop Jak High School Dormitory II project (2014)
  • Pak Keng High School Renovation I, II, III project (2014)
  • Pak Keng High School Renovation IV, V project (2015)
  • Huay Pho Village Community Meeting Hall (2015)
  • Vang Ngern Village Community Water Supply Project (2016)
  • Pak Xeng High School 5 Classroom Building project (2017)
  • Pak Xeng High School Sanitation Project (2018)
Pak Xeng High School

Throughout these ten years Chipseng Thor has been the heart-and-soul of Seuang River. An inspiring leader, with a truly amazing life story, Chipseng has managed the creation and development of the Seaung River community programme. He is ready to start a new chapter in his life and will move on to new challenges and opportunities. We are deeply grateful to Chipseng for all he has taught, his passion and strength. Though we will miss him greatly, his connection with the communities and our programme remain strong. His friendship continues and his legacy is being passed on to his successor Somchan Vanhnaseng.

Our inspiring Chipseng (on the right) and Somchan

Bali Facing Imminent Eruption of Mount Agung

Late on Friday two weeks ago, Indonesian authorities announced the highest possible volcano alert warning for Mount Agung – the highest mountain on the island of Bali. The most recent eruption happened in 1963, in which more than 1,000 people were killed and hundreds were injured.

Approximate 75.000 residents from 27 villages are in danger zone, which extends as far as 12 kilometers in places. People have been fleeing to other regions of Bali and staying in temporary shelters set up by local authorities in community halls or stadiums.

For local residents, leaving their homes behind is an uneasy decision. Living in shelters with limited facility is challenging but the worst is they do not even know until when they can come back home. Mount Agung is expected to erupt at any time with long-term consequences followed.

Tenganan village, which is only 2 to 5 kilometers away from Mount Agung, is among the most vulnerable. 420 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters and are in serious lack of food and necessities. Buffalo Tours Indonesia has called for donation from all staff to support Tenganan villagers at the shelter.  On 30 September 2017, with a total fund of IDR 4.7 million raised, Buffalo Tours Indonesia visited and delivered 50 kilograms of rice, 10 boxes of UHT Milk, fresh fruits and others kinds of food to the shelter.

During the day, Buffalo Guide Ambassadors organized some fun activities such as drawing, story-telling and games for the kids at the shelter hoping to cheer them up in this hard time of adversity. Besides witnessing the poor conditions at the shelters, we also talked to the Village Head and concluded that in the long term, villagers will need more mattresses, blankets, pillows and toiletries such as soaps, toothpastes, toothbrushes etc.

In the meantime, Buffalo Tours Indonesia will continue to raise more funds to support other villages. We are also calling for support from our valued partners. If you want to give a hand to support the people of Bali, please reach out to our dedicated facilitator Heri, who has been leading all fundraising activities at

With all the local prepraredness for Mount Agung possible eruption, we hope the best for Bali.

We Care, We Share!

Clarify Terms, Please!

Email received with this question: “I would really appreciate if you can share me the difference between terms such as volunteer, community service, service learning.”

These answers are broad strokes intended to open the dialogue.

In society in general the role of the volunteer is quite important — providing much needed assistance in ways that are not being met through salaried positions. For example, in youth sports programs, in a library, or a hospital. In a school however, the term volunteer is different. We ask a child to volunteer to take papers to the office. This is helpful, however with school being a place of learning, there is no learning that is necessarily taking place. We do need adult volunteers in school; youth volunteers in schools are necessary and helpful but this is not service.

Community service is generally speaking identifying a way to take action (service) in the environs (the community) and doing it. This may just involve showing up. While sometimes this can be done well, in many cases this can also be done without some of the significant markers that deepen understanding or learning. The participants may not be prepared. They may not have a personal voice or investment. They may not know why they are doing the action. They may be seeking school credit or to resolve a school or court appointed punishment. They may skip reflection altogether. There may be learning though it may not be explicit.

With service learning, the conceptual framework takes participants through five stages: investigation, preparation, action, reflection (ongoing), and demonstration. The students have investigated to understand the community assets and needs regarding the issue; they know their own skills and talents and how to apply them in a way that meets the authenticated need. They have engaged with partners, as is appropriate, and see the value in all involved. They prepare with knowledge and skills to be ready to implement a well thought out plan of action that listens to the voices of all involved. Along the way they reflect in meaningful and purposeful ways — again letting their voice and choice determine how the reflection is done and when. Demonstration captures and tells the story to others, and may even appear as service in how they communicate the entire process, the learning and the service. The entire service learning process is intended to move the curriculum forward, and deepen the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and dispositions, through high level student inquiry and application of ideas. Wow!

All throughout my website under Resources and Blogs you will find articles and examples that I believe brings all of this into greater clarity. And of course, The Complete Guide to Service Learning adds more explanation of each stage of service learning, with hundreds of examples and hundreds of books that are excellent to use in the process.

I love receiving questions!

Thanks for reading. Please send your thoughts (and more questions) to

By Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.


Upcoming events: Chang Mai October 21-22, and in Beijing on November 18-19. For more information please email

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Elephants In Captivity. What to ask when visiting an elephant experience?

Elephants in captivity are an ethical concern in the tourism industry. Rapid growth in tourism, coupled with inadequate regulations, can encourage poor treatment and practices that threaten the survival of these amazing wild creatures. Fortunately, hardworking and dedicated camp owners, scientists and travel providers are fighting back to provide excellent care and experiences.

Educationally elephant experiences, therefore, can be powerful learning activity assisting students to explore issues of animal rights, conservation, history, and local economy. As with any educational issue there are no cut and dry answers to complex questions.

Buffalo Educational Travel has been working with PATA, Travelife and ASEAN Captive Elephant Working Group to ensure we can give you the best recommendations when planning an educational elephant experience. To help you make the right choice, please consider the following questions when making your programme plans.

Are you willing to pay enough money?

It costs money to maintain a good quality of life for elephants. Food, land, medical care, specialized well-trained staff. It all costs.

The old saying applies “you get what you pay for”. The lower the entrance fee the possibility of lower standard care increases. Lower entrance fees may mean higher volumes of tourists, lower quality of experience and harder life for the elephants.

More expensive camps tend to limit numbers, giving improved visitor experience and quality of life for the elephant.

Is riding elephants ok?

This is a very controversial question, and you can get very different answers depending on whom you ask.

Before making your decision please consider that elephant rides “…often serve as the main attraction for elephant camps. The profit generated from rides is frequently used to purchase supplies for the elephants’ care, so banning them from camps could ultimately be detrimental to their livelihood.” (PATA)

If you do ride please follow the recommendations from elephant experts at Chiang Mai University, Thai Elephant Conservation Centre and ASEAN Captive Elephant Working Group.

  • rides should be short, about 30 minutes
  • the total workday for the elephants should be less than 5 hours
  • rides should be through a forest or other natural landscapes with shade (elephants can get sun burn)
  • elephant saddles should not apply pressure to the spine
  • elephant saddles should be adequately cushioned to prevent abrasions
  • two people maximum in a saddle
  • total weight on back less than 10% of the elephant’s body weight
  • elephants have time to rest, eat and drink between rides
  • rides are constantly supervised by trained mahout

Is it better to do other activities like feeding, bathing or walking with elephants?

Hmm, that is a tough question. We may feel that those activities are better for the elephant than riding, and properly done, they could be. But, we do need to be cautious.

First, please consider that you are likely reading this as you are planning an elephant experience for your students. As with any student activity we must assess risks.

Risks increase with more direct contact with elephants. Riding done right is the easiest for a mahout to manage and control. Feeding, bathing and walking beside elephants can be less manageable. If you do other activities please consider the following

  • if feeding, make sure there is adequate double fencing between you and the elephant and is strong and wide enough to prevent being pulled by the trunk
  • if feeding, make sure that the elephants are receiving a balance diet – not just bananas and sugar cane
  • if bathing, make sure there are not more than 5 people per elephant with a minimum 1 mahout to supervise
  • if bathing, make sure the amount of interaction time with tourists is monitored and limited to twice a day
  • if walking, with elephants make sure the animals have been carefully selected for the activity and that there are safety briefs about how, when and what to do when approaching the animals
  • if walking with elephants, make sure the mahout is properly trained for the activity and knows the elephant well

How can I learn more?

First, please get in touch with our BET team. Graham has been assisting PATA, Travelife and ASEAN Captive Elephant Working Group for many years, and is able to provide experienced suggestions.

Second, there is a good web article by Trip Advisor based on PATA research that gives a great deal more details. We suggest you read How to be a Responsible Traveler when Visiting an Elephant Attraction in the Asia Pacific Region

Finally, Travelife will be conducting audits of all the elephant camps we work with throughout Asia and provide in-depth reports on the conditions. Keep checking in with us and we will be pleased to share the findings with you to help make the most informed, and responsible decision.

Should I do an elephant experience with my students?

Yes! Done right it can be a powerful learning experience helping your students to connect a variety of competing issues. Responsible, well-managed elephant camps also provide excellent care and homes for these truly amazing creatures. In this way, you can ensure your educational travel helps your students, and elephants.

Community Empowerment – Seuang River Builds Knowledge And Skills

Last month, Buffalo Educational Travel team in Laos facilitated a learning journey for the leaders of Seuang River Community Programme.

From the 19 to 21 July, twenty-five community representatives, and our very own Chipseng Thor, visited community-based tourism projects Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. This was a great opportunity to exchange and explore; to build skills to improve sustainable tourism in our local communities.

The main objectives of the learning journey were to improve:

  • Village Stay (clean, secure, welcoming and friendly)
  • Meal service (clean, high quality and organic)
  • Community management (product, equity of benefits and future)

The group included representatives of local government and communities, including:

  • Pakxeng District Governor
  • Pakxeng Tourism Director
  • Seuang River Committee Chair & Vice Chair
  • Head cooks
  • Ban Napho Village Stay representatives
  • Ban Pakkeng Village Stay representatives
  • Ban Vang Ngern Village Stay representatives
  • Ban Buam Phaxeng Village Stay representatives

Throughout the three days of learning all participants were very excited. For many it was their first time away from Seuang River to exchange experiences as they learned from another communities, organic farms and restaurants.

The learning journey cost approximately USD 2,500. All this budget was paid by the community from funds saved from the running of the educational tourism activities with Buffalo Tours. Community leaders were happy to make such an investment as they want to develop their knowledge and skills to better manage the student groups Buffalo provides.

Main highlights of the learning journey included exchange of experience with the successful Ban Naduang Community Homestay Project, which has achieved the ASEAN Homestay Standard (clean, separate rooms, bed sheets, blankets, pillows, mosquito nets, fan, living room, bathroom, toilet, hot water shower, foods, welcoming and community service).

Another highlight was a visit to an organic farm to learn from people passionate about preserving our land, fruit trees, animals and food without use of chemicals. The group also visited Luang Prabang Night Market to see all the products tourist buy and Namtip Restaurant they learn how to improve food hygiene, quality and overall meal experience.

The learning journey was a great success, sparking many new ideas and enthusiasm. BET are proud of the initiative of empowered community leaders taking action to learn and grow.

David Begbie Discusses Strategy, Sustainable and Transformational Service

Let us introduce you to our inspirational advisory board, a team of educators and development specialists who are passionate about innovate and sustainable solutions to the world’s needs.

When you ask David Begbie a question, you may have to wait a while for your answer.

Having spoken widely to audiences across the world about development and answering the call of our world in need to heads of giant corporations and members of the UN – people who have the power to facilitate real change – David knows the significance of saying the right thing and saying it well. Everything he says has weight and importance, because everything he does has weight and importance. There’s too little time to waste on not speaking with meaning.

So, our conversation one morning over Skype becomes a long one, full of comfortable silence and the expectation of important and meaningful discussion. At one point he paused for so long that I asked if he’d like to move on to another question and his response was simply:

“It’s not that I can’t answer; it’s that if I turn on the fire hydrant, you can imagine the water that would come forward”.

His passion – for development, for education, for the world – is evident in everything he says.
We begin by discussing how he first began working with Buffalo Educational Travel and he jokes that a bit like one’s first date he cannot recall how exactly him and Graham met, but that it was certainly through the “work of exploring strategic guidelines to help ensure school’s service is strategic, sustainable and transformational”.

It is these ambitious joint goals that we hope to achieve with the help of David as one of our inspiring Advisory Board members. Bringing along the experience of the Crossroads Foundation, who have worked with tens of thousands of students across the planet, we are confident that we are going in the right direction.

Here is what David has to say:

“We run programs and service opportunities for these tens of thousands of students and, in that context, we have begun to realise that while schools have rightly heard the mandate to serve, this does not necessitate that schools know what best practice is.

Most teachers are not trained humanitarian workers; most of them don’t understand development and development work. So while the mandate in schools is right, the service is suboptimal, both for their students and the planet. Fair enough, when no guidance at a higher magnitude has been provided; no strategies have been deployed to help them ensure that their service is doing right by this world.

So, it is into this space that crossroads is working. To help guide schools, whatever their curriculum, to strategic, sustainable, transformational service.

What we long for, both Graham and I, is that schools will not just do more of what is, but will do more of what should be. So that the world’s needs, that are crying out for scaled response, can be met through the hands of students and others. In tactical ways, with understanding.

For any project to have internal combustion, it must be win-win. It must be meeting the felt needs of the schools: the students and their teachers and parents. But it also must be meeting real needs of the community. And one of the areas Educational Travel is seeking to develop, which I think is very right, is looking at what a healthy partnership, carrying those two objectives, would look like.

For us, we are working with the students themselves. Crossroads is working to create guidelines that nurture strategic, sustainable, transformational service, both within schools and in the minds of students, so that when students graduate they may be not only globally aware citizens but global transformational citizens.

One thing we are trying to do is help international schools and service learning professionals understand how to push service into their core competencies. Often, the best place from which you can serve is through your strengths. If teachers’ best strengths are teaching, how do we move service from one week a year into the classroom, sustainably and strategically? So, “I’m doing math and service; I’m doing science and service; I’m changing the world as part of my strength. I can use my skills as service”. It’s the same for everyone: I can be a businessman and do service; I can be a lawyer and do service.

Our job is to serve. And if we can find a way, through whatever means and organisations, to serve this world and those in need better, then that is a good thing.

And BET have, whether intentionally or stumbled upon, found an area of felt need and opportunity that is available in every country. In schools there is a need to do service and in most schools there is an opportunity for the kind of trips that could involve service. If we can help them take this opportunity and work with it in the right way then our impact can be profound. That’s why I’m on board.

It’s a genuine privilege to walk alongside Graham and BET in this endeavour. Because we are friends on this road and we are, all of us, too small. We’re all too small to meet these needs alone.

BET Vietnam Projects: Vinh Long

One of two major projects run by our dedicated Buffalo Educational Travel in Vietnam, Vinh Long lies deep in the Mekong River Delta.

Vinh Long city is a province 3 hours from Vietnam’s Southern Capital, Ho Chi Minh City and home to around 190,000 people. This dynamic town is in the bustling trading center of agriculture and aquaculture. Rich soil and abundant waterways allow tropical fruits, shrimps and fisheries to thrive alongside the high rice production. However, Vinh Long is still struggling to provide sufficient welfare and support for the disadvantaged, with the majority of people living on less than $5 a day.

In 2014 Buffalo Educational Travel founded the Vinh Long Community Development Association alongside Vinh Long Red Cross, Vinh Long Welfare Association, Vinh Long District Authority, Vinh Long Education Authority and Cuu Long Tourist Corporation. Our joint aim, alongside the community, is to promote the welfare and education of disadvantaged families in Vinh Long.

In our community meeting for needs analysis in 2014, the poor housing and sanitation conditions of twenty-two families were identified as the most pressing issues facing the community. Since then we have completed 6 of these homes with the help of visiting school groups. These homes have allowed 6 deserving families to focus on their futures – their children’s education and their work – rather than be stuck in a cycle of poverty worsened by harsh living conditions.

Our community health care project has also been incredibly successful in the Mekong with our strong connection to the Vinh Long General Hospital. In particular, a Midwifery placement program has seen local women, and men, learn crucial information about healthy pregnancy, delivery and childcare. Through our connection with Vinh Long Red Cross we also offer around 70 local students healthcare insurance.

Vinh Long’s rivers and waterways are a mesmerising place to explore and all who visit leave with fond memories of floating markets, endless rice paddies and delicious local cuisine.

BET Vietnam Projects: Mai Chau

One of two major projects run by Buffalo Educational Travel in Vietnam, we have been working in the beautiful Mai Chau valley for over a decade.

na chao village stay

In the past two years we have been working particularly closely with the Bao La Commune on a number of construction projects to improve their agricultural and farming systems. Bao La Commune is a small commune of Mai Chau District, in Hoa Binh Province, around 160 km from Hanoi. This commune has 8 villages and approximately 2,400 people. We work mainly with 2 villages: the 62 families in Na Chao village and the 42 families in Long Sang village, all of whom are ethnic Thai people.

The main work in these villages is farming and raising livestock. Some families have small shops or create handicrafts at home for extra income. Many people survive on as little as $300 per year, while sustaining themselves from their farms.

In 2016 the Long Sang community determined, after lots of discussion, that a major priority should be better traffic connections in the village. Buffalo Educational Travel helped facilitate the building of a new bridge and road that would make it much easier for the people of Long Sang and surrounding villages to access the fields, transfer the farming products and develop the local economy.

Our close connection to the Bao La Commune has allowed us to think outside the box on a number of sustainability initiatives. One of these is the cow bank project. With the help of our own generous donors, we are able to provide the lowest income families with female calves that they are then able to sell for a considerable profit if they raise them well.

We have also strived to foster social development through cultural exchange activities and educational initiatives for kids. This is achieved through our connection with visiting schools as well as a permanent library set up to encourage reading and self-education in the local youth.

Homestay experiences are common throughout the Mai Chau Valley and visitors are always charmed by the intricacies of the local culture; the textiles and traditional performances. We are proud to offer guests a chance to experience a village stay in Na Chao village and experience a more remote and quiet location.

BET Thailand Projects: The Om Goi Community

Buffalo Educational Travel in Thailand takes you to the mist shrouded mountains of Om Goi District in the northern province of Chiang Mai.

thailand development project om goi

Om Goi, one of the most impoverished districts in Thailand, is located 180km south of Chiang Mai. It takes around 4 hours’ drive through rural countryside and mountain roads to reach the communities who live there. The population of around 62,000 is spread into 6 sub-districts and 95 villages. 95% of the local population belongs to ethnic Karen and the remaining 5% are from other ethnic tribes including Hmong, Lahu & Thai. The majority of villages are difficult to access.

The people of Om Goi have survived for centuries through migration, slash and burn agricultural techniques and subsistence from the thick forests of the remote highlands. Tighter conservation of Thailand’s rapidly depleted forests, however, has placed the minority cultures at a crossroads between their traditions and development. Educational travel groups have a role to assist villagers in creating alternative livelihoods and support for environmental conservation and cultural preservation.

BET is creating cooperative, community based tourism initiatives tasked with fighting poverty through development and supplemental income-generation. Initiated in 2013 in partnership with the villages and Om Goi District Authority we are using responsible tourism to allow local residents to earn supplemental income through providing services and products to visiting groups. They are eager to have guests discover their local traditions & cultures in unique and exciting ways – in short ‘to see the world through the eyes of another’.

An ongoing and frustrating aspect of village development is the promotion of clean water, sanitation and toilets. Om Goi Hospital has been working on this, yet progress in remote villages is slow. Most of the villagers know the benefits but do not change traditional habits, such as allowing pigs to roam free and defecate throughout the village area. Likewise, the lack of toilets means the majority of the growing population continues open-defecation. The Om Goi Hospital Director states it is extremely frustrating to cure children of intestinal problems, only to have them return home to unhygienic conditions. Changing habits is a slow and difficult process, particularly in remote villages, yet there is a strong need for better livestock handling, toilets and clean water supply.

BET has been working alongside the local communities and hospital on accessibility to healthcare through the international nursing placement programs. The major construction projects have focused on improving sanitation and access to clean water in the higher mountain homes and villages.

Om Goi is both culturally rich and stunningly beautiful, with cultural performance and trekking being a major part of any program.