Reflections Abroad

Published September 18, 2017

Metta_Karuna_US_Plane_1kpixOur program manager, Jasmine Jarman, has recently returned from 4 weeks of travel in South East Asia.She had the opportunity to meet up with our partners at the Metta Karuna Reflection Centre in Siem Reap Cambodia. As an American travelling through South East Asia in wake of the Charlottesville terrorist attack and growing tensions between North Korea and the Trump administration, she felt the impact that peace and understanding made during the Cambodian genocide and civil war.

Read her reflections below:

“When I first began planning my trip to South East Asia, I knew Angkor Wat was on the top of my list. I was aware that Cambodia was a poor country and still recovering from the pain of the war. I almost felt bad as my travel companions came to realize how different this part of our trip would be compared to Bangkok. When we got to our hotel we unpacked and settled into the open landscape. The land crossing was so demanding that we fell asleep at about 8pm. Not jet lag, just pure exhaustion.

Morning came around and I was excited to start seeing something other than Bangkok traffic.

Yut of Ayana Journeys picked us up from our hotel in a tuk tuk and drove us to the Meta Karuna. When we first arrived, we were greeted by the dogs that live on the property followed by Sister Denise, an Australian woman who has been helping at the Meta Karuna for thirty years. The grounds are set up so one can view Cambodia through the eyes of the poor. The first symbol we looked at was the labyrinth, a physical manifestation of the process of centering one’s self. The importance of having a perspective on the world from a peaceful point of view. As we walked down the path to the next symbol I looked up- it is against human nature to look up naturally but it’s something I always do when I enter a room. The things that humans choose to put above their heads are incredibly meaningful. When I looked up there was a replica of an American plane dropping down land mines.
While the grounds were incredibly peaceful I couldn’t help but imagine the fire from war. I thought about the peaceful countryside I saw as I entered Cambodia and heard cries. At the center of this I felt guilt, the US government has caused so much pain and loss yet offers nothing in return. Sister Denise saw me looking up at the small white bombs above my head dance in the morning breeze. She called over a man to explain the various bombs to us, it was Nobel Prize winner Tun Channareth. I listened as he showed us the different bombs that have plagued Cambodia and where they came from.

The US plane loomed heavier over my head as he spoke.

As we continued the tour Sister Denise showed us a collection of pots. Different sizes, different shapes, different colors-she asked we take a moment and choose which pot we feel represented us. I chose a small orange pot because I felt it best represented how I felt in the moment. I felt small and too bright for the rest of the setting. We moved onto the small chapel where they hold multi denominational ceremonies and had a moment to think. Sister Denise left us to reflect and look around the property.
I walked along the path and thought about how scared I had been to travel so far from home. I had put so much energy into trying to make myself feel secure in a country that was not secure for a very long time. The civil war in Cambodia, the genocide, and the scattering of bombs across the country wreaked havoc on the people of Cambodia but places like the Meta Karuna were there to help them feel secure.
Peace exists alongside chaos in the hearts and actions of people willing and able to help. Peace comes in the form of resistance. Organizations like Peace Works Travel and the Meta Karuna educate, inspire, and motivate people to resist apathy and act as engaged citizens. Peace is not always standing idly by, calling for love with words. Peace is organizing allies, speaking out against injustice, pressuring leaders, and staying engaged.

La Jolla Country Day School: Vietnam Discovery 2017

Published June 27, 2017

Some highlights from La Jolla Country Day School’s trip to Vietnam this summer

Visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City


The students relax on the boat ride to their homestay in Mekong


Students meeting up with their pen pals at Can Tho University

On the last night our travelers let loose with some karaoke! 


Office of Foreign Asset Control: Cuba Regulations


Frequently Asked Questions

Why the new regulations on Cuba?

President Trump believes that economic isolation of state-funded businesses in Cuba will put pressure on the Cuban government to democratize the island. The regulations prohibit transactions with state-run businesses.

How are these regulations different from the Obama administration’s laws?

The proposed regulations restrict individual people-to-people travel from the United States to Cuba. Individual people-to-people travel “ i) does not involve academic study pursuant to a degree program; and (ii) does not take place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. The President instructed Treasury to issue regulations that will end individual people-to-people travel. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.” (Source: Office of Foreign Assets Control)

Will this affect my tour to Cuba?

No, the new regulations only limit individual people-to-people travel. Our tours are classified as group people-to-people travel, therefore are not restricted by the new regulations.

I have already booked a trip to Cuba, can I still go?

Yes. Essentially the new regulations have added another layer of bureaucracy to the travel process from the United States to Cuba.

If you have booked with Peace Works Travel your travel is considered to be group people-to people travel therefore you are not affected by these proposed regulations.

If you have not booked with Peace Works Travel but have already completed at least one travel related transaction (such as booking a flight) as of June 16, 2017 your travel will be authorized even if it is scheduled after the new regulations take effect.

When will the new regulations take effect?

OFAC expects to issue the new regulations in the coming months and will not take effect until at least 30 days after the new regulations are published by OFAC.

Is this a travel ban?

No. There have been no changes to the regulations that permit flights or cruises from the United States to Cuba.

How will the ban affect travelers?

This will only affect individual people to people travel which is classified as educational travel that: (i) does not involve academic study pursuant to a degree program; and (ii) does not take place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. The President instructed Treasury to issue regulations that will end individual people-to-people travel. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued. (source: Office of Foreign Assets Control)

*Updated 6/20/2017

Althea Tyner Paradis Sits Down with Wildfire Education to Discuss Service Learning Through Global Problem Solving

Published June 21, 2017

Our founder and CEO, Alethea Tyler Paradis, discusses how 9/11 inspired her to start Peace Works Travel, how to engage with students, and much more in this episode of “Do School Better” with Doris Korda.

Do School Better Episode 51 – Service Learning through Global Problem Solving

Dos Pueblos HS Student Shares Her Vietnam Experience on 101.7 K-LITE

Published September 10, 2016

Klite_0016_Logo Sara W. was welcomed to K-LITE studios as their K-LITE Weather Kid and got to share a little about her experience traveling through Vietnam with fellow Dos Pueblos HS students and the eye-opening work they did there. We’re so proud of our student travelers!

Francis Parker Exploring South East Asia

Published February 18, 2015

Sunday, Feb. 15: One Foot in the Past, One in the Future

“If you put one foot in the past and one in the future, you pee on today,” Yut, our tour guide in Siem Reap, reminded us with his spread-out stance. Although seemingly far from profound and even silly, we’ve seen this Buddhist sentiment reiterated throughout our several days in Cambodia. Living in the present is vital for the religion, as it keeps us humble, aware, and centered. But something Yut also stressed was the importance of looking outside of Cambodia’s past: Angkor Wat, the genocide, and other previous moments in their history. Unfortunately, in many ways the country has been defined mainly by its bygones. Luckily, we were able to see developing juxtapositions and the promise of Cambodia’s future.

Monks walking around the perimeter of Ta Prohm temple. Even the monks carried cellphones and digital cameras for photos, which was interesting to see. Fun fact: our tour guide in Siem Reap, Yut, was a practicing monk for sixteen years! Photo by Grace Sellick.

Monks walking around the perimeter of Ta Prohm temple. Even the monks carried cellphones and digital cameras for photos, which was interesting to see. Fun fact: our tour guide in Siem Reap, Yut, was a practicing monk for sixteen years! Photo by Grace Sellick.

The shadow puppet show we enjoyed (prior to a downpour of rain) centered around ancient stories from the Ramayana. Angkor Wat displayed a mixture of new and centuries-upon-centuries of old, as some of its walls were damaged by bullets from the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Also, many of the sacred Buddhas inside all of the temples we visited, from Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm, were decapitated and looted more recently to be sold on the black market. Contrastingly, the circus show, named “Chills,” gave promise and a future in the visual arts to young adults and teenagers from a village around three hours away. Building wheelchairs for the victims of landmines shows the past’s toll on today, as many of the mines were planted 40+ years ago. Therefore, the Landmine Mueseum has put forward efforts by building schools, removing thousands of mines, and providing a scholarships and other opportunities for students who aid them.

Cambodia, Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm Temple (the set of the film Tomb Raider) transitioned from Buddhism to Hinduism, as etchings of Buddha on its walls changed forms over the centuries. Photo by senior Grace Sellick.

Land Mine Museum, Cambodia

The Landmine Museum and its group of mine-removers has had no demining-related casualties even though they have handled thousands of landmines (for example, in one week, they removed 1,500). Other demining groups have had about a dozen injuries over the past few years. Photo by Grace Sellick.

We arrived in Phnom Penh after a forty-minute flight, and then drove to our lunch. Immediately, we were aware of the difference between the capital and Siem Reap. Previously, we had eaten at semi-upscale restaurants whose clienteles were mainly tourists. This restaurant, with its much more unfamiliar foods, was mainly filled with residents of Phnom Penh, mostly Chinese, Koreans, and other foreigners living permanently in the city and working for nearby NGOs. We soon arrived at the You Khin House, a guesthouse whose profits go towards the Seametrey Children’s Village located in the building next door. (This, too, seemed an immediate departure from our stay in Siem Reap, where we slept under mosquito netting on wooden beds.)

Leaving the comforts of our new hotel, we entered into a Cambodia quite different from the sanitized, westernized streets of Siem Reap (dominated by elephant-patterned harem pants and resorts with Angkor in the name) and entered the slums around the governmental housing known as the White House. Designed by the former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, the buildings today are crumbling, houseplants spilling out from small balconies. Almost immediately, the group (conspicuous with our clothing and expensive cameras) felt somewhat out of place. In contrast with the food stalls, motorcycle repair shops, and children running around, our middle-class American lifestyle stood out like a sore thumb. Many in the group later remarked that it almost felt like slum tourism, or that we should not have visited in the first place. Still, being able to see the living conditions and humble beginnings of the Cambodian Living Arts’ (CLA) students provided important context prior to seeing one of the graduated student’s (Neang Kavich) documentaries, Where I Go. The documentary followed a different CLA student, Pattica, throughout his dance studies, familial conflicts, and problems with discrimination (being half Cambodian and half Cameroonian, as well as not knowing his father).

Siem Reap, Cambodia

When it was constructed, the White Building was the tallest structure in the country. After the Khmer Rouge, it became a center for well-known artists and performers. Now, only the middle part of the building remains, and the CLA’s influence has helped to decrease the amount of teenagers in the area who become addicted to drugs, solicit sex, or get involved in gangs. Photo by Grace Sellick

Following the showing of the film, we departed to dinner across the street from the CLA office with the filmmaker, his brother and friend, and the coordinator of the CLA program, Melissa. Throughout dinner, we had the opportunity to ask questions regarding his production process/his inspiration for the film and the history of CLA and Melissa’s work with the program while eating coconut and mushroom soup, tempura vegetables, and delicious egg and fish “quiche/omlette.”

Cambodian Film Maker filmmaker Neang Kavich

Group picture after dinner with filmmaker Neang Kavich (far left), his brother Sal (second to left) and a friend who all participate or participated as CLA students.

We are looking forward to more work with CLA throughout this next week and exploring a new city.

— Olivia Fidler, Isaac Gray and Grace Sellick

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy

Published July 10, 2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy

Today at a review conference in Maputo, Mozambique, the United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines (APL) in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire.  Our delegation in Maputo made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention—the treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of APL.  They also noted we are conducting a high fidelity modeling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of APL.  Other aspects of our landmine policy remain under consideration and we will share outcomes from that process as we are in a position to do so.  

The United States shares the humanitarian goals of the Ottawa Convention, and is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, providing more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs.  We will continue to support this important work, and remain committed to a continuing partnership with Ottawa States Parties and non-governmental organizations in addressing the humanitarian impact of APL.

U.S.-Cuban Relations on Higher Ed Level Continue to Grow

Published July 7, 2014

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Something historic happened last January at Miami-Dade College. At a community college that stands as one of the nation’s largest institutions of higher education with approximately 170,000 students spread across seven campuses, 15 foreign exchange students from Cuba arrived at the school for a semester of study.

Despite the trade embargo and the lack of formal diplomatic ties between the United States and the communist island nation, American colleges have maintained relationships with Cuban universities for the last several decades. Many send professors and students to Cuba for study or research. But this was the first time in more than 50 years that the Cuban government had permitted students to come to the United States to study.

The student exchange is just one of several examples of change by the Cuban government in recent years. The government has relaxed some of its hardline policies and restrictions on issues like foreign travel by Cubans, as well as property and small business ownership. Political observers say some of these changes are driven by a need for a greater infusion of cash into the island nation. This way, a significant number of Cubans get to travel abroad. Some of these emigrants don’t return, but most send remittances back to relatives and friends at home, a move that significantly aids Cuba’s tattered economy.

This new form of openness by the Cuban government could lead to more bridge building between colleges and universities in both countries.

International students from Cuba are already studying at American colleges in small but slowly rising numbers. According to Open Doors data supplied by the Institute of International Education, 76 students from Cuba were enrolled in U.S. universities during the 2012-13 school year, up from 57 the previous year.

“There is a great desire from higher education institutions in both countries to see an increase and broadening of U.S.-Cuba exchanges,” IIE president Allan Goodman tells Diverse by email. “There are a number of U.S. college and university pioneers that have been bringing American students to Cuba for many years, but the opportunity for true mutual exchange remains challenging.”

Continues Goodman, “Despite a host of challenges, institutions in both countries have expressed the need to expand exchange opportunities; not only for students, but also for faculty and researchers. The potential for collaboration is clear and the motivation is high, but institutions will need to continue to navigate the ever-changing infrastructure to ultimately see any results.”

Some of the barriers to making programs like this happen are both financial and political. Most Cubans can’t afford the thousands of dollars (in some cases tens of thousands of dollars) to study at an American college. Moreover, many U.S. politicians still have tough attitudes about a communist regime that’s been running the Caribbean nation for 55 years. The state of Florida, for example, has a law that forbids public colleges from using state funds for Cuban-related programs or exchanges.

Most foreign exchange students pay their own way or get scholarships to come to the U.S. to study. The students’ tuition, travel and boarding expenses were paid for by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, which received a grant from a U.S. agency.

Students’ experiences

The students are a diverse mix of gender, race and age. While some of the students are teenagers, others have college degrees or law degrees, says Dr. Victor Vazquez-Hernandez, chair of the Social Sciences Department at the Miami-Dade Wolfson campus and the designated college official who oversaw the process of recommending courses for the students.

In addition to English language classes, the students, who are in the states on a six-month visa and are scheduled to return home in July, took courses in principles of business, psychology of personal effectiveness, introduction to computers and introduction to sociology. In all, they earned 12 credit hours apiece.

“The 12 credits are all transferrable,” says Vazquez-Hernandez. “They will transfer anywhere. The courses were chosen based on information we received about their needs.”

Vazquez-Hernandez says the campus and the community have embraced the students. “They’ve visited all campuses,” he notes. “They have had a chance to interact with students.”

Vazquez-Hernandez adds that the students met with a broad spectrum of the student body, including student leaders.

“One professor invited them to visit her history of Cuba class. They attended graduation on May 2. They were very taken by it. The faculty has indicated that the students have adapted well. They’ve been nothing but welcomed with open hands.”

As is typical with most international students, there have been some adjustments.

“It’s been intense for them because they have a schedule that is pretty full,” says Vazquez-Hernandez. “That took time to get used to. And the fact that they have free time — when you come from a system that is pretty regulated and no one is following you around — [that] took getting used to as well.”

Expanding exchange

The exchange program at Miami-Dade College has attracted the attention of other colleges.

Dr. Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, says his institution had been exploring the possibility of having a similar program at FIU, hoping to bring 15 to 20 students from Cuba.

He says he was pleasantly surprised to learn about the arrival of the Cuban exchange students at Miami-Dade College.

“I was disappointed we weren’t the first,” says Duany, a professor of anthropology.

He says FIU still plans to have an exchange program with a Cuban college. He says they would like to focus on specific areas like business administration, computer programming, English, hospitality and tourism management. Those latter areas, Duany says, are critical for the Cuban economy. He says these kinds of programs can be vital in erasing decades of enmity between the countries.

According to Duany, FIU is targeting next summer for the program, but admits pulling it off is complicated. He says university officials are trying to coordinate interdisciplinary faculty. The university has also identified private partners who would work with them and help fund the program since state law won’t permit the university to pay for it.

Duany says the academy is a great environment for bringing people of both nations together.

“The two countries don’t have diplomatic relations,” he notes. “So it is important to have this people-to-people contact. The university is probably the best place to have this happen.”

Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that has argued that the embargo is ineffective and counterproductive to U.S. interests, says the larger challenge moving forward will be how to expand programs like that at Miami-Dade College so it reaches a wider range of Cuban society and “not just singling out people because of their ideological beliefs.”

“It’s a great start,” he says. “The more people we have, the more diversity of opinion, race, geography and gender, the better. We can’t simply rely on one organization and one community college.”

Bilbao adds that, while he understands the natural affinity for Florida, he would like to see more exchange students from Cuba spread throughout the country.

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and a professor of history at the University of Miami, agrees that, for the program to have significant impact, it has to get bigger. But he says he’s not holding his breath.

“The Cuban government is not going to allow it on a large scale,” says Suchlicki, who left Cuba as a 19-year-old college student in 1960 and has not been back. “They are very concerned about penetrating influence. They are not going to allow it to happen on a large scale. There’s a reason why they’ve been in power for (55) years.”

by Lekan Oguntoyinbo

Got Courage to Tell The Story of Your Adventure Abroad?

Published January 17, 2013

Grab your hand-held media and GO! What kind of tools do you need?… Our guest video blog from Emmy-Award winning cameraman and producer Jeff MacIntyre demystifies the video-travel-gear question for emerging “Backpack Journalists.” 

Quick Impressions Journal: Vietnam March 2012

Published January 12, 2013

By Gabi Safranavicius 

My intention for this piece was not what it turned out to be. I was just another High School student taking yet another opened-ended AP Literature and Language prompt. My intention was to simply address the prompt, to write a narrative of a past memory that had an effect on me. Something broad, and perhaps irrelevant in regards to the rest of the world. But as I wrote my piece, took the shape of the recent lessons I have learned, the shape of the ideas and ideals that I want to share with my peers. It somehow evolved to the things I learned from my trip abroad to Vietnam; took the shape of what Peace Works Travel World has taught me of war, poverty, and polar social complexities coming from different worlds.  Morphed from my common day thoughts that cloud the brain and I knew this was the start to my journey of sharing written truths.


Day One
Heavy eyes and empty bellies stepped out of the airport and into the odor clustered air. Time truly became relative and space seemed to slip away, lost somewhere in the crowd of Vietnamese, arms outstretched to welcome loved-ones from far away travels. Surreal steps taken into Saigon, the perfect beginning to an adventure.

Day Two
Tears. Tears and the vacant feeling left after a through dig any remaining morality. War Remnants Museum left me hollow as a spineless book. I feel tortured to be part of a country that could inflict such pain, but the pictures remind me who the real victims are.

Day Three
Day trip to Mekong to see the birthplace of a revolution. Journalist, camera crew, what is cultural emersion? The people at home want to know. We meet Kim Phuc’s brother and sister-in-law. We see the site of the bombing. We leave not completely unscathed.

Day Four
Vietnam countryside, we learn not every quite sounds the same. We clean our clothes, shop the markets, and ride bikes through the backyards of local people.  Peeks of third world life are enough for most, as the bike ride turns into a competition. Which white child can pedal away from poverty the fastest?

Day Five
Hanoi here we come. Air is cloudy from the motorcycles that clutter the thin streets, magnifying the smell of gasoline and fish oil. A perfect retreat to never feel alone. As the days fly by I wonder who to pity more, the starving Vietnamese or the American starving for self-esteem?

Day Six

Day filled with sites. Each landmark tells its story to superficial listeners, grasping for something to brag about at home. Hanoi Hilton, Trấn Quốc, and the Presidential Palace, home to prisoners, monks, and Ho Chi Mahan.

Day Seven
Peace Works Travel Village, school and home for Agent Orange victims. Some of the children leek eminent joy, infecting the surroundings with the contagious smile. Others continue to stare through us, as if to ask, “Haven’t you done enough?” We learn that the logistics are simple. We exchange tax dollars for bombs, bombs for dead and disabled, dead and disabled for capitalism, and capitalism for tax dollars. I shamelessly brought toys, as if I could fill the void of expired opportunities these children will never have, with games. They don’t understand, that’s how we do it in my country.

Day Eight
We take to the crowded streets, time for souvenirs before our flight home. What does one buy to remember a third world country? You can’t buy poverty, political corruption, or inequitable circumstances, which only leaves jewelry and various polyester t-shirts.  Walking the smog-filled streets I wonder, “Will I miss this place?” Will I miss the dirty, dense air, the fish oil, the congested streets? No. I will miss the smile and gratification of a merchant. The friendly countryside locals. The bashful children, curious, but so outspoken. For these reasons I know that it is the souls of the people that will bring me back here someday.