Portraits of Why I Travel

We can talk all day about the complex histories, the rich cultures, the funny languages, and the delicious or obscure food that every place is made up of, but in the end, it always comes down to the people. For a true traveler, what really matters are the people you meet along your journey whether it's the brief encounters with inconsequential strangers or the unforgettable moments with strangers who turn to life long friends.

As one blogger on the Matador Network so wonderfully wrote, "despite the reasons why we end up in some dot on a map, it is always the people we share our time with that will define the place in our minds. Other travelers. Locals. The people we came with. Shared laughs. Shared suffering made eminently more tolerable because everyone is suffering together. Hour long conversations about the meaning of life using a few shared words and hand signals." Inspired by that, I thought I'd share a few faces in the crowd that have given shape and depth to the places on my map...

Sylwia and I up top Mount Pilatus

Sylwia and I up top Mount Pilatus

Sometimes you meet people you just instantly click with. Sylwia's one such person. We met three years ago while studying abroad in the Czech Republic, traveled one weekend to Berlin, and have been travel buddies ever since. It makes all the difference in the world to be traveling around with someone who shares your travel style, who can withstand your "quirks", who's interested in seeing the same things you are and who revels in the same simple pleasures as you do...or even better, somebody who can teach you to open your eyes and heart to something entirely new.

The good people of CMFR marching at the International Day to End Impunity

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries to work in for journalists but the people from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, a non-profit media monitoring organization, is fighting against that. In November 2011, I decided to go back to my home in the Philippines and volunteer with them. I hadn't been back in nearly a decade, but Kat, John, Melai, Bryant, Sheila, and the rest of the CMFR team made me feel so welcome. They taught me so much about the Filipino press system and the culture of impunity that plagues the country, but also the amazing people who are working hard to change the system.

My little family in Florence

My little family in Florence

Sometimes you just totally and completely luck out with your choice in accommodations. Sylwia and I met Christene, Eoin, Kathleen, and Katy (L to R) at the Dany House in Florence and it was all love from the get go. This shot's from one of the most amazing and memorable nights in my travels...watched a sunset with a panaromic view of Florence, ate cheese, drank wine, and obnoxiously sang 90s hits all night. Just one of those picture perfect days to last a whole lifetime, you know? (Cue Jay-Z's version Forever Young here...)

Theavy at a non-profit fair trade event

Theavy is one of the sweetest people I know and we met while I was backpacking the streets of Phnom Penh.  She works at Mekong Quilts, a social enterprise offering sustainable employment to women in the village of Rumdou in Svay Rieng province, and we struck up a conversation immediately about our work in the non-profit sector. She invited me to an event where I got a first hand glimpse of the huge and vibrant fair trade network in Phnom Penh. Our friendship continues through email as we keep each other updated on non-profit life in Cambodia and Canada, continuing that cultural exchange despite the geographic constraints.

Goofing around with the OG crew

Now I know technically this one doesn't count as I didn't meet these crazy people on my travels, but rather here at home in Toronto. It's people like the entire Operation Groundswell crew (at home and abroad) that are the reasons why I travel. The open mindedness, the readiness for whatever adventure awaits, the social awareness, the genuine kindness...

...and of course there are those who I didn't manage to get a picture of but whose faces have added even more color to the video reel of my adventures I often replay in my head And so, whether by chance or by design, I welcome and look forward to the friends I've yet to meet on my future's to more conversations, to more dancing, more laughing, more drinking, more singing. 

Ending the Cancer of Impunity

November 23rd marks the International Day to End Impunity, a call to demand justice for the many journalists around the world who have been killed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and whose perpetrators are exempted from punishment and penalty. I've been working with a media monitoring NGO called the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), an organization that has been actively involved in organizing events and raising awareness of the growing culture of impunity within the Philippines. 

To give you some background, let me tell you that the media have been a cornerstone in the nation’s struggle for independence, democratization and justice. And until recently, the Philippines has been heralded as having the freest press in Asia, with a rich history of a thriving and rambunctious press system that can be traced back to its revolutionary movement against the Spaniards. At the end of the 19th century, La Solidaridad, a newspaper published in Spain by leading Filipino intellectuals, served as an instrument of expression for the revolutionary sentiment against the Spanish and the Filipino cause for change and independence. Similar to its role in inciting revolutionary sentiments at the end of the 19th century, the Philippine press was also crucial in the People Power Revolution of 1986 that ultimately toppled the Marcos regime. And after being silenced for years under a dictatorial government, the media flourished...

The right to the freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press has always been enshrined in the Philippine constitution. Despite this, however, the press, at least in its current state, is an incredibly weak institution that faces intractable challenges, none more so than the culture of impunity. Unpunished violence against the media has soared since the years after the Marcos regime fell, especially during the years of the Arroyo administration. As journalist Lin Neumann once wrote for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the "damage done by Marcos' martial law remains. By dismantling the structure of the press built up over previous decades, Marcos weakened the professionalism and ultimately politicized the media to a staggering degree", creating a climate of fear that continues to be a powerful force in the Philippine press. 

Defined by CMFR's Deputy Director Luis Teodoro as “the way some societies ignore, permit or even encourage various forms of violence against journalists as well as their harassment and intimidation, and allow these to go unpunished”, the culture of impunity has truly dominated the Philippines in recent years. From being praised as having the freest press in Asia, the Philippines’ reputation has suffered, becoming the second most dangerous place in the world for media workers, only behind Iraq. Since 1986, 123 journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty and only 10 convictions have been carried out for these killings.

This near zero arrest, trial, and conviction of killers is fueling the culture of impunity that is stifling the freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press in the Philippines. It is no surprise then that its position on RSF's Press Freedom Index of 2010 dropped precipitously to 156th place out of the 178 countries included in the ranking, officially joining the ranks of infamously repressive states such as China, Iran, Burma, and North Korea.  This culture of impunity not only threatens the lives of its media workers but also impinges on every Filipino’s right to freedom of expression.

The change in administration to Noynoy Aquino, the son of revolutionary icons Benigno and Corazon Aquino, reignited hope...but after more than a year in office, the killings continue. Six journalists have been killed under his administration and the lack of strong action and major shift in policy to end impunity leaves the country wanting in justice...

The road is long and no single government agency or NGO can act alone to definitely end what has become, if I may again borrow from our hero Rizal, a cancer of this society. But let this first Day to End Impunity be the beginning of a real and effective treatment against this deadly disease...

To learn more about the Day to End Impunity, visit
To learn more about impunity in the Filipino context, visit

Reporting on Rights Radio

This week, I checked in with my pals at Journalists for Human Rights on Right Radio to report on the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility's (CMFR) work in the lead up to November 23rd, the International Day to End Impunity. Have a listen below to learn more about what's going on here in the Philippines...

Also, on this week's Rights Report goes global to look at censorship in countries around the world. The folks at jhr speak to RSF, Reporters Without Borders, about their Censorship Paradise campaign targeting holiday countries where media is heavily censored. The show goes to Cuba to look at the work of censored blogger Yoanni Sanchez, then off to Mexico, where reporters are continually being killed. Finally, the Rights Report lands in Vietnam and the Philippines (that's me!), where the media is fighting acts of impunity.