Paul was – a gladiator – a huge force for good

Paul was – a gladiator – a huge force for good

It has taken me some time to put pen to paper – well digit to keyboard –  to write about the horrible loss of my friend and our partner, Paul Miedema.

My first reaction was to write about the loss – huge loss – for his family and friends and colleagues at Calabash; the communities they work with; volunteers; and indeed to me as a friend and people and places as a partner – but I wasn’t comfortable with writing that way –  it took me a while to work out why.


Paul was – a gladiator – a huge force for good – a passionate advocate for the people he worked with – confrontational – an inspiration.

For me he was a loyal friend – a teacher – a partner – a mentor.

That’s what I want to remember – what I gained by knowing him – not what I have lost.

When Harold, Kate and I decided we wanted to develop a responsible volunteering programme Harold told me that all his experience in responsible travel led him to believe that Paul Miedema at Calabash had to be one of our first partners. I was quickly convinced……Paul wasn’t…..

as I wrote recently for Paul’s book of remembrance

My dear, dear friend and mentor Paul,

Remember when I came to talk with you about a volunteer programme in 2005? – you told me to eff off – you had seen the damage that affluent volunteers from “the west” had done in your community – Over fried fish ( lord knows what…. can’t remember ) and lots of beer we talked and talked and listened to each other – and then came that moment ….that moment when we both thought…..”together we may be able to do this”…..and out of that grew the people and places volunteer programme – you … did that Paul.

I am so sore from missing you – but I promise – I will continue the work we started – I will not let you down – I will fight to ensure that the communities you cared so much about are not exploited….not in my name.

Travel well my feisty anarchic friend – but please watch over me whilst I try to continue our work.

The last time Paul and I were together was in Thailand – at a workshop we had  been asked to attend – the workshop’s goal was to identify ways to discourage orphanage volunteering – an important issue for both of us. I don’t know who created more of a stir….yes I do… was Paul – he was (as he always was when he saw injustice and exploitation) STRIDENT….he felt the issue was simple….there never is and never can be a justification for orphanage tourism…he felt the people in the room were not being bold enough in their confrontation of the issue – it was vintage Paul – let’s address this head on – however uncomfortable it is.

Even when we grabbed a break-Paul was campaigning!
Sallie and Paul tuked together




Paul and a co-workshopper Philip-someone he didn’t scare!
Paul shopping for his daughters in Bangkok








We will so miss his voice – watch this video – passionate confrontational Paul ( about 27 minutes in) – talking about how, all too often,  badly managed volunteer programmes exploit local communities – “extractive” is what he called them…..but how well managed programmes can “create a shared humanity”.

All of us at people and places are committed to continuing the work we started with Paul offering  responsible volunteering at Emmanuel  and the Schools Support programme.


and a PS another thankyou Paul for introducing me to Rodriguez and his music 


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