Volun-what ism?

Volunteer + Tourism = Voluntourism.

I didn’t even know this was a thing until about 5 years ago when I was researching our honeymoon to Cambodia. I wanted to visit and help at an orphanage whilst we were over there and I remember chatting to Rob about it. I was looking into how we could go and volunteer and the more research I did the more confused I was getting.

I thought this would be helpful, a good thing but as it turns out orphanages in Cambodia are big business. The internet was giving me mixed messages, as usual. So in the end, my very wise husband said let’s wait until we get there and ask some locals. It was a simple solution and that’s exactly what we did. We waited, we talked to people and in the end it didn’t feel right and we decided not to visit any orphanages on our trip.

It can be tricky to navigate this feeling of wanting to help with a solution that is actually helpful, so I’m going to hand it over to Sally from the Human and Hope Association to talk a little more about what voluntourism is.

Have you ever considered volunteering in a developing country? If it is for a short amount of time, this is called ‘voluntourism’, and is a billion-dollar industry. Although we commend your drive to want to help people, we are here to explain that voluntourism can do more harm than good, and there are more effective ways to help.

Human and Hope Association, a grassroots community centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one organisation that is raising awareness about voluntourism. They are entirely run by a team of local Cambodians and are proving that Cambodians do have the skills, passion and knowledge to run not-for-profits without accepting voluntourists. Through their education, vocational training and community development programs, the team at Human and Hope Association are helping their villagers to break the cycle of poverty for good.

“It is important for NGO’s to be run by Cambodians. By doing so, we can help young generations show their ability to lead NGO’s.” – Ngoy Bunrong, Education and Community Assistant

There are many reasons why Human and Hope Association is speaking out against voluntourism, some of which are summarised below.

Empowerment of staff – The mission of Human and Hope Association is to empower Cambodians to create sustainable futures. They believe in not only applying that mission to their beneficiaries but to their staff as well. It is crucial that they provide their staff with the opportunity to thrive in their roles and gain confidence. They have seen first-hand that when volunteers come into organisations, this can often be disempowering, as the local staff believes that they cannot fulfil their jobs without the support of foreigners. They believe that local people are the subject matter experts, as they are the ones who know the country and traditions best. By promoting team work amongst the locals, they can learn from each other and not become reliant on foreigners.

Consistency – When volunteers come and go, it creates an inconsistency with the education system which follows lesson plans and a curriculum planned well in advance. In the past, students complained of the volunteers who didn’t teach them effectively. Furthermore, given Human and Hope Association educates many students who come from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds, having strangers come and go in their lives creates an unstable situation on top of what they already experience at their homes. By having full-time staff to teach their students and visit the community, they can create a trust with their beneficiaries.

Sustainability – Having volunteers come and go isn’t sustainable. What IS sustainable is training local staff, who can, in turn, train more local staff as part of a succession plan.

Culture – The Khmer culture is unique, and there are often complex factors contributing to situations. Often volunteers who come for a short period of time inadvertently offend the local staff and students by not adhering to the culture. Human and Hope Association’s local staff can effectively work with the community in a culturally sensitive way and therefore gain the best outcomes.

As you can see, there are many reasons why you should support the empowerment of local staff as opposed to partaking in voluntourism. If you did want to learn about further reasons, be sure to check out this post on Human and Hope Association’s website.

The good news is, there are effective ways you can help developing countries such as Cambodia!

Purchase a handicraft – We sell gorgeous elephant toys, crayon rolls and stationery kits that are made in Cambodia by women who have graduated from the sewing program at Human and Hope Association. These handicrafts are made at the homes of their seamstresses for a fair wage, enabling the women to look after their children at the same time. All proceeds are sent back to Cambodia to provide education to marginalised children.

Fundraise for the cause – Once you find a reputable not-for-profit to support, fundraise for the cause at home! Many of these organisations lack the funds to raise awareness about their good work, so any assistance you can offer on your home soil will be much appreciated.

Donating blood – Donating blood is an incredible way to help people when you visit developing countries. Just like in countries such as Australia, the lab staff will run a few quick tests to ensure your haemoglobin levels are high enough and blood pressure is within a safe range to donate. The best part about this is that it doesn’t cost you any money to make a big impact on someone’s life!

Shop/Dine/Stay at Social Enterprises – There are many social enterprises in developing countries that you can shop/dine/stay at. These social enterprises usually support the work of an NGO (non-government organisation), or simply just care about fair wages and conditions for their workers. By supporting these social enterprises, you are contributing to a sustainable income for these workers.

If you find yourself a little lost like I was about volunteering on holiday. I hope this insight helps.

Elise xx

Sami Bop – The Makers Story


One of the very cool bonuses of having a handmade shop is that you are in contact with so many inspiring creative people. The effect of this is that you become emotionally invested in them, in their stories and in their creations.

When customers in the shop ask where is this from ? Is this made locally ?

I get to tell them a story….

Sometimes that story is about an overseas Fair Trade project that provides women and children with free education classes like my friends at Hope Handicrafts OR sometimes it’s a story about a rockin’ mumma who loves to create and lives just a few streets over. This is one of those stories and BAM does this one hit me right in the feelings.

I want to tell you about the amazing Danette creator of Sami Bop Clothing.

Danette is a true “mumpreneur” (mum + entrepreneur) before this new buzz word ever existed she was selling her distinct range of up-cycled vintage children’s clothing all over the Blue Mountains. Known for her signature chenille pants and versatile girls dresses. She was a regular at markets across the mountains with a loyal customer base and a thriving business. That was until a horrific car accident almost 4 years ago nearly ended her life and changed her world forever.

I will let her tell you about it…

Unfortunately my market days were given a HUGE shakeup when in June 2013 I suddenly blacked out at the wheel and suffered a multitude of injuries, one of which resulted in rods in my neck and a traumatic head injury. After doing six month’s rehabilitation learning how to walk, talk and eat again I then started the slow process of healing at home. They even set up a sewing machine at the rehab centre, that’s how keen I was to get started again. In retrospect I am very fortunate I was not left a quadriplegic. You hear about the fatalities in car accidents, but the survivors are many.

Danette is a SURVIVOR in the truest sense of the word and I am blown away by her amazing spirit and sense of humour. I love that she had a sewing machine brought to her in rehab and that sewing was one of the first things she learnt to do again. I think this is why Danette’s story connects with me so deeply. Her creative spirit and that drive to keep creating.

I can’t even imagine how HARD it would be to learn to talk, to eat, to walk again. These things we take for granted and here she is sewing Sami Bop Clothing.

“Luckily my hands work fine although it takes me 5 times longer to thread a needle (due to my vision!) But, hey, I’m hoping to get gradually better”.

I think how easily any of us could find ourselves in Danette’s shoes and I wonder if I would have her strength and tenacity for life.

I wanted to tell Danette’s story because so many people are so excited when they see Sami Bop clothing in the shop. People that had met Danette at markets over the years and had heard about the accident. I get to see their faces, the way they light up when they see that signature tag and they ask “ is she sewing again?” I wanted Danette to know this. To know that there is an entire community of people who are delighted and brightened to know that she is sewing again.

I am so honoured that I get the fun job of telling people how F&*@king fantastic and inspiring this woman is!

I’m going to hand it over to Danette herself to tell you more about Sami Bop.

When did Sami Bop begin ?

It all began in 2006 when I realised the fashion industry didn’t have much to offer in the mountains and I wanted to do something from home with my two kids. Jasper, then 3 and Samara 1 year old.

Where did your love of vintage fabrics come from ?

I’ve always been interested in recycling fabrics, from as young as 11 years old, when I started. Then my love for vintage took over.

When did you start sewing again ?

In 2015 I got back into sewing again.  My partner was instrumental in my success as far as shelving and maintaining all my machinery etc.

Your favourite all time thing to sew ?

I love digging out my retro patterns and seeing how they turn out when I sew them.

Any words of wisdom for those just beginning their sewing business journey ?

Try and make it as easy as you can for yourself. Choose at least five styles to grade in the sizes you think will be popular and go from there.

Keep materials in check. Don’t let them get out of control like I have! Bedspreads, tablecloths, curtains, tea towels and even pillowcases get a look in.

Also lots of remnant and larger pieces I have found at op shops and auctions.  

I think I could not survive without my sewing machines!

You can find Sami Bop clothing online and in store at Wild Mountain Child, the Nook in Leura and at via the Sami Bop Etsy store.

Baby Friendly Blue Mountains Coffee Spots

My favourite family friendly coffee spots in the Blue Mountains

Okay it’s happening you are dressed. Baby is dressed and has a clean nappy. For now. You’re headed out for a coffee, fresh air, 5 minutes of adult conversation but most importantly COFFEE. Or as I like to call new-mum-life-sustaining-drinky-drinky-give-me-more.

Back to the point.

Where are you headed ?  Where can you feed bub ?  Where can toddlers have a play ? Where will your exhaustion be met with a friendly face and a warm cup of joe?

Read up Mumma and Papa’s. I’ve got a few Blue Mountains baby friendly cafe suggestions for you.

Rust and Timber Bar, Lawson

They get kids, they have a few of their own.

I first went to the Rust and Timber Bar when Oskar was about 3 months old and not sleeping well, I was met with the biggest smiles, genuine interest in my bub and as a result had the most relaxed lovely little outing. Which is a big deal when you’re a first time mum.

The coffee is good, the hot chocolate is amazing. The waffles are delicious. It’s breastfeeding friendly and there is a huge basket of toys, a kiddy size seating area and most recently a community library box.

The Cultural Centre, Katoomba

We have a Cultural Centre? Huh. That’s what I said the first time another Mum told me about this place. But get this, you can park in the underground carpark at Coles and take the lift up to level 1 without having to ever step outside. Ta da!  No exposing Bub to the weather #MUMWINNING.

This makes it the perfect spot for rainy, cold wintery days. Yeah so pretty much 80% of the year living in the mountains.

The coffee is good and comes with a teeny tiny biscuit. Eat it quick or lose it to small grubby hands. They have real food too. I’m a bit into the cheese and tomato toastie. There is carpeted area to set restless toddlers free and the library is in the same building.  If you’re new to town a lot of the mum’s groups meet here. So it’s a great place to met or make some friends.

The Parade, Hazelbrook

This sweet little spot is my local. Oskar’s first ever outing was to the Parade for coffee and cake. It’s an intimate cafe setting full of warmth and local friendly faces. There is a basket of toys for the little ones by the counter. Outdoor seating is great in summer and there is a full breakfast and lunch menu if you’re hungry. I highly recommend the salted pistachio and dark chocolate cookies.

Now Oskar is a bit bigger it’s harder to get him to stay in the high chair / cafe / get him to do anything I actually want him to do. Lucky for me the Parade is only two doors down from the shop. Or unlucky maybe for my wallet and waistline because everything is so delicious. 

Oskar enjoying one of his many visits to the Parade Cafe, Hazelbrook.
Oskar enjoying one of his many visits to the Parade Cafe, Hazelbrook.

The Gingerbread House, Katoomba

It is a beautiful spot set in an old church with nice long tables. Perfect for catch ups with family and larger groups. The seating space is pram friendly and there is a outdoor play area for the bigger kids. Coffee, Hot Chocolate and a great selection of milkshakes. There is even an ice cream counter. I’m droooooooling typing this and I haven’t even mention the fresh baked cookies. FRESH BAKED COOKIES! YO!

Cortado, Lawson

I have to give Tom and his team at Cortado a mention. I pretty much lived off their green smoothie during pregnancy. It’s a busy little spot with great coffee and lovely food.

Cortado is great for newborn, bubs in arms catch ups. Hidden away at the back of Lawson shops like a not so well keep local secret. It’s a buzz of activity and chatter. Rob and I used to have looooooooong Sunday breakfasts here when we first moved to the mountains and were child free now we are lucky to eat at the same time and just catch the food that falls off Oskars plate #parentingperks 

There you have it coffee lovers.

Just a few of my favourite family friendly coffee spots in the Blue Mountains. I would love to hear if you have a favourite spot.

Oh and and if someone could open and drive-in coffee shop where someone delivers coffee to the car that you’re trapped in because your baby decided to fall asleep just as you pulled into your suburb /street /driveway. That would be fab. Ta xx


Featured Maker = Lulu Samuel

Lulu Samuel ~ Location: Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Lulu is the first featured maker for Wild Mountain Child. She was such a positive and encouraging energy when I told her about the idea for the shop that it only seemed fitting to open with her work.

And who can resist pom poms. So many pom poms! There is a pom pom on everything Lulu makes!

Lulu creates from her home studio in Katoomba, her work is intensely colourful and playful. At present she is selling a selection of knitted wall hangings, painted stick hangings and has designed and hand embellished a range of children’s shoes exclusively for Wild Mountain Child.

Hello my name is Lulu and I am a mama, creative, herbalist and art therapist ~ I have lived in Europe for most of my life and I am hugely inspired by different cultures, tribes and nomads. I am particularly drawn to the different use of colour, fabric and pattern in which certain cultures and tribes adorn themselves. All of my pieces are handmade and one off, each with their own unique touch of love!


Email: lulumaysamuel@gmail.com
Shop all of Lulu’s creations