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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Week 2: Nadi Teaching and Hidden Markets



COUNTRY: Fiji
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Issy Steadman

Week two and our unibreak was fully underway, our daily routine involved waking up to the playful laughter of our host brothers, sharing breakfast with them before school, jumping on the jam packed Nadi bus and arriving to school around 8:30.



We became even more involved in the classroom this week, for Michaela this meant working with individual students on their reading, writing and maths to help them reach the term goals set by their teachers. For Isabelle this meant individually working with a specific group of students and focusing on time telling.

We have both developed close working relationships with the teachers at Nadi Special school whom have been giving us an insight into the challenges they are faced with and creative ways to deal with the lack of resources.

We have also been working closely with two professors from Norway who are funding a number of projects at the special school and educating the teachers on how to best deal with the special needs of our students. After two weeks at the school the students have come to trust us to take care of them and assist them in their learning. Wednesday night meant the anticipated state of origin game and it was great to watch it with our host family who were split between Queensland and NSW, but luckily the Queenslanders took home a victory to the dismay of our host dad.

The week flew buy and we found ourselves really knowing the ins and outs of Nadi town finding hidden handicraft markets, visiting local temples and of course spending an afternoon or two unwinding at Smugglers Cove. Unfortunately, our second week was a little bit slow as we had a minor run in with some tap water at one of the local resorts.
However, this was not to deter us as we had a busy weekend to get ready for. The weekend involved us making our way down through the towns of Lautoka and Sigatoka to the Coral Coast and to Michealas second cousins resort, Matanivusi, an Eco surf resort. We were given a true taste of the coral coast weather which involved showers and cool winds all weekend.
However, this did not stop us from spending hours each day snorkeling on the coral reefs and attempting to catch some of the waves the coral coast is known for.
In the crystal clear water we found all types of coral and fish but unfortunately none of the bigger sea creatures, hopefully we will find some before leaving Fiji though. Our weekend was full of ping pong games, spa sessions, relaxing massages, walks along the beach and walks up to the peak of the mountain to check out the beautiful view spanning the coast.

We also got to experience some more Cava ceremonies at the resort along with some traditional music with Michaela committing herself to the drum for the night. Sunday meant time to head home and after a two hour drive through the greenery of western Fiji, we were back to the dry surroundings of Nadi town and ready to tackle our third week at the Nadi Special school.



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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Welcome to Phnom Penh!


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Education and Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Isabelle Khaicy

First Impressions
As soon as you leave Phnom Penh Airport, you are greeted by a bustling city full of life and colour. A wave of humidity washes over you and you are overwhelmed by the busy streets and the smell of the food vendors by the side of every street. As you move through the heart of the city, you see the beautiful architecture of the Khmer-style temples and pagodas, and begin to appreciate the history of the city. Welcome to Phnom Penh!
The first few days in Phnom Penh have been about getting know the city, it's rich history and culture, and visiting the school we will be teaching at for the next few weeks.



Day 1- Tour Day
After an early wake-up, we took a Cyclo ride to visit the Royal Palace, followed by a visit to the Silver Pagoda and the Wat Phnom temple. Lunch was at a restaurant serving traditional Cambodian food including the national dish Amok- a delicious fish with curry.

The next stops were the Choeng Ek killing fields and the Genocide Museum located at the former Tuol Sleng Prison. Both are sites of the torture and execution of thousands of people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. This was a confronting experience; viewing the remains of many of the victims and the mass graves they were found in, as well as the prison cells where horrific tortures were enacted. Our guide also related her story of growing up during the Pol Pot regime and being separated from her family and forced to work in a camp at only 8 years old.

Due to the recent nature of this history, the majority of people here have been touched by it in some way- and yet the Cambodian people are well known for their resilience and happy nature. This is a nation emerging from a dark past with a great hope for what the future holds.

Dinner was at a restaurant with beautiful views by the Mekong River serving more Cambodian classics.


Day 2- Training Day
We undertook Child Safety Training at the offices of Friends International. Here we learnt about the exploitation of vulnerable children living on the streets and the measures being used to prevent this. Friends International provides training and certification to people at all levels, from corporations to hotel staff and tuk tuk drivers.

They also support their cause while simultaneously providing vocational training for youths in their various establishments, such as Friends restaurant- a popular place to eat. This is where we had lunch and among other things tried a beef with red ants dish!

The last leg of the day saw us learning some of the Khmer language that will be useful during the program, especially in the classroom.


Day 3- First Day at School
We visited the Stung Mean Chey Centre for the first time, and were given a tour by the manager, John. We saw firsthand the location right next to the former dump, and the number of students that the Centre both educates and houses. A crash course in lesson planning later, and we were assigned our classes and sent to observe them.
I will be team-teaching a class of about 35 Grade 2 students. They were very happy to meet us and the observation soon turned into the kids climbing all over us and playing clapping games. We have been given the curriculum and now it's up to us to lesson plan and start teaching!


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Monday, 27 July 2015

Fiji First Impressions




COUNTRY: Fiji
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Issy Steadman

Stepping off the plane and straight into the humid winds of the Fijian islands was a very welcome change from the chilly Australian winter we had just left behind. Walking through the arrivals gate we were giddy for our Fijian expedition to begin and when we saw the lovely Shabreen waiting for us we couldn't believe it was finally time to start this long awaited adventure.



Out first hours in Fiji were spent at the combined birthday birthday party of our host brother and his cousin. The party meant lots and lots of food, including our first taste of kasava, a traditional Fijian root. Not only did we meet Miss Fiji, but we also got to experience a traditional Kava ceremony whilst looking out over the sunset on sleeping giants mountain range.

Monday meant orientation time, so in the morning Shabreen picked us up from our host family to set out and see the sites and what the beautiful city of Nadi had to offer. This orientation included meeting the headmasters of our placement schools, experiencing the over crowded buses and digging into some traditional curries.

On Monday night our host parents welcomed Shabreen and the other antipodeans girls, as well as some of their own friends, to a kava ceremony in their home. The ceremony involved learning about the traditional distribution of kava and the rituals that occur when consuming it, and it's safe to say that after two nights of kava, the taste is growing on us.

Our first day at the Nadi Special School involved meeting and interacting with the students and teachers. At times we were left alone in classes with students which was rather overwhelming but a great experience all together. Each day our role in the classroom is becoming more significant and the students have come to rely on us. Friday afternoons at Nadi Special School mean sports afternoon for the whole school and we have found that we are no match for the students in the soccer, volleyball or badminton games.

So far afternoons have involved trips to Denarau to take advantage of the many glamorous resorts and soak up the last of the Fijian sun before jumping on the peak hour bus and heading home to our wonderful host families. Our host family have been incredibly welcoming, their three children always keeping us entertained and the beautiful food our host mother makes is a welcome surprise to our taste buds.

Friday evening involved spending the evening at smugglers cove to eat by the sea and enjoy the local entertainment. An early start on Saturday morning saw us trekking to a hidden waterfall through an inland village, in the sleeping giants mountain range, whose name can be translated to "I'll be back".

The morning was spent swimming in the fresh water and jumping off waterfalls, while lunch was a more relaxed affair, enjoying traditional Fiji food inthe hut of a local village. The afternoon consisted of zip lining through the sleeping giant and horseback riding on the dirt tracks and heading to the Sabeto springs, where we bathed in mud and a 72 degree hot water spring.

The Fijians we have met so far are such beautiful people and as we walk through the streets each day we are greeted by a "Bula" from every direction. Even though it's the very start of our time here, we already feel like locals and know our time here will speed by so to not take for granted the remaining three short weeks we have left.



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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Arequipa, Football and the flight of the Condors


COUNTRYPeru
PROGRAMGapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Luke Sheepway

Arequipa is a small town in Peru and the group decided for our weekend activity to travel by bus down to the city of beautiful architecture and volcanoes. After everyone was packed and ready to go on Thursday night, we traveled the 10 hour bus ride over night to arrive in Arequipa around 6:30am.

I can honestly say it was definitely not the most comfortable bus ride I’ve ever had, but for around 20 Australian dollars I wasn't in any position to complain, too much.




Arequipa

The city was quiet and sound when we arrived, probably because the sun only just peaked over the horizon. The cab driver was quick to point out that just in front of us was “Misty”, one of many active volcanoes in the region.
After arriving in the city and dropping our bags off at our hostel, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the balcony of this restaurant overlooking the main square.

After a walking tour of the city seeing an abundance of churches and old buildings, a few of us decided to indulge in a few of the lighter things in life, for example ham and cheese… pepperoni… supreme… pizza’s. Oh how we’ve been craving a good pizza since we arrived. Dinner was on a rooftop of a close restaurant; an Argentinian style steak went down quite nicely!

A very early start the next morning meant we wouldn't be staying out too late. At 7am our tour guide for the weekend arrived and we were ushered off into a bus. This bus trip would take us out of the city into the desert lands where we’d be blessed with great views of valleys, mountains and volcanoes.
The majestic mountains were our backdrops for the four-hour bus ride, I’ll admit I, along with a few others nodded off from time to time. Arriving in a small town for the night we were all excited at the thought of ‘Hot Springs’, we were definitely not disappointed on the hot part.

The volcanic water dripping off the mountains arriving in pools of relaxation. After the beauty of the first swim we’ve had since we left Australia, we were delighted with the honour of witnessing a traditional Peruvian dance and song whilst enjoying a lovely dinner in a small pizzeria. Some of us even had the chance to prove our alleged dancing abilities when called upon by the two Peruvian dances.

First off was Liv, she did not disappoint as she danced her way around the tables and people eating their meals. Next up was Luke, and although he was a little worse for wear in the dancing part, we were all surprised.

After dinner we were told to be up and awake at 5:30am for breakfast if we were to see the majestic condors flying throughout the valley. You could see the faces of all us drop at the thought of being up before sunrise. However we were up and ready to go without a problem by 6am after all of us had breakfast. We arrived deep into the valley a few hours later where we should be able to get a great view of the mighty and sacred condor.

After about 15 minutes of waiting and watching, a condor appeared out of the mountain below, however you had to be quick to see. Not everyone saw that one but as we all kept watch we eventually started to see more and more and were blessed with an amazing treat as multiple condors flew overhead and put on an aerobatic show, gliding through the air above us.

Then returning to Arequipa with another 5-hour journey this time we all basked in the shadows of moutons and gorges, don’t think we’ve ever felt so small under hundreds of metres of mountains towering over us as we slipped past. Back in Arequipa we enjoyed a beautiful family dinner on the rooftop of a restaurant above the main square as the sun set.

The colours radiating in the sky was truly spectacular, and I personally will never forget the sight of the sun setting over Arequipa. Next morning we arrived safe and tired back in Cusco, ready for some good food and an even better sleep!


Barcelona

Now not many of us follow the beautiful game of football, however Luke and the rest of South America do. So after constant reminders and notices that the UEFA champions league grand final was on Saturday, and the few pleads from Luke to go watch it, we all decided to head into the city and watch the game at our bar of choice, The Nortons. Arriving a few hours early, the pub was already starting to fill up. The game was being played by Barcelona and Juventus, Spain vs Italy.

The group set up on a few tables in good view of the TV’s next to a few passionate Italians. Most of didn't really know who to support, but Luke had a fair idea that Barcelona were the ones to put our money on (figuratively). The game went on and the boys were in their element, screaming in a sea of people, having a few casual drinks on an amazing Cusco day.

The game progressed and the Italians were being quite vocal as they equalised to be tying at 1 a piece. The pub started to erupt
as anticipation grew and when Barcelona took the lead late on in the game, the majority of the pub stood on their feet and cheered for the mighty Spanish giants. Chants began and the thrill of the excitement began to boil. Barcelona scored again to surely seal the fate of the final, 3-1.

The Italians became quiet; the Peruvian people erupted again to sound the end of the game. Hunter and Luke were easily inclined to give a little banter towards our in country partner, Nico, as he was supporting Juventus. All in all, even though most of us don’t follow soccer, or football as it’s called here, we had an amazing time being involved in the excitement and thrill of the Champions league final.




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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Long Road Ahead...


COUNTRY: Peru
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Laura Manzi

The first day of school was daunting for most of us because we were unsure of what Pumamarca was going to be like. As soon as we walked through the bright blue gates we were greeted by a tidal wave of miniature humans who smothered us with hugs, kisses, smiles and howls of laughter…



I have never felt so welcomed in my life and the simple words “Hola Amigos!” made each one of us feel like the contribution that we would be making over the next four weeks would be greatly appreciated. In a way, though, by experiencing Cusco from this viewpoint, I feel that we will grow not just as teachers, but as healthy human-beings as well -- most of my fellow teachers have described this experience as soul-fulfilling and spirit-rising.

We were then ushered around the school grounds and given the chance to take it all in. Llamas (and not alpacas, which have shorter necks) reside in a little paddock, beautifully decorated by recycled materials; greenhouses line the back wall, which are used as learning tools for agriculture; and bright blue buildings covered in marvellous murals have been carefully arranged around green grass and a soccer field which tells visitors that the school functions like a small community.

The newly formed kindy area was the first place that we visited. Small, beady-eyes and screams of excitement pulled each one us and made it extremely hard to leave the place at the end of the day. It just goes to show, though, that these kids hold a certain level of resilience and compassion that children that grow up in the city don’t have.
These qualities tell me that these kids have a heart for experience and are not strangers to the idea of family and acceptance. Near the end of the day we had gravitated back towards kindy again. I had lifted one girl on my shoulder so that she could reach the monkey-bars and suddenly, moments later, I had a line of five year olds eager to have a turn.

I was more than happy to give every child a go because I knew that they would be grateful. It really puts a smile on my face to be a part of a project that not only support healthy child development but also directly feeds into the community and thus helps the futures of under-privileged kids.
Over the next couple of days we started to fall into a regular routine and each volunteer naturally moved into their positions without hassle. We spent the morning cutting up fruit and showing the little kids how to wash their hands. One of the volunteers had told me that a little girl had struggled to understand how to apply moisturiser and simply slapped it on her face in excitement.

Even though there exists a small language barrier between us and the children, the small connections that we make and the way that we communicate with the kids is a rewarding experience. We visited the homes of one of the children’s families which proved to be a very humbling experience. We brought groceries to this struggling family which turned into a very emotional visit – we all cried together and gave the mother a round of hugs and kisses.
If we continue to improve the lives of a small community, let alone one family, then happiness will spread like a wildfire. I have no idea what the road ahead of us has install, but all I know is that it will prove to be an extremely long one.



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Friday, 17 July 2015

The 'must do' Argentina Checklist



COUNTRY: Argentina
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Care work/Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Edward Spiller

The 'must-do' Argentina check list:

Have a midly complicated conversation with a local in Spanish. Tick
Visit the five biggest football teams in Buenos Aires. Three out of five ticks.
  • Learn how to speak to referees in Spanish. Tick
  • Buy a cheap used bike (or two) and ride around Buenos Aires. Tick
  • Get away with reckless bike riding (mum I'm always really safe I promise) through the one beautiful phrase, "no hablo español". Tick
  • Learn to love maté tea, the special type of tea that Argentinians drink throughout the day. Its bitter taste takes some getting used. Tick.
  • Learn to avoid fernet, the ridiculously herby tasting liqour Argentinians drink throughout the night. Tick. It is enjoyed by the locals and all foreigners have no idea why. In that regard consider it the vegemite of Argentina. (On a side note can someone please send me a care package of vegemite and timtams?)




Still to be ticked off:

  • Visit the famous Recoleta cemetry, the lying place of former president Eva Peron.
  •  Learn more about Eva Peron. Apparently she's kind of a big deal. Lets just say, people know her.
  • Learn how to say, "stay classy, Buenos Aires" in Spanish
  • Find the best empanada shop in Buenos Aires.
  • Convince Argentinians to let the Falklands Islands go. (This will never happen)
  • Work out how Argentinians can stay up partying all night and still go to work. I guess at least I know how the Argentinian economy isn't doing that well.
  • Find the most ridiculous haircut in Argentina, because there are many. I've come close (see picture of the guy in the football shirt) but there must be something slightly more strange out there. I'll keep you posted on discoveries.

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Exploring the Secret Valley & Peruvian home visits



COUNTRYPeru
PROGRAMGapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Luke Sheepway

Our first home visit.
Throughout our time here in Cusco we will be visiting the houses of the children that go to the school to get a greater understanding on how they are being brought up and also show us how important the school is for them.

Our house visits consist of 4 of us walking to the child’s house and presenting the family with a box of food and household supplies (toothpaste, soap, detergent…).



The four of us that went were Sebastian, Liv, Ruby and myself, after around 1km of walking the same way the children take to school each morning and afternoon, we arrived at their home. However, upon arrival we were all in quite a shock to find these kids are basically living in a garbage tip.

There were rubbish piles everywhere, no concrete floors, stray dogs rummaging through whatever they could find and there weren’t any secure doors.

Nico began to give us some general information about this specific family; three children (6, 8 and 12 years old), the mother and father work on different farms trying to gather as much money or food as they possibly can and also I think was one of the sadder moments was when Nico told us how their father was an alcoholic.

We were escorted into the kitchen ‘shed’, now I call it a shed because it was basically four walls and most of a roof. No floor, no electricity, no windows.
The only furniture in this room was a small stand where a wood fire stove in placed and a tiny concrete bench made from cinder blocks. What happened next truly opened our eyes to the importance of the work Peru’s Challenge and Antipodeans do for these communities.

The mother arrived home and we presented her with the box of food and household supplies, she immediately broke down into tears and continued to mumble words in spanish we couldn't quite understand.

All I could make out was the constant repetition of “gracias” (Thank you). As her tears fell down her cheeks, I couldn't help but notice the eldest boy, 12 years old was already man of the house. From what I’ve witnessed he takes care of his younger brothers and I believe the sentimental value of the food and supplies also brought this young man to tears. I could see the fight in him to stay strong and give off that vibe of being brave.

After numerous hugs and thank you’s from the kids and mother we eventually headed back home, a little more wiser about the effort it must take these kids to get to school each day, and a little more wiser to the fact that they need the school to provide for them so they too can have a better lifestyle sometime in the future.

Sacred Valley Tour.



After last weekend’s quad biking and not actually seeing the parts of the sacred valley we were meant to, we all went on an all day bus tour. Waking up at 7am on a cold Peruvian day was not an ideal start but by the end of the tour we knew it was worth it.
After a two-hour bus ride we arrived in a small village by the name of “Pisac”, this little market village sat in the bottom of the valley completely surrounded by these towering mountains. At the top of one of these mountains was a structure reminiscent of an old Incan watch tour.

This area was used largely for agricultural purposes and it was quite astonishing to witness the way the Incan’s carved into the mountain to create these layers and levels of different agricultural farmlands. The watch tour ruins had a great view of the valley and Pisac below, however the climb to the top was strenuous and hard to say the least.
After photos were taken and we caught our breath we made our way back down the ruins to the bus and onwards back into Pisac for shopping.

We were treated with an educational lesson on silver, they explained how to tell real from fake. Afterwards, we all ventured into the long tunnels of markets in search of anything interesting from musical instruments to an array of knifes and deadly weapons (we kept our distance from them) to probably the softest rug I have ever had the pleasure of rubbing my cheek up against. These markets had everything. However with a long tour a head of us and also a buffet lunch on its way, we opted to continue on before we spent all our money.

The drive through the valley was mesmerising with these vast mountains on either side of us that over time have just amounted to sheer cliffs and jagged rocks. Lunch too, was something spectacular.
Nothing can make a hungry teenager happier than the words “Buffet Lunch”; this small eatery had this beautiful garden entrance with a water feature and even a church out the back.
We were gifted with a wedding happening inside the church but as we sat down to eat our food everyone started to clear our the church in their fancy dresses and mostly well-made suits.

After thirds and possibly fourths (we lost count) for lunch, we continued on for another hour or so to another Incan ruin, this too sat on the side of a mountain. This fortress was forged thousands of years ago when the Spanish were invading.
Some of these rocks were enormous and we’re still having a hard time trying to figure out how they moved them.

The view from the top of this ruin stretched down the valley where we could see the mountains, rivers and gullies that make up the Sacred Valley. The 2-hour bus ride back after the long day was exhausting and most of us tried to have quick nap at some point or another. It was truly a great experience seeing the Sacred Valley.

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