Friday, 29 May 2015

Week One for UQ In Timor Leste

 COUNTRY: Timore-Leste
PROJECT: Health Science
WRITTEN BY: Emma, Molly and Brittney - University of Queensland

Botardi from Timor-Leste!

Well, we’ve had an interesting first week in Dili and have been warmly welcomed by the people here. We had an amazing view as we flew into Timor-Leste and we were looking forward to all the adventures ahead of us. Once we landed we were greeted by our in country partner Paolo who introduced us to our new mode of transport – the microlet’s. These were van’s decked out in soft toys, colourful stickers and anthem’s of Justin Beiber and 80’s pop.

We spent our first day in Dili exploring the city and the culture. Highlights from the day included trekking up to the Cristo Rei statue (almost thought we were in Rio!) and lounging around at Jesus Backside Beach. Then came our first day we had all been waiting for at Centro Nasional de Rehabilitacion (CNR). We were introduced to all the staff who we would be working alongside for the next month. That afternoon we visited the Resistance Museum to learn about Timor-Leste’s history and their difficult road to independence.

The rest of the week we have spent working with patients and our new team at CNR. We’ve all found it interesting learning about each other’s professions and all struggled along the way putting our Tetun into practice. Thankfully a lot of the staff there have very good English.

Looking forward to a weekend at Atauro Island relaxing and getting some sun before another challenging week begins.

From Team Timor – Emma, Molly and Brittney


Cricket, Curry and Clinics - Week 2 for Physios in Palampur

PROJECT: Physiotherapy, University of South Australia
WRITTEN BY: Suzannah Michell

Another week in Palampur has flown by, and I'm sure all the parents will be relieved to know that we mean that figuratively. Paragliding was a no go! Fun fact: apparently the Indian government have banned tandem paragliding! And since none of us had the courage to jump off a cliff alone, we ventured to the markets for the weekend. And boy, oh, boy do we stand out at the markets! To keep it short, we've had a dramatic effect on the Palampur economy - flooding it with Australian money in exchange for scarves, hats, tailored clothes and exotic sweets. And chocolate.

Our lunches and dinners here always come with rice, chapati (flat bread), sliced cucumber, red onion, tomato and a lentil dish. In addition there is usually another delicious vegetarian dish and once a week it's chicken! Bones, liver and all! You've never seen students fight over chicken bones like this before. And despite our cook's amazing, authentic and delicious meals, we just can't bear to give up the dairy milk chocolate stash in the fridge; in fact, it is constantly replenished! What a trap 40c Cadbury chocolate can be.

On the weekends we aren't provided with lunch, so we found Palampur's best restaurant. Rookie error on the first visit: just because the curry is cheap does not mean you need one each. On our second visit our table looked less like a medieval-Indian feast with one curry between two instead.

But fear less mum, we aren't too fat just yet. There's really no snacking outside of the three meals and we've been doing regular exercise this week too! Shock, horror. Our once a week yoga sessions have progressed well. This week we sat cross eyed, poked out our tongues and roared in unison. True story. Edit: we laughed in unison... Mothers Meeting United may as well be sponsoring our 6:15am walks through the hills too. No brave boys have joined the girls for their chats and hour-long walks, but we'll let you know how the next week continues. Many thanks to Bobby, one of the group organisers, who showed us the walk route. Although Suzannah in particular thought she might be dying on the first loop as they walked over a bridge without railing along the train tracks 20m high above a meandering stream. Unsure of when the train would actually be coming...

Placement has had its ups and downs, but distinctively more ups than downs! And all downs have been resolved diplomatically and promptly. Furthermore, a few students have begun at the school for disabled children in the area. It has been best described as chaotic, full of energy and a lot of fun. Nadia, Luke and Tina have each been assigned a child to set goals for and work towards them, such as catching a ball in two hands or counting to 10.

Alex and Tobi finished at Amit's private physiotherapy clinic, with an extensive knowledge of EPAs and Indian physiotherapy.

Leah and Viv at a local physiotherapy clinic started doing home visits this week too and had a great time applying their physiotherapy skills in a more rehab-environment. Although their favourite part was probably the pasta that one family cooked, served and made them eat on one visit in particular.

Suzannah, Teagan and Maddie have all had a lot of success with their paraplegic patients on home visits. Laurence played tag team and helped the girls this week in prep for handover. He chose a good week to do so too! Friday was their last day with the patients and their families before handing over to the other students on Monday. There were a lot of family photos taken and tea given that day! Our kitchen might as well be a tea factory with the three large plastic bags of tealeaves next to our kettle!

For a comparison, we visited the Palampur tea factory this weekend. Wow, that was a good Segway! It's like I planned it or something?! Crazy. Shout out to our Indian homeboy, Viv, who can speak enough Hindi to not only organise the tour on a Sunday, but also translate the entire tea drying and fermenting process! (We think?)

Other highlights include consistent cricket matches with the local Indian boys in the field next to our house, catching dragonflies in the kitchen and doing the dishes feat. Kanye West and, naturally, dance competitions next to the sink.

One challenge we struggled to overcome this week was the consistent inconsistency of power and Internet available. We'll probably never forget trying to access Uni emails like this... It was a solid hour out of our lives, after all. Nor the Tute sessions we had by headtorch. Not only did we take in a great deal about clinical reasoning, but some bugs were also ingested when they flew dangerously close to our illuminated faces.

However, with power we have been able to do physiotherapy tutes we wouldn't have otherwise been able to do. Such as Julie's headache tute at 9pm on Tuesday when Tobi asked her about headaches referring from his neck.

In all, we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, even when slightly out of our comfort zones! We've had a few gastro issues, but everyone is fit, healthy and happy on the closing of week 2!

This weekend we have planned to visit the Golden Temple and the Pakistan boarder! So back into the bus we go for a "6 hour" journey. Will keep you posted on that one!

Suzannah, on behalf of Tobi, Laurence, Teagan, Maddie, Alex, Luke, Leah, Tina, Nadia, Viv and Julie.


Thursday, 28 May 2015

Just your Average Day in Mozambique

PROJECT: Marine Conservation & Care work
WRITTEN BY: Stella Encel

A day in the life of an Antipodeans Mozambique volunteer.

A day in the life of the Antipodeans Mozambique volunteers is always fun. Getting up at 7-8am is easy when the first thing you see in the morning from the front porch looks like a postcard of a tropical paradise, and if you're up early enough, the sunrise over the water is unforgettable. As far as a good start to the day, there's none better than a morning dive in the stunningly clear and warm water that is home to the vast array of tropical marine life that make Tofo and Mozambique such a special place.

After a relaxing boat ride back to shore, which allows you time to reflect on all your new aquatic amigos, a tired volunteer can relax on a deck chair in the sun and read until the next activity for the day, be it an ocean safari or a fascinating lesson on the unique marine life that inhabits the waters of Tofo, passionately delivered by Ross or Katie, the resident marine scientists in Tofo. Even seemingly dull data entry of the information collected from research dives and ocean safaris is made enjoyable by the stunning uninterrupted view of the Indian Ocean from the office, fully outfitted with couches and hammocks overlooking the water. In your spare time, a short walk to the local market or even just the beach exposes you to a variety of friendly local characters, enthusiastically greeting you with a huge array of local wares, from handmade bracelets, fabrics and clothes, to fresh local fruit and vegetables. The perfect end to the day is dinner whether it be a traditional Mozambican meal featuring the freshest locally caught seafood from albatroz restaurant, or a taste of home in the form of a delicious pizza from Brancos, the famous local pizzeria. Back at the house, falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach is easy, and even easier knowing that another day of adventure awaits us in the morning


100 Days in China

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Robert Meek

The most notable change since my last update has been the weather. The average temperature has risen from about -20°C to 25°C. As predicted, Shenyang has become considerably more lively. Zhong Shan Park - opposite my home - is filled with people of all ages at all times; stretching, jogging, working out, roller-blading, dancing or singing. Bars have finally started to get busy, kick-starting my involvement in the expat community. The countless themed parties, picnics, day trips and pub crawls are very welcome interruptions to the teach-sleep-repeat cycle which would otherwise drive me up the wall.
Today marks 100 days since leaving Australia.


A few weekends ago was the May-Day public holiday, which I took full advantage of to visit Inner Mongolia. I flew into Hohhot and was delighted to meet up with friends from the month in Beijing. We spent a night in the Mongolian grasslands, riding dune buggies, eating strange Mongolian milk sweets and sleeping in surprisingly luxurious yurts. The day after was spent visiting a finger of the Gobi desert and enjoying the company of what few foreigners we could find in the city. The scenery, food, activities and people to share it with made it an absolutely fantastic weekend. I would recommend a cheap, rough tour of the Inner Mongolian countryside to anyone.

I recently started a little hobby project to keep busy (like I need to) when I bought two baby Red Eared Slider Terrapins (cross between a turtle and a tortoise). I've only needed to invest about 150 kuai into them and have learned plenty about the little reptiles in the process. They are having a hard time getting comfortable enough in their new environment to start feeding, but I'm confident they'll get hungry soon. Mao and Pittyboo have a decent sized tank with a filter, plenty of space to swim and dry off and a balanced diet. Unfortunately the Chinese approach to pets is a more heartless matter. The stall that I bought the terrapins from was a dismal sight. Filthy kittens shared tiny cages with distraught looking puppies, and a good 2 thirds of everything in the water was dead. The worst was a small box with two mice. Hopefully I can show these two a better life than they'd have otherwise.

Just today, I arrived back from a wonderfully refreshing hike up and over the Qian Shan Mountains. I and a dozen other expats from Shenyang hired a bus to take us about 2 hours out of the city to a rainforest covered mountain range where the air was fresh and the peaks loomed ominously through the mist. After visiting the surrounding temples, we began the grueling but gorgeous four hour hike up to the very summit. There was a constant drizzle and the air was chilly, making the walk so much more comfortable than if we had attempted it in the hot sun. At the top sits five stone Buddhas, giving it the name "Five Buddha Peak". We ate our packed lunches and drank beer, enjoying the view which was barely visible through the fog. Eventually we descended by cable car. My weekend-less weeks helped me appreciate today's outing so much more than I normally would, and I hope to sleep well tonight.

One perk of being such a blatant minority in China is that making friends is a walk in the park. Literally. My neighbour and I decided to explore the enormous Zhong Shan park a little more thoroughly and to our delight stumbled across an American pub, right smack in the middle. The owner was American and there were plenty of English speaking customers; my WeChat contact list has grown considerably since. Foreigners in China are brought together by our mutual struggle against for survival among the Chinese people.

As my routines improve and become more efficient, I'm finding myself with more time and more money. Realising this, I hosted a small barbecue for the other interns in my room, and used the leftovers the next day for a stir fry. However, there is always room to improve (hint: bed times). This trip is not always fun and rarely easy, but I'm so thankful that I did it. The experience of working, budgeting and managing time is going to make life so much easier in the future, and I will always have fond memories of the people I met and the things I did in 中国.

Six weeks of teaching left, then traveling through July to arrive home just before August.

From Mao, Pittyboo and Rob


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Jam-Packed Week One In Laos for Notre Dame Nursing Students

PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Nursing
WRITTEN BY: Maeve Hawkes, Notre Dame University

After a long lead up of planning meetings, fundraising events and much excitement, we were almost surprised to find ourselves actually in Laos. Arriving in Luang Prabang airport on Sunday the 10th of May, our group of 10 students and two teachers agreed that it felt surreal to finally begin the experience that we had so long talked about. Our first night we relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful My Lao Home hotel and prepared ourselves for the long journey ahead of us.

On Monday morning we heaved our packs into the trucks and piled in, headed for the Army Hospital in Luang Prabang. We were greeted by the Director of the hospital, who gave us a warm welcome and provided us with information about the hospital and some of the most common health complaints of its patients (in particular respiratory conditions and diarrheal disease), and what he perceived to be the hospital's greatest needs for the future. We then had a tour of the hospital and were interested to identify significant differences between this health care setting and our hospitals at home. In particular we were struck by the high density of patients within each room and the fact that the family is expected to provide basic care for patients such as washing and feeding. It was humbling to see how privileged we are to have the medical resources that we take for granted at home.

Then it was back to the trucks for the two-hour drive to our first home-stay village on the mountainous dirt roads. Although the road was bumpy and dusty, the spectacular views of lush green mountains above us, the smiling faces that waved to us as we drove past and the rushing river below us all took our minds off these discomforts. When we arrived, the children of the village presented us with armfuls of handpicked flowers and welcomed us warmly. We felt overwhelmed by the kindness that we were shown both on our arrival and throughout our stay in the village.

After being officially welcomed to the village by the chief, we were shown to our new homes for the week! The style of housing and living conditions were definitely a big change from our lives in Perth and it took a few days for us to really settle in. It certainly helped to all have each other and to be focused on the goal that we had come here to achieve. The copious amounts of fresh cooked food that we were served at each meal definitely didn't hurt either.

We were also welcomed by government officials including the governor of the Pak Xeng district where we would be working for the next two weeks. The district has a population of approximately 23,000 people and throughout the next four days we visited the villages of Ban Nongfadat, Ban Hadsam, Ban Hadphaod, and Ban Vannguen to set up health clinics for the people living in these areas, where they are largely unable to afford to make the journey to hospital and don't have access to much needed regular health care. Each clinic was set up within school classrooms or meeting halls with only the medical equipment that we had brought with us, supported by our fundraising events and the donations we had collected. Our first clinic was by far the most challenging, as we were unsure of the most effective way to organise ourselves as a team and were unfamiliar with managing such a large patient load and working in collaboration with the translators and Laos health care workers. The lack of health care resources that we were accustomed to also presented challenges at times but we learned to adapt to our environment with the help of our supervisors.

As the week progressed, we refined our technique, became more familiar with the process and worked more efficiently as a team. At times it was overwhelming to be seeing such a large number of patients, in the sweltering heat, with such limited resources, but for every down moment there was an equally uplifting one, such as running health education sessions with the kids on how to wash their hands, or helping even temporarily relieve a patient of a health condition that they'd been living with for many years. We slowly adapted to the heat and the squat toilets and settled in to the rhythm of life in a Laos village. We relaxed after clinics with glorious swims in the river, set to the backdrop of the stunningly green mountains surrounding us on all sides. At the end of the first week we were exhausted and ready for a proper shower in Luang Prabang, but we were also proud of our accomplishments and how much progress we had made.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Sweat, Tears And Physio Placements in Palampur, India.

PROJECT: Physiotherapy, University of South Australia
WRITTEN BY: Suzannah Michell

The first week in India has come and gone already! Like the heat in Delhi, we just can't believe it. With 11 students and 1 professor, Julie, on our trip and several hours in a plane and car, we finally reached the halfway-student house in Delhi at 9pm to rest and recuperate.

On the second day, we stumbled into the 44 degrees and tried to scrape our jaws off the ground at the Taj Mahal's Royal Gate entrance. There were tears, there was sweat. There was a lot of sweat. Okay, the tears may have been sweat, we're not really sure. What we are sure of is this - the Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Period.

We then embarked on our "8 hour" bus trip from Delhi to Palampur. And by 8 hours, we really mean 13. Which was both a beautiful painting of India's vast and contrasting scenery and a terrifying, thrilling submersion into Indian culture.

It must be noted, just like a horror film, it was the pretty blonde who was most willing to try new things who was struck down first. By food poisoning. But what a comeback she had! And we were back on the road! Until we got a flat tyre.

Things we learnt in India this week:

- Road rules are more of a guide and an actual rule in India.
- The car horn can also double as an indicator. Or to tell someone you're coming around a blind corner. Or to say “hello”. Or “goodbye”. Or “I'm passing you”. Or "Stop, I'm cutting you off". Or "Get out of my way". Or "I'm braking now".
- One hour can mean one hour in Indian time. But sometimes it means an hour and a half. Or two hours!
- The food may look the same as yesterday, but may taste drastically different. But it's always devastatingly delicious and you'll want to lick your plate.
- Cricket transcends all languages. But Viv finds talking to local Indian children in an Indian accent a necessity of communication.
- Do not stand near Tobi when he bats
- You will need to buy the local Indian children a new ball if you hit it over the river.
- "Internet" doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to access the World Wide Web. Although, if standing on one leg and facing due east, there is a sweet spot on the roof for 2G data downloads.
- Just because the currency is in thousands, doesn't mean you are spending very much.
- A 4 person badminton kit can be acquired for $4 AUD at the Palampur market.
- Anything can be acquired at the Palampur market.
- The roof isn't necessarily the best place to play badminton. But it has the best views and you're out if you hit too close to the edge. And you're definitely out if you fall off the edge...
- When playing badminton, innuendo and puns are a must.
- Common toilet etiquette is that you do not flush the toilet paper down the toilet.
- Palampur will always have a more beautiful view than you do. They have the Himalayas. You just can't compete! Sorry.
- Tobi hates geese.
- If you're blonde, you're a celebrity. People will want photos with you and their children and their cousins and their distant relatives too. Brunettes just don't cut it.
- Rooftop yoga is the best, regardless of hamstring length.
- Livestock can live on a farm, but it's much more likely that they will sleep on the road.

Golden quotes for the week:
- "I'm not blonde enough, though!" Nadia
- "I'm at a point where I just can't trust my farts, you know?" Tobi

But, okay, placement!

As a group of 11 we are split across 4 different placement sites - physiotherapy hospitals and clinics, and home visits.

Physiotherapy in India is very different from both Australian physiotherapy and what we expected. They use a lot of electrical therapy tools, such as ultrasound, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, short and long wave diathermy. Parents: Google them. And they use much less conservative prescriptions of the electrical stimulation (e-stimm) than we would. There have been studies about the therapeutic effect of e-stimm, and they all point to "more is better" but in Australia, we shy away from using such parameters because of the increased risk of injury with them. It has been very interesting to see the way they use these machines.

In this first week of clinic we've done a lot observation. We've tried to gauge our patients' health literacy, conditions and treatment so far through Pictionary and stunted English-Hindi. Or else had Physios translate for us. Or if we were especially lucky, we had patients who spoke full English.

The patients are warm and welcoming - there have been offers to stay at their houses, eat their food and constant offers of (crazy-delicious) tea on home visits. I believe one student has already been proposed to!

The home visits are to 3 paraplegic men in the nearby towns who couldn't otherwise afford regular Physio at home. They all live in beautiful parts of Palampur. At first, they found our Physio-rehab strange and unfamiliar. However they have, thus far, been incredibly enthusiastic, willing to engage and to try things in a different way.

The other clinics are roughly the same, and are as the description above. Some extra details though:
- One centre is a naturopathy-yoga-hospital-Physio clinic, which is highly esteemed in the area.
- One of the physiotherapy clinics is owned by one of the main organizers of our trip, Amit who is one of the most highly revered Physios in the state.
- The physiotherapy hospital has a much more neurological-rehab focus than the others, but deals with musculoskeletal conditions as well.

This weekend we plan to visit tea plantations and jump off cliffs. That is, we are going paragliding!

From the group: sorry about any lack of communication, our Internet and phone coverage has been in and out. We all received Indian SIMs the other day and hope to be in touch with families more regularly in the coming days!


Monday, 25 May 2015

Cuzco: A City of Firsts

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Luke Sheepway

First Day of School.

Getting up at 7:00am on a Monday morning had become a very foreign concept for most of us since school had finished. However through the onset tiredness and gloomy weather there was a feeling of excitement and also nervousness. As we got to the taxi’s to take us up the mountain to school we became aware, for some, it wouldn't be like any taxi we’ve taken before. Three brave souls opted to sit rear facing in the back off the taxi to get a view few have seen. The ride up the mountain through small villages and stretches of farm land only takes about 10 minutes and costs around S./ 7, which is roughly just above $2Au.

Arriving at the school for the first time was a daunting experience and nothing could prepare us for what was to come. As the nine of us walked through this big blue door we were immediately greeted by the faces of many young kids sitting in chairs on their somewhat rugged football (soccer) field. Out of the blue, one small boy maybe 7 years old runs from his chair shouting “Amigos” and continues to basically crash hug into Luke. Before we all knew it, we were surrounded by little kids asking for hugs and to be picked up, some of us even thought they gained a bit of muscle from all the lifting. We were then gifted with a special mothers day performance from every grade in the school, was truly wonderful to watch. We didn't get to start teaching on Monday, but we were all keen for Wednesday.

First Day of Construction.

For those who don’t know, our construction project we’re undertaking during our stay in Peru is building a kitchen for a local kindergarten/pre-school. Before I go on, all of us want to thank everyone who donated and helped out. Together we raised well over $5000au! The foundations of the kitchen were already built and our job over the next two months is to plaster, concrete, build a roof and path to kitchen and hopefully if we have time, paint. The first day of construction was long, tiring, hot, hard and pretty much any word meaning strenuous. We arrived and walked up a hill only about 30 meters long, not very steep and were already out of breathe. It was at that point we knew it’d be tough. At the top of the hill waiting for us was roughly around 2000 strips of bamboo waiting for our gracious presence to be stripped, by hand. Four hours later, with cuts, splinters and the occasional blister, we managed to get through about 2/3 of the bamboo, a solid effort by everyone. It was all worth it as the week before the group discovered a small little cafe near the heart of the city which serves probably the best milkshakes I have ever seen or had the pleasure of drinking. We will surely be there a few times a week.

First Day Teaching.

I would be lying if I said it was easy, and I also would be lying if I said I didn't gain a lot of respect for teachers, especially after thinking about the way some of us acted in school. Teaching young kids in general can be difficult as they love to talk and scream and cant really sit still, but teaching young kids in a different language is a new challenge all together. From feed backs from the three teaching groups all in all it was a good starting point and was also a lot of fun. Preparing fruit salad and teaching hygiene to the kids is an experience all in itself. It makes you realise how unsanitary third world countries can be and also respect the efforts made by the teachers to teach the young kids the importance of washing their hands and eating clean food.


The title of this segment pretty much says it all. Lost. It was our first Saturday outing as a group and we decided we’d go Quad Biking through the Sacred Valley on a guided tour. The day started out pretty rough with a 6:30am wake up but after around 40 minutes on a minibus we arrived in an area with snowy mountains and vast gorges. It was a beautiful ride in and we were all very excited for the quad biking. After everyone had been given their quad bikes and helmets (of course), we took off around this gorgeous flat lake with a backdrop of snowy mountains. After circling the lake and taking photos down near the water, the group made its way into a small town.

Just to repeat myself, all of us want to thank everyone who donated and helped out. Together we raised well over $5000!