Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday while projects progress in Pokhara

COUNTRY: Nepal - Pokhara
PROJECT: Community Healthcare, Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Katrina Beck Harris


From where we left off last week, the group ventured to the top of Sarangkot. The vantage point gave us amazing 360 views of the Annapurna range and of Pokhara itself. The next morning most of the group went paragliding from Sarangkot which everyone really enjoyed as it's such a unique experience. Back in Tashi Ling, the group has well and truly been settling in with their families and forming a routine. The community has been wonderful. Every time someone drops by the house or chatting to someone new I always feel like I come away knowing a little bit more. Living in a place so far from your comfort zone is hard but extremely worthwhile.

On the Sunday was His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 79th birthday. The group got to wear traditional Tibetan dress, attend a ceremony and lunch with the community. It was a very privileged experience to be apart of that kind of cultural practice and sense of community. That afternoon the girls played soccer against the local girls, which drew quite a crowd, and they won 4-1! This week we also listened to Sonam talk about the history of Tibet which was very moving. The importance of community, culture and having a sense of hope all came through in Sonam's story.

Moving onto placements, the teaching has been steadily the same. Some of the group has been supervising exams and some are teaching classes. Since we are only here for a month one of the most important things that we can give is working on pronunciation and vocabulary in English. The nursing students at Fishtail hospital, after a slow start and adjusting to the differences from Australia, are spending time observing operations, doctors appointments and organising presentations for the student nurses which should be really beneficial.

The radiography students at Manipal Hospital have worked in the CT scan, general X-ray and the ICU departments. The group have said that it's challenging to face and work in different standards of health and practices in comparison to Australia. The hospital is also always busy and they get to see a range of interesting injuries and cases that are different to back home, a reflection on different ways of life. Tomorrow is white water rafting and some time in Lakeside swimming to hopefully cool down in the ever present heat!

Until next time,


Notre Dame University students spend weekend in Phnom Penh

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Exercise Physiology
WRITTEN BY: Brent Luckman, Notre Dame University

The start of our third week in Cambodia saw us making the most of our weekends off with the decision made to go to the capital, Phnom Penh for 2 nights (except Matthias, he stayed in Siem Reap for a “French club” gathering).

Phnom Penh is a completely different city to Siem Reap. It is a massive city with high-rise buildings and apartment blocks stretching in every direction. It is also the site of the most well known “Killing Fields” and S21 prison in Cambodia. We spent Saturday morning visiting both of these sites and I know I can speak for everyone in the group when I say both of these places really opened our eyes. We might have thought we knew a bit about Cambodia’s recent history with the Khmer Rouge but none of us were prepared for what we were exposed to at the Killing Fields and S21. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been there, but it’s definitely a place that people should put on their bucket list, because it was like nothing I've ever done.

On the bus ride back home every person was silent after what we had just experienced. We eventually perked back up, and went to have sunset drinks on a rooftop bar overlooking the Tonle Sap River, before heading out to a couple of Phnom Penh’s nightclubs. The bus ride back the next day was a nightmare. Hangovers, gravel roads, traffic jams and 7 hours trapped on a bus is not a fun mix, especially when the guy next to you (Jacob) drools on you every time he falls asleep.

The start of the working week was no different to the others, as we continued at our second placement in the rotation. On Wednesday we returned to the school to exercise the morning group of students. While the kids might have been different from the week before, the result was the same. Absolute mayhem, but fun from the first minute until the last. The highlight was probably the accidental formation of 2 soccer gangs that was produced from the kids being split into either team Moi (1) or Be (2), and the continuous chanting that followed.

Friday turned out to be a public holiday in Cambodia, so we made the most of a rare opportunity to sleep in, before once again hitting up Pub Street at night.

Another week has flown by in our trip, with our departure next Friday after our final week of work. Its hard to believe that we have been here for 3 weeks already!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

First Thursdays in Cape Town and climbing Table Mountain!

This week has been very busy - and the first real weekend I have spent in South Africa!

On Thursday night we all heading into Cape Town on the new city bus in order to check out "first Thursdays"- a night that happens on the first Thursday of every month, where museums, stores and art galleries stay open until 9pm. The city streets were packed and we were able to check out a few art galleries before going to dinner. But we stayed out at dinner a little too long enjoying the yummy food and ended up missing most of the activities of the night- yet the atmosphere was fantastic and so lively anyway.

Luckily, the weekend weather was not as bad as it was meant to be. The weather was cold and cloudy but overall alright. As a group we went into Cape Town on Friday and Saturday night to see the city and eat some great food on Long Street.

During the week after all of our volunteer projects - we went up to Table Mountain. I couldn't believe how high up it is and how beautiful the view is! I could see the whole of Cape Town - well what looked like most of Cape Town.

At my Lalela Project on Friday, I was able to help create a PowerPoint presentation that would be later shown to the children to help inspire them. I was also able to create a puppet theatre and other props that the kids could use in the workshops run by the Lalela Project.

Today, I was able to actually go along and help out at the Lalela project with the puppet show, run in Mandela Park. The class was so big (50 kids) and loud but they were all having so much fun. In the afternoon, I headed up to Mandela Park again to see one of the workshops run for young boys called Everyday Heroes. It was really great to see how much these boys enjoy being together and talking about their education and the decisions they make.

I'm really looking forward to spending more time at the workshop next week and hopefully getting to go into Cape Town this weekend to see the tourist destinations!

University students embark on teaching placement in Borey Keila, outside Siem Reap.

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROJECT: Community Healthcare & Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Kimberley Millard

Last Sunday, 6 university students from Australia arrived in Cambodia to begin four weeks volunteering as English teachers. We were greeted at the airport by our in-country partner, Linda and our Cambodian Guide, Thida (our soon to be second mum), who gave us a warm introduction and took us to where would be our home for the next four weeks. Between us, we discovered we were studying a variety of courses, such as Primary Education, Science and Law. We learned quite quickly that these fields of study were going to lend themselves nicely to some very interesting perspectives and intellectual dinner conversations (namely, how many times a week we wash our hair, how our hair is affected by the humidity and how we like our bread toasted).

Upon arrival to Cambodia, our reactions varied. Claire and Tom had already been in South East Asia doing some travelling, so they were already in the swing of things. For the rest of us, there was lots of learning to be done. One thing that remained the same across the board though was our first experience on the road. Quite simply, terrifying. After about the ninth close brush with death-by-tuk-tuk, you begin to fear death-by-tuk-tuk less and respect the quick reflexes and skills of the Cambodian drivers more.

Particularly, as there are obviously no road rules to which they abide. We ploughed across double lines onto the other side of the road, came inches from bikes beside us, and it seems the custom for intersections is based loosely on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis, unless you have a truck. It is, of course, fine to drive in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic, if you are on anything smaller than a motorbike, which is at least 60% of the community. It is with a huge sense of accomplishment at reaching our destination in one piece, that we begin each day of our marvelous journey in Cambodia.

Our in-country partner and guides have been absolutely SUPERB. Thida quite quickly took us all under her wing and spent the first few days showing us around town, organizing bulk water supplies and making sure we were safe in our new home. When she described the aerobic classes she took part in every day, a few of us jumped at the chance to be involved. Daily exercise, aerobics; just like Australia?

It appeared to be one of the more western activities to be apart of. However, our first aerobic class left us in stitches of laughter and double the amount of sweat. It also provided a laugh for the others who run laps around Olympic Stadium while we are doing it. We quickly learned that doing aerobics in the afternoon heat in Cambodia was much harder than the precious air-conditioned gyms back at home. However, the hilarity of the instructors kept us going. "Pii, bei, boun" or 1, 2, 3 the instructor would chant, and despite not being able to understand 99% of the words, we have thoroughly enjoyed going to Olympic Stadium each day to step the afternoon away with the Khmer women.

The school we are volunteering at is in the Borey Keila slum, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Lucy and Kim are teaching grade 4, Tom and Claire are teaching grade 3 and Daisy and Tash are teaching grade 1 (also known as the noisiest class ever to exist). At the end of each day, we sit back and admire the teachers who work there so much. The conditions are so difficult – it’s loud and very cramped, as there are six different classes with only boards in between them, only one or two fans per classroom with very little airflow.

One thing that strikes us the most though, is how much the children want to learn. The children will keep working into every break until they’ve finished all their work and had it marked. They’ve kept us laughing each day. On our first day, Eanglee (a boy in year 1) turned to Tash and Daisy and sang, “I’ll only stay with you one more night”. They realised during the lesson (turned talent show) that this was just one line of “One More Night” by Maroon 5, which Eanglee can sing from start to finish without a mistake. Tom constantly has a line of children following him remarking how ‘big’ his muscles are (if only he knew this will be the only time he will ever hear that). Claire has been kissed on the cheek and given treats by the children daily. And Lucy and I have been asked many questions ranging from our marital status to ‘Do you have babies in your stomachs, they are fat?’

Seeing some historical landmarks in Cambodia, such as the Killing Fields and listening to our tour guide re-tell her experience growing up during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, along with hours and hours spent in run down classrooms with children so eager to learn, it is safe to say we all have a growing appreciation for life in Australia.

Cannot wait for another week in Cambodia ☺


Monday, 28 July 2014

The end of the beginning. Orientation wraps up for UniBreak volunteers in Peru.

PROJECT: Teaching & Construction
WRITTEN BY: Kymon Mansfield

With orientation settled, hugs had and altitude sickness subsided, the first week of our antrips journey seemed to bring with it some sort of overwhelming emotion as the realisation that I was here - I was in Peru - really kicked in.

My journey began in Lima, the coastal capital of Peru. Arriving at night, the most important thought in my head it seemed was the idea of culture shock - something I was warned about weeks earlier - but which turned out to be almost completely reversed as I was driven to my hotel. It felt as though I was looking for Peru, without even knowing it, and on several instances I had to take a moment to collect my wandering thoughts and just say to myself, 'wow, I'm here. This is Peru.' To me, personally, the last three months of my life had all been leading up to this moment, and stepping through the doors of Lima's international airport seemed to finally break the seal of this anticipation; it seemed to finally let me live 'in the moment' again, with no care for preparation or foresight.

Skipping forward a few days, Cuzco, the local city my group is placed in, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I spent two days In Cuzco by myself, in an effort to acclimatise to the high altitude and low atmosphere before meeting with our in-country partner, Nico, and the rest of the Cuzco UniBreak and GapBreak groups. This is where the actual Antips story starts, as I wake up with a highly erratic sleeping schedule sometime between 4am and 6am to return to Cuzco airport at 10.45 to find what I thought would be a needle in a haystack - another person wearing an Antips shirt.

Instead, it seemed this trip was destined to go smoothly, for me at least. Within a minute of arrival I was found by six people waiting patiently with Nico for the final three members of the UniBreak placement to arrive. After being taken to the hotel where the GapBreak members would spend their first week of placement, I was introduced to five of the friendliest people I've ever met: my host family.

Monday and Tuesday of week one were relaxed, as we spent time together and apart allowing ourselves the opportunity to explore Cuzco outside of its main square and primary tourist concentrations. This included our first introduction to the school we would be volunteering at, and an uncountable amount of hugs from more than one hundred mini Spanish speakers, as we 'amigos' were welcomed into their life for the next month.

It seems that in this community, Antipodeans Abroad is held in high regard; we all experienced somewhat of a celebrity status even in our first day on the job. What was even more humbling it seemed was the story behind Antipodeans' reputation, of the twelve years spent building a relationship of trust and assistance with the community. But, of course, the satisfaction of seeing the beaming faces of the students here, all very responsive to what Antips volunteers have done and are doing to their school, cannot be expressed in words. Wednesday, as a break, was spent as a group exploring the Inca ruins dotted around Cuzco. This included riding a horse, which for me was my first time, and was definitely the highlight of the week.

Thursday was the first day of work at the school. In our own mini groups, we were assigned tasks related to fixing and managing the six green houses. We de-weeded, turned soil, and even attempted to fix one of the roofs. We also spent time with 'hygiene', which involved giving soap, hand moisturiser, and dry towels to each kid at the school so that they can wash their hands and be clean before they eat breakfast.

Friday, similarly to Thursday, was spent at the school. We were effectively split in half, with one group working on making fruit salad as breakfast for the children, and the other half working on the green houses, doing essentially the same things we had started the day prior.

After only about half an hour of this, we fell into what is shaping up to be our general routine for the next few weeks: everyone participates in hygiene, and then in our groups we either began classes, or worked on the green houses. My group took an art class, where we taught Peruvian kids in year 3 who spoke no English the names of four animals and four colours in English. Amazingly, despite our insanely limited Spanish, this lesson went smoothly and was both really satisfying and a lot of fun. Then, my group taught a year 6 PE class, which turned out better than expected, again despite our combined 10 word Spanish vocabulary.

The week ended as a welcome to Peru, Cuzco, and Antips. Nico, our in country contact, took us all out to a restaurant for dinner, where we had fantastic food and cheap drinks, and all had a chance to wind down. I suppose I end this where I began: noticing just how much I am really enjoying Peru. It's been introduced to me somewhat as a home. I've never felt unwelcome, even considering the language barrier both with my family and on the street with the locals of Cuzco, and even though I really didn't have any expectations of Peru prior to leaving Australia, I feel incredibly satisfied with everything here in an indescribable way.
And that's orientation settled.

Final update from University of Sydney students in the Maldives

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Teaching & Swimming Coaching
WRITTEN BY: University of Sydney, Education students, Corinne Wilson

"What sets the world in motion is the interplay of differences and their attractions."

As it comes to the end of our last week here in beautiful Hithadhoo, it is fair to say that these last few days were a roller coaster of emotions and memorable experiences.

For those teaching at Sharaffudin School, the last the afternoon swimming coaching session was a sad but joyous event, with many children beaming with happiness as their teachers handed them gifts of goggles and swimming caps. Many parents shared stories of how their children were so eager to get down to the beach for swimming lessons every afternoon.

For us at Hithadhoo School, coaching netball was an extremely rewarding experience. Seeing the exponential improvement in the skills and fitness of our girls during training reminded us why we chose this profession. It was a bitter sweet last ten minutes in our final training session as we played our usual teachers verse students round of End Zone.

A special highlight for Emily and Christian was delivering donations of pencil cases and stationary to an underprivileged preschool.

For myself, this week involved amazing opportunities to share my own strengths and passions with both students and teachers. Hithadhoo School invited me to present a range of seminars and workshops including a leadership seminar for the student leaders. It was stressful lead-up to my 2 hour workshop (laptop died night before) on same afternoon. This involved presenting management strategies for the students in business studies. Terrence, Susanna and myself are also lucky to be a part of our school's Professional Development Day tomorrow where we will share our knowledge on behaviour management and student engagement.

Today was definitely a highlight of our trip. Being the last day of school with the students, saying goodbye to them was very hard.

Along with the beautiful farewell, we had an unbelievable day of experiencing Maahifun, which is a special feast that is celebrated before Ramazaan every year. We were able to experience the amazing tradition of cleaning the school and feasting on yummy traditional foods.

To top it all off, surprising Terrence for his 21st birthday tonight with a room full of balloons and cheers was followed by sharing our last family dinner in the guesthouse. This couldn't have made our final few memories here on the island any more magical.

Reflecting back on today at school, I came to the realisation that any barriers that may have been present between our two cultures had vanished and we have fully embraced each other's differences. I had the feeling of complete comfort and a sense of belonging sitting there sharing food, laughter and gratitude.

I am beyond overwhelmed by the love and care I have developed for my students and teachers here at Hithadhoo school. I know that all of us will greatly miss these friendships and beautiful faces.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

A detailed account of my first week volunteering in Nepal

PROGRAM: UniBreak - Kathmandu
PROJECT: Community Healthcare & Education
WRITTEN BY: UniBreak June Group 2014

I'm sure we will never forget the moment we first stepped outside the Kathmandu airport into the majestic country of Nepal. There we were, a group of total strangers thrown together by chance in a foreign country, not sure what to expect of the upcoming weeks. We were feeling nervous, scared, shy, and of course, overwhelmingly excited for what adventures lie ahead. As we stepped out of the terminal we were immediately overloaded with the sights, sounds and smells of the stunning Kathmandu city. We knew that we must find Rajesh, our Antips in-country partner, so he could take us to the Program House for Orientation. The next bit all happened incredibly quickly:

We found Rajesh surrounded by about 10 other Nepali people. Rajesh and his co-worker Prima introduced themselves – but who were the rest of these randoms? Rajesh started leading the way to his mini-bus, and we all quickly follow. Suddenly my suitcase was snatched out of my hand by one of the random men. At first I was scared that he was going to steal it! But luckily he started taking it to the mini-bus and putting in it the boot. Oh. I thought to myself. He must work for Rajesh. The random man stuffed my bag in and closed the boot of the van and then turned to me and asked for a tip. Oh. No, he clearly does not work for Rajesh. Feeling flustered I searched through my handbag to find that I only had notes of Rs1000 (worth about $10). I reluctantly handed it over, wishing that I'd kept a tighter grip on my bag. The man took the note, and then immediately asked for one more! Gosh! I think. I'm not going to pay you $20 to drag my bag 20 metres! I tell the man no, but he doesn't seem to understand. “Chhai-Na” I say, attempting to tell him no in Nepali – the man points and laughs at me with the rest of his friends, before walking away. Did I say it wrong? I guess I'll never know.

We all piled into the mini-bus and soon enough we were driving through the narrow, clustered streets of Kathmandu. I had never seen anything like it! There I was thinking the bag situation was confronting. The road rules appeared to be more like suggestions rather than actual rules, with cars, motorbikes and scooters all piled onto the street, weaving in and out of each other with no apparent system. Nevertheless, the sights we could see from the mini-bus were incredible. The housing was made up of a mixture between little half constructed bamboo huts, and enormous brightly coloured buildings. There were little shops and vendors along every street, selling everything from clothing and books to the famous traditional Nepali momos. The people were mostly wearing the traditional Nepali dress, and in the background we can see the outlines of mountains towering over the city. This was the place I would call home for the next month and I could not be more ecstatic.

Rajesh pulled over the mini-bus and told us that while he takes our bags back to the Program House, we would walk the rest of the way with Prima as a guide. Prima took us through the streets showing us ATMs and grocery stores, then we went to the bank where some of us needed to exchange money. Here at this bank is where we all learnt a very important lesson: Nepal works on its own time. We were at the bank for what seemed like hours. Those of us who needed to exchange money has to go through incredibly tedious processes such as writing down the serial number of every single Australian note they were exchanging. Prima then took us to a little mobile phone shop so we could all get a sim card. Little did we know that this would also be a tedious process that would take at least another hour! It became clear to us that the slowness of Nepali life would definitely take some getting used to.

We arrived at Rajesh's enormous, palace-like Program House, where we got settled in and met his family. Half of us were staying upstairs in the house, while all others were staying in a cute little granny flat which is built from old empty wine-bottles and clay. We met some other volunteers from different companies staying with Rajesh who had travelled here from The Netherlands, Sweden and the US . For dinner we had our first meal of the famous Nepali Dahl-bhat, and we learnt how to eat the traditional Nepali way; with our hands. Although it was difficult at first, I soon got the hang out it.

I woke in the morning, ready for the adventures of Orientation. We had a welcoming ceremony in which we were given a white Buddhist scarf, a red Hindu Tika on our heads, and a new Nepali name to use when introducing ourselves to the locals. My name Laura, became Laxmi, meaning “Goddess of Wealth”. We learnt about some Nepali customs and cultural differences to be aware of, and had a language lesson where we learnt how to introduce ourselves: “Mero naam Laxmi ho."

At 4pm Prima took our group shopping for our own traditional Nepali clothes. We were taken to a fabric store where we could buy the colours we wanted. From there we took the fabrics to a tailor where we were measured and told to pick them up on Sunday. Of course, since Nepali time moves quite slowly, some of us had a lot of time to kill while we waited for the others, so we all went and drank some tea and ate some steamed momos at “Green Leaf Cafe”. We all talked about how excited we were to begin our placement and to meet our host families – but we also discussed that we were sad that we wouldn't be able to see each other every day – so we made to decision that the our group should meet up every day at 5pm at “Green Leaf Cafe” to catch up.

The next day it was time for us to go to our placements. My placement was at Shree Dhapasi Secondary School as an English teacher with Danielle. Others were going to be working in hospitals and rehabilitation centres. Dannielle and I arrived at the school and were shocked to be immediately thrown into a class of year 7 students and told to just “teach them English”. We had no idea was their level was, and had only done some minor preparation. Danielle and I just winged it, testing their knowledge and teaching some basic grammar. Danielle has since transferred to go work with Gretel at Tilingatar Higher Secondary School where they are teaching classes of 60+ students!

Alexander, Casey and Sam are working at Stupa Community Hospital, a small 50-bed health care facility. Because the hospital is so small there are some very quiet days, and minor surgeries happen somewhat sporadically.

Alexandra and Phillip are working at the Special Education and Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children (SERC). They are enjoying their time working at this school, and they say the children are amazing.

Lucy, Chelsea and Aaron are working at Sahara Hospital, which is a private physiotherapy and rehabilitation health care facility. They have found the different techniques and practices that the Nepali professionals follow are interesting and at times confronting, but they are enjoying the opportunity to share and exchange knowledge.

Gemma and Isaac are working at the CP Centre where they provide emotional and practical support for patients with Cerebral Palsy. Although the work is thoroughly rewarding they have been struggling with the travel – it took them 5 hours to get there and back on their first day! Luckily since then, the travel has been better.

Emily and Skye are working at the Brahmasthani Awareness Society (BAS), a shelter for disadvantaged and/or abandoned patients who lack the funds for treatment and housing during recovery. The girls are working with Rita Kharel, a local Nepali woman who runs the centre. They say that it is incredibly confronting and at times sad, but they are very grateful for the opportunity to help in any way they can.

We have now all moved in with our host families and are settling into the Nepali way of life. Samantha, Casey and I are staying with the Thami family. We've been enjoying our time with this beautiful family getting to know each other, learning more Nepali language, helping our host mother cook, and playing guitar and singing with our host brothers.

All of us on this in the June/July Kathmandu team are thoroughly grateful for these opportunities and are incredibly excited for the adventures that lie ahead.