Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Our Unbelievable UniBreak in Thinadhoo, Maldives

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Teaching and swimming coaching
WRITTEN BY: Vivienne Zhu

I’m sad that this will be my last blog post for the trip. We’ve experienced so much, and it’s rapidly coming to an end in two days. It has been an extraordinary and memorable journey with five amazing girls and we were lucky enough to see some beautiful wildlife today; a pod of dolphins, some sharks, and a three-legged turtle!

For future Unibreakers, I want to give you a few tips.

Firstly, add your group on Facebook prior to the trip and don’t bring excessive quantities of items. There are plenty of local shops you can go to buy all your household needs: toothbrush/toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, Nutella, peanut butter, etc. Bringing these items will just weigh your suitcase down when you could bring books and games for the kids to play.

Secondly, don’t let bad weather spoil your fun! Our second trip to Havodigalaa Island began with overcast clouds and rain, but we were still able to chill in hammocks, and watch a beautiful sunset. We concluded the night with a glow stick party and karaoke - singing and dancing until we were tired. I also helped the locals light candles to use at night (a bit difficult given the heavy winds!)

Thirdly, immerse yourself in teaching – whether it is inside or outside the classroom. You get a grasp of how unique each child is and you come to recognise their strengths and weaknesses. I will certainly miss their persistent calls of “MISS” whenever they have problems or simply want my attention. Without a doubt, putting in the time and energy has been worthwhile.

Additionally, the progress the kids have made in swimming has been phenomenal. Some are able to swim freestyle without kickboards and through constant encouragement and praise, all the students were able to get in the water. (A tip for sports coaching – “hands on heads” will have the kids quieten down almost immediately!)

On our last day at school, we held an assembly where we presented a video Janelle made and gifted the school with our painting of Australia. Ajeeb invited us for a farewell dinner at school, where we dressed up in traditional Maldivian dresses. We captured many special moments with our teachers and were constantly praised on how beautiful and model-like we looked (#MissMaldives2015). Some of us even had veils tied to our hair, and it was like our own Maldivian wedding! We were treated to a great feast prepared by our teachers, and we said our final thank you to our in-country agent and the school.

Finally, treasure the memories you create with your new friends, your teachers and your students. We may come to a resort again in the future, but how often will we be able to live on a local island in Maldives? Getting to know the locals, saying “hi” to strangers, and going on snorkelling trips were certainly the highlights of the trip for me. Living as the locals do allowed us to truly understand the culture and lifestyle of Maldivians.

The Thinadhoo group would like to give our sincerest thanks to our in-country agents. Ibrahim, our local tour guide, thank you for purchasing our small household needs whether it be fruit or toilet paper! Whilst you appear shy, we have had so much fun with you, and are so grateful that you have been able to show us around the island.

Assad, you have been so amazing. Whenever we had a problem or wanted to go somewhere, you were quick to get it fixed or organised. Words cannot describe how efficient and kind-hearted you are, and we will surely miss your singing! We will certainly miss you in the weeks to come as we will no longer have snorkelling trips or see you on a near-daily basis.

We’ve taken so many photos and created countless memories, which will remain with us forever. This past month has been unbelievable and certainly unforgettable. We will definitely keep in touch with one another and we’ve already organised meet-ups in the coming weeks!

Thanks for sharing this journey with us! Love the Thinadhoo group.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Griffith University Nursing Students Provide Valuable Healthcare and Promotion in Laos

PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Nursing, Health Promotion
WRITTEN BY: Amy Bennett, Griffith University

The day had finally arrived! The third and final group of nursing students from Griffith University were ready to travel over 13, 000 km to Laos to conduct health clinics and health education in the villages along the Seaung River Valley. After 10 hours of travel, our group of 16 students and 4 teachers met up with our wonderful guides at Luang Prabang airport where we were packed into tuk tuks and whisked away to our first stop of the trip, where we met up with group B!

We spent the weekend in Luang Prabang relaxing and taking in the sites. Sunday morning saw us packing the tuk tuks and beginning the 4 hour ride to our village homestay, which was nestled right on the river and surrounded by beautiful, lush mountains! We received a warm welcome from the children of the village and the chief who were all overjoyed to see us!

After settling in to our homestays, exploring our home of the next 6 days and working out the squat toilets, it was time to get down to the business of sorting through our clinic items and donation bags, ready to begin our work with villages who have had little or no access to healthcare.

The 5 clinic days saw us learning, educating and delivering basic health care to an overwhelming number of people and experiencing how the majority of the world lives first hand!

The end of week 1 saw us saying goodbye to our village homestay and saying hello to our home in Pak Xeng for the next 5 days. Our home in Pak Xeng saw us delivering clinics and health promotion to a number of remote villages along the river and up into the mountains!

On our first day in Pak Xeng, the team was woken up to the loudest wedding in history! Pak Xeng was bustling with guests and visitors and our team of 20 as we explored the town. The weather, which we were becoming accustomed to, was refreshingly cool in the morning and warm during the day which made for the perfect day to relax and prepare for the next 4 days of clinics. Tuesday was one of our busiest days at clinic with the assessment teams assessing and treating 104 patients and conducting health checks on an unknown number of infants, children and extended family members. Wednesday saw our group travel up into the mountains to reach the villages of Nong Kham, Nad Kham and Houay Wat.

The trip into these villages took over an hour in the mornings, which meant early starts for the group. Although it was early, the drive up into the mountains was amazingly picturesque! We travelled up above the level of the clouds and often caught the sunrise on the way up. The roads and weather proved challenging for our experienced tuk tuk drivers with one breaking down twice on the way up the mountains! These drives up the mountain were when we experienced some seriously cold weather with temperatures nearing single digits! The four clinics saw us assessing, health-checking and treating over 400 local people which was an amazing effort from our team of students, facilitators, interpreters and health care workers!

Our third week began by returning to Pak Xeng after a wonderful 3 days relaxing, shopping and doing the ‘tourist thing’ in Luang Prabang. With two clinics left, the group was beginning to realize it was coming to an end. Monday’s clinic saw us returning to the mountains in bitterly cold weather to the highest village on the trip.

The clinic was conducted in a one-room hall, which was bustling, loud and at times chaotic. The return to Pak Xeng in the mid-afternoon saw the group being invited to Pak Xeng High school to be guests at a cultural event and dance. The students graciously danced with us and taught us a number of Lao dances. The night also saw our group singing and dancing for the students with our rendition of the national anthem and the Macarena.

We returned to the high school the next day, with half of our group conducting sexual education sessions, and the remaining students conducting the clinics. Before we began, we were welcomed by the students, teachers and the director of Pak Xeng high school. We were presented with certificates of appreciation and in turn, we presented the students with three donation bags for the students who spend the week living in the ‘dormitory’ accommodation at the school.


Considering A UniBreak Trip to the Maldives? 'Just do it!'

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Nursing, Teaching & Swimming Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Brooke Salems

Our final week in Hithadhoo! We approached this week with mixed emotions, as it dawned on us that we would soon be saying our goodbyes. We were all eager to make the most of our last few days in our island paradise.

After a relaxing weekend, we were back into the swing of teaching and nursing. Our week was spent giving back to the community by finishing the school library renovations, running healthcare workshops for the local nurses, teachers and students, and donating medical supplies to the local clinics and hospital. Both the school and the hospital held a small party for the teaching and nursing students as a way of saying thank you and farewell. It is so lovely to know that our small amount of time has had such a large impact on their lives.

Reflecting on our time here, we realise all the amazing opportunities we have had. Snorkelling in the crystal clear water with fish and sea turtles, exploring uninhabited islands in the middle of the Addu Atoll, living the Maldivian lifestyle – tasting the different food and playing with the local children, redecorating the children’s library and turning it into a garden wonderland, witnessing natural births and caesarean sections at the hospital and walking out of our resort villas onto private beaches are all experiences that we would not have been able to do at home!

All of these amazing experiences would not have been possible without the kindness of the Maldivian locals and although there are so many people we would like to thank, these few are the ones who have made it the most memorable adventure for us all!

Thank you to the staff at the school and the hospital that we worked at for welcoming us into your workplace, sharing your knowledge with us and inviting us to be involved in your team over the past month. To Bonda and Captain, thank you for taking us on countless fishing trips to show us around your homeland. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the crystal clear water and the amazing sea life!

To our wonderful housekeeper, thanks for keeping us safe and making sure everything was always perfect at the guesthouse. And finally, our in-country partners… there are no words to say how truly grateful we are for all you have done for us. You have been our Maldivian parents, supporting and encouraging us, and helping us to immerse into your culture. You have provided us with so many wonderful opportunities which will always be remembered. We wish you all the best in life – you deserve it!

To anyone considering a UniBreak trip… just do it! It has been the most incredible experience for us, and we have all made memories and friends that will last a lifetime.


Preparing For Your UniBreak Trip to Nepal

PROJECT: Medical Placement (Radiotherapy & Paramedicine)

My final blog post is about the little things (and not so little things!) to prepare for before you leave for your Nepali volunteering experience.

1) Go into volunteering in Nepal with a completely open mind.
Having no expectations ensures you embrace all opportunities.

2) Do some research beforehand.
During placement there will be free time at the weekends. All activities are flexible and you don't need to stick to the scheduled programs. Be proactive!

3) Beware of over-packing toiletries and clothes!
Changing between a few pairs is all you'll need. Honestly.

4) Finally, a packing list to ensure you are ready to go
~ Toilet paper!!!
~ Head torch, for those pesky power cuts
~ A rechargeable battery for your phone (just in case the power is out and you're on 1%...)
~ ATMs are often out of order outside major cities, so prepare beforehand how much money you will need for future expenses, spending money for trips etc. if you find a good ATM, stick to it, and remember, many have limits of how much money you can withdraw!
~ Winter in Chitwan has very cold mornings and nights, but is sunny and quite warm during the day. Bringing a warm thick jacket is very useful, plus a thinner jacket for later in the day.

But most importantly, remember:
~ A cheery disposition: your mood will affect all the other students you are with.
~ A teamwork orientated mindset: you will need to compromise to reach a mutual agreement.

Good luck, and enjoy your UniBreak adventures!


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Our first few days on UniBreak in Nepal

PROJECT: Physiotherapy
WRITTEN BY: Kerryn Dignam

We have just finished the most amazing hike, surrounded by the Himalayas, small villages and potato plantations – it was the perfect finish to our first week.

Staying with a host family is a unique experience. So many differences in culture, yet the same feeling of homeliness, with hot meals by our ‘aama’ (mother), chats with our host siblings, and doing our own laundry. Aama laughed at us when she saw our attempts at hand washing, and our younger brother made us promise him we would eat dinner with our hands.

Delicious tea greets us when we arrive home; we feel like we are part of the family.
Placement has been harder to adjust to. Wanting to help, but feeling unsure of 'usual' procedure and, of course, not speaking the language, makes it difficult with patients. Each day we are more comfortable at our placement, and confident in where our help is most needed.

One patient orders us coffee whenever we walk with him, and others laugh at us when we try to act out the exercises we want them to try. The physios are keen to teach us, but also interested in what we focus on back home. Most importantly, we have finally figured out the best meal to order at the hospital canteen!

After three days, and almost 50 km of walking the group is much closer. Sharing chocolate, stomach pain medication, and complaints about our sore muscles has secured a strong friendship between us. We are all excited for the three weeks to come.


Our Final Memories in Cambodia

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: University of Newcastle Nursing Placement
WRITTEN BY: Justine Nicholson and Nikki Smith

Our group spent the weekend in Siem Reap, which was a new and exciting experience for all of us. Temples, temples and more temples! We watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat, which was well worth the early start and the wait for the sun to come up through the clouds. This was followed by climbing the stairs of Angkor Wat for a majestic view and exploring the city of Angkor Thom and its three temples. It was also great to spend the afternoon in Ta Prohm, which placed us right in the middle of Tomb Raider. Equally as spectacular was the sunset at Angkor Wat which some of the group got to enjoy. We flew back to Phnom Penh on Sunday ready for our second round of health assessments at a new venue.

Day 16
We travelled to a different part of town where our next placement was situated. We all got a shock as we walked down the alley toward where we would be spending the next 4 days. We were introduced to the co-ordinator who educated us about the organisation and its aims to help the surrounding community to stop child sex trafficking and educate those in need. Their objectives also include education for work and improving living standards of the surrounding community.

On the first day, we were told we would be seeing around 50 kids in the morning and 50 in the afternoon. As the day went by it became clear that the differences in health needs for this community were much different to our first placement. We also had the opportunity to undertake health care assessments on women as old as 97 and babies as young as 2 months old. The reality of the poor health in this community made us grateful for the healthcare in Australia by comparison.

For Australia Day we organised with our hotel to have a BBQ. We invited our new Cambodian friends, who were our interpreters, to join our fun. This was the first time they had experienced an Australia Day celebration. We enjoyed the BBQ with fresh prawns, BBQ beef, pork and vegetables and Cambodian beer. We also made lamingtons with the ingredients we had access to and some very creative chefs! A great night was had by all and it was a great opportunity to show another culture how we celebrate our beautiful country.

Day 17 and 18
We continued our work, learning some valuable lessons about paediatric care, as well as the value of our limited resources to a community with reduced health care opportunities. In addition to our general health checks, some of the team also provided excellent oral and hand hygiene and baby washing education sessions for all ages. We are finding the work quite liberating. Together we are battling the heat, different emotions, varied health issues coming to our door, and the challenging opportunities to provide some treatment for these beautiful Cambodian people.

On Wednesday night we had our final group dinner. Here we presented our in-country partner, Linda, with her first ever bunch of flowers, and all of the interpreters with a group photo of our entire team from Australia Day.

Day 19
With some of the money fundraised within the team, we were able to provide the organisation with a new fridge, medicine cabinet, various medical equipment, 30 tetanus and 3 rabies vaccinations, and money to fund transportation of sick children to the hospital. The happiness of all the staff and community was overwhelming for all of us. We were also been able to finalise our donations and sponsorships to various organisations after speaking with founders and directors earlier this week.

We all got to enjoy our last night out in Phnom Penh. We savoured our last taste of traditional Khmer food, and many ventured to the local theme park for some fun!

Day 20

The final day was bitter sweet. Many of us left for home, with the exception of a few adventurers. However, none of us are quite ready to leave this amazing country and our amazing new friends! All of the interpreters woke up bright and early to give the most heart-warming send off - right up to the entry of the airport! After this experience we are all heading home feeling proud and with a sense of achievement for making an impact on the lives of so many deserving people.



Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Our UniBreak In The Maldives: ‘An Eye-Opening Experience’

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Teaching and Sports Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Katy Brown

After a month of making memories and building friendships that will last a lifetime, our time in the Maldives has finally come to an end. Whilst we are all excited to see our families again, we all feel devastated to be saying goodbye to this place we have called home and these people we have called family for the last month.

With a once in a lifetime trip like this, you have to be open to a few hiccups along the way. From a touch of sickness, to a couple of communication errors, we had our fair share of tiny dramas. But there was no way these were going to effect us in a negative way.

In total, we managed to sneak away for a snorkelling trip on an uninhabited island about twice a week. These were highlights for the group as it was time we could get away and relax and just enjoy each other’s company, not to mention the company of our island dad Momo. Between our snorkelling and fishing trips, as a group we were lucky enough to see 4 turtles, about a dozen dolphins, a manta-ray, a stingray, a handful of sharks and hundreds and hundreds of fish. Not to mention the amazing coral reefs.

In the afternoons when school time came around, we were all eager to see our students and expectant for a crazy afternoon. The kids were always so excited coming to class which just made us even more excited. When sport came around, the boys would all rock up in their soccer gear ready to show off their tricks, and the girls would come ready to learn some new netball skills off the Aussie experts.

Our favourite weekends were, of course, the two we spent at Robinson’s resort. We feel so privileged to have been able to see this magical place. It was truly breathtaking, and not to mention the many friends we made who work there. I think we were all most excited about the buffet at every meal, not that we didn’t love Sid (our cafe chef)'s cooking, it was just nice to have so many options! We have all promised that we will return one day!

Our last week at Kolamaafushi was, without a doubt, crazy and one of the best! We decided that rather than stress too much about each days activities, we would spend our time enjoying the company of the kids and the locals. We enjoyed having our final lessons with our classes, which meant a mass water bomb fight for the older kids and a crazy party with the little ones. They absolutely loved it and it was a perfect way to end our time with them. In the afternoons for our last week, we enjoyed hanging out at the sports park, playing soccer with the boys and netball with the girls. Then we headed to sunset point and saw the most incredible sunset with our students.

Our final week on Kolamaafushi also meant our final week together as a group. We spent one afternoon/night at an uninhabited island watching the sunset on the beach and having a bonfire and BBQ fish and potatoes. After dinner we had a dance party on the beach, being laughed at by our Maldivian guides, but it was well worth it. This was a personal favourite night for a few of us.

By Wednesday, half the group had left Kolamaafushi and it was just 3 of us remaining for the last couple of nights. We made the most of it, going for an adventure (we attempted to walk to a nearby island but were scared away by leopard eels). We also enjoyed some time jumping off the jetty with some of the local boys and girls. On our last day Momo took us to an island to have one final snorkelling trip and to spend some time with him and his two little girls who were adorable!

Saying goodbye to everyone on Kolamaafushi was extremely difficult. The teachers, students, parents and island people in general welcomed us with open arms and treated us so well. We will definitely miss them all, especially Momo, who really was like a father to us. As we headed off, we had a group of students at the jetty to wave goodbye, which made it really sink in that we were leaving.

We finished our trip with a night in Thinadoo – we were all a bit shocked by how big it was after being on such a tiny island- then saying our final goodbyes to each other at Singapore airport as we headed off in our separate directions.

Without a doubt, this month has been one of the best of my life, and I'm sure most of the group could say the same thing. Spending a month on such a small island meant that we certainly stuck out, and it will be hard to get used to going home and not having every person on the street saying hello to us. We have all learnt so much about ourselves and about the Maldivian culture; it was an eye-opening experience as to how different their world truly is.

Together, we have made lifelong friendships, already with plans to catch up again later on this year, and maybe even another Antips trip together in the future! I am so greatful to Antips for providing us with such an amazing opportunity: it truly is something I would recommend to anyone.