Thursday, 26 March 2015

Five Things My UniBreak to India Taught Me

1. Teaching skills
Books may teach you all about the psychology of teaching children; that silent high achievers need more attention, attention seekers indeed should not be given too much attention and so much more, yet it is only during this demanding yet rewarding placement that you actually discover, day by day, how to teach and how to best facilitate their learning. Teaching in two different age groups in two different settings allows us to experience and learn more and it is the committed five-days-a-week teaching that taught us the teacher's way of life and how and what to teach.

2. Learnt and understood cultural paradigms
I would not say I have experienced much cultural shock because I have been reading books about India, as well as literature such as Shantaram prior to arrival. Nevertheless, week by week, I slowly learnt and understood the Indian way of life, not by reading about it, but by participating and living in it. From the little talks with staff, the children, even watching Bollywood movies, you get to progressively understand what Indian people prefer, value, respect and what they expect of you.

3. The ability to travel around the world
After applying for the almost-impossible-to-get Indian visa, the various unpleasant, aching vaccines, booking your own flights and packing your bag, I would say I feel more competent and comfortable in travelling around the world.

4. Communication and interpersonal skills
The language barrier was definitely one of my main concerns prior to arrival, but surprisingly our coordinator Pankaj and Minakshi, and our chef Meena Ji all speak perfect English, even the children are pretty competent as a result of many volunteer’s continuous and propitious teaching. Nevertheless, it is a still bit challenging when trying to teach the children, especially if you’re trying to teach them a new concept or extend the syllabus. But I will strongly suggest you not to let the language barrier put you off. You have to constantly step out of your comfort zone because at the end of the day, you are here to teach the children. And I can assure you that not only will you feel so rewarded when you see their progress as the weeks pass, but you will always acquire the transferable skills that every employer seeks – communication skills.

5. The Indian way of life
From my counting in Hindi to doing Henna art to wrapping ourselves in saris, all I can say is volunteering and staying in the same place for 6 weeks really presents you with experiences, involvement and insight that tourists would not give (although I have to admit even after my 6-week stay, I still struggle to wrap myself in a 5 metre long fabric called a sari despite my countless attempts!) Oh well, what can I say? I guess you just have to stay even longer!


Monday, 23 March 2015

Our Top 5 “Must Dos” in Udaipur, India!

PROJECT: Teaching Placement
WRITTEN BY: Christina Poon

1. Bagore Ki Haveli
Located in the heart of the market is another architectural splendour. Situated right by the lake, the building highlights the picturesqueness of the city. But what’s even more exciting is that we get to watch a cultural dance programme inside! The programme exhibits 4 different kinds of traditional Rajasthani dances, ranging from puppet shows to chime bells dances to the most exciting dance of all, where the dancer performed with 9-10 pots on her hands on sharp edges of metal plate and broken glass. It is not only culturally rich but also immensely entertaining! So this is a definitely must go!

2. Go on tours on the weekends
Teaching and lesson planning can be exhausting and tedious sometimes so make sure you get yourself some downtime to unwind or go and explore the city to refresh your body, mind and soul. The in-country partner organisation will provide you with some trips with fixed price so they come handy if you are like us, who cannot be stuffed going through their thick and heavy lonely planet books. However, the trips are pretty touristy to be honest, so if you want to do something else, it is also possible, you just need to do your own research.

3. EAT
As I’ve mentioned in my last blog, all food is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. And fundraising has allowed us to provide a meal in the school and the boy’s home we teach in. Hence, we get the opportunity to enjoy a meal with these exuberant and lovely children and consequently learning all these names for food, such as subji, poori, dahl, chapatti, nan etc. But there are so much more to try other than just the savoury meals, traditional Rajasthani sweets include gulab jamoon, dahlia pori and many more. And we have bought gulab jamoon from the streets in markets and we are perfectly fine, so just enjoy the food.

4. Shopping
Though Udaipur is not famous for it’s shopping, it has all it needs to please all of us. We bought merchandise, souvenirs, clothing, home wares and saris and so much more. Nevertheless, we have noticed most shops in markets sell similar products; therefore, walking into shops and asking for prices are crucial to buy the same item for a cheaper price. And now I’m sure all three of us can proudly say we are awesome at bargaining. Most importantly, we made friends with some shop owners. Chakil, an owner of a clothing store not only offers us chai while we shop, but also takes photos with us and writes our name in Hindi for us, making shopping a genuinely fun and relaxing break from our long days of teaching.

5. Meet the people
Most people are very nice and friendly. As mentioned above, all shop owners are super welcoming and often offer you chai tea. They would even ask their son to guide you to the nearest ATM! The school kids or even just random children in the streets are often excited to see you and will always wave to you and call you didi (elder sister). Yet, it is still true that touts exists (men will tell you to shop in their brother’s shop for commission), so while you enjoy the amiability of the people, you still need to look and judge and I’m sure you will enjoy Udaipur as much as anyone of us!


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Challenges and Celebrations in China

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Robert Meek

I'm writing on Monday, the 23rd of February, 16 days after the program started. Fireworks are going off relentlessly outside my window on what is hopefully the last day of New Year's celebrations; there are only so many fireworks you can take before it's just noise and light, like a week-long hangover.

Don't get me wrong, China offers plenty of opportunities for hangovers, alongside many opportunities I'd never have experienced in the humble suburbs of Australia. To kick things off, here's a quick list of some of the more outlandish things I've done in only 2 weeks:
• Eaten three whole scorpions
• Had my outdoors Tai-Chi lesson interrupted by a McDonald's home delivery man
• Climbed to the top of a section of the Great Wall of China
• Set off fireworks in the middle of a road that was still being used by vehicles
• Mastered the art of crossing the road (the trick is confidence; Chinese drivers can smell fear)
• Had a beer with my schoolteacher
• Walked on a frozen river
I live in one room with my roommate Hugh, the only Kiwi on the trip. All 50 of us live in similar conditions. It's cramped and frustrating, but we don't spend much time there. I am a member of a vast minority of monolinguals (all from either Australia, England or Scotland). Everyone else is at least bilingual, and some can speak 4 languages (not including Mandarin). Most interns are from Denmark, but many are Swedish or Norwegian. After some deliberation with colleagues, we established the final list of the collective spoken languages among us:
• English
• Mandarin
• Dutch
• Danish
• Swedish
• Russian
• German
• French
• Norwegian
• Korean
• Spanish
• Portuguese
• Albanian
Surprisingly, all 50 of us get along perfectly. After a week social groups formed based on either your native language or whether or not you smoke. The school schedule has been increasingly hectic with the arrival of Teacher Practice (TP) week, but generally sticks to a High-School-esque period schedule, with three 90-minute lessons a day plus Mandarin classes after school. So far we've handed in four big assignments with the due date for the fifth rapidly approaching.

Tap water is unsafe to drink, so drinking water is purchased at the local supermarket and/or liquor store for about 10 kuai (aka Yuan or Renminbi) for five litres. It has to be said that the hotel food has the potential to be atrocious (today's broth contained entire chicken feet and possibly its' Aorta/Femoral arteries) and so, with no communal kitchen, a trip to a local restaurant or vendor is sometimes necessary. Luckily food is cheap and everywhere. The local dumpling shop has saved many of us from starvation, and if you're really homesick the local McDonald's delivers straight to your door.

Beijing is a filthy place, but entirely devoid of litter. These kinds of compromises have become commonplace on our various expeditions into different avenues of the culture. There are no Chinese Bars/Pubs, but every restaurant, cafe, supermarket, corner store and lemonade stand sells alcohol. The roads appear to be a chaotic hell at first glance, but there is a method to the madness of the streets. While the Chinese cannot be called "good drivers", there is absolutely no doubt that they are "good at driving".

The process of learning Mandarin is excruciatingly slow, but can be attributed to the enormous workload and being always surrounded by English speakers. I expect my Chinese to improve when I get to my placement.

The responsibilities of schoolwork and the inevitable culture shock are balanced by the intelligent, interesting people that surround me every day. The freedom to explore China and its' weird and wonderful ways is secured by the support of the in-country partners and the Antipodeans staff. And the brain-melting early starts are combated by the knowledge that every day will present some wacky custom or ridiculous challenge or life lesson to wrap your head around.

Living in China is not easy, and I already feel better for it. I wouldn't pass up this trip for anything, and I still have 5 months left!


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!