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Saturday, 25 October 2014

GapBreakers take 'action-packed' to a whole new level



COUNTRY: Southern Africa (Swaziland, Mozambique & South Africa)
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Emily Forbes

Greetings!

There's quite a bit to fill you in with since my last blog. As signified by the title, we haven't wasted any time! We were lucky enough to have a week off our volunteer work to visit the stunning palm fringed beaches of Tofo Bay. Our accommodation at Fatima's backpackers had direct access to the beach, and we spent much of the week swimming, tanning and doing a whole bunch of activities.

Tofo was an undiscovered paradise and the highlight of the week was without a doubt the ocean safari. We all hopped into a speedboat and ventured out into the ocean with the hope of spotting a whale shark or humpback. We didn't have to wait long, within five minutes of being out on the water a baby humpback swam right alongside our boat, a sight that was rare even for our experienced guides! Things only got better from here on in as we ventured further out into the ocean, when we finally discovered a whale shark! We all hurried to jump in and swim alongside this majestic creature, and were blown away by just how big they were! As we made our way back to shore dolphins swam alongside the boat which topped off a perfect day.

The fun didn't stop there as we went on an island kayak to a remote island. After two hours of paddling over pristine waters we arrived on the coast of this island and walked underneath a canopy of tall palm trees through our tour of the island. After kayaking for two hours we were absolutely starving and were presented with a seafood feast that was enjoyed by everyone.

Other highlights of our time in Mozambique included quad biking, bartering at the local markets and enjoying breakfast on the beach.

Feeling refreshed after a week in Mozambique we headed back to our placement work at our home in Ezulwini. Our last two weeks of volunteer work were a flurry of activity as many of us had plans for our children. Our projects included building a new playground for the children in Lobamba, an excursion to Hlane game park for the Mlindazwe kids and purchasing toothbrushes and toothpaste for our children.

For our last day at our NCPs we all planned parties as a special treat for the kids. This included face paint, musical chairs, treasure hunts and pass-the-parcel to name a few. By the end of the day there were definitely a few tears as we realised we were saying goodbye to our beautiful children for good. We all promised to write and stay in touch, and hopefully return one day.



With our first volunteer placement behind us, we headed off on a road trip to the famous Victoria Falls. After travelling for two days through Swaziland, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe we arrived at the tourist town of Vic Falls.

Our first activity planned was a day trip over the Zambian border to experience the falls from the top by going for a swim at the Devil's Pool, right at the edge of the top of the falls. We were greeted by absolutely breathtaking sights of the cascading falls and rainbows.

We also got to experience the might and majesty of the Zambezi river through white water rafting. This is said to be the best in the world, with the highest commercial rapid drop and it certainly did not disappoint! With rapids graded up to a 5 it was certainly hard work but thoroughly enjoyed by all, even when the raft capsized and we found ourselves being carried along the rapids.

On our last day in Vic Falls we visited the viewing platforms to see the falls in action. We were all blown away by these stunning views! In the afternoon two of us were game enough to test out the Vic Falls big air experience, which incorporated a zipline, gorge swing and bungee jump.

Out next adventure begins on Tuesday when we embark on our two-week road trip to Cape Town.

Until next time,

Usale Kahle!

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Project work continues as Kilimanjaro draws closer


COUNTRY: Tanzania
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Building, renovation & construction
WRITTEN BY: Sybilla Galvin

Jambo mambo?! (Hi how are you?!)

Life in Tanga these days is moving very smoothly and very fast-we can't believe it's been more than a month since we arrived. This week saw our first actual bout of rain, which on most days began early in the morning and cleared by the time we arrived at work.

After handing over our first house we immediately began work on a new piece of land. We started on Monday, using machetes and an axe to cut down trees, shrubs and anything that covered the new land. By Wednesday morning we were ready to begin digging holes for the foundations, only to find out that we had cleared the wrong land and had to begin again from scratch. Luckily for us, a handful of generous locals offered their hands and muscle to help us get to the same stage. As of now, we have completed tying together the foundations with string and are using the mud we dug up last week to make the walls.



The current group obsession is the vibrant, patterned material sold at the town market, which we have enough of to now start our own shop. A local tailor woman has already done 3 trips to visit us, (expecting our latest orders back this weekend!) making various items for us with our purchased goods. The stack of materials we handed over this week was too heavy for her to carry out.

The pressure is now on for the team to finish the house before we head off to climb Killi and go to Kenya! We have been staying an extra half hour in the morning and almost an extra hour in the afternoons to get the job done in time. We definitely don't want to leave without finishing as this will mean the house remains unused until camps reopens in Jan. This added work has got our heads hitting our pillows before 9:30 most nights!

Xo Sybilla

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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ghana update: We're living in dreamland


COUNTRY: Ghana
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Etta Napier

Every morning when I wake up, for the first few seconds of consciousness, I forget where I am. I forget that I'm halfway across the world, in a place most people would only dream of visiting. I listen to the early morning sounds of neighbours frying plantain, gossiping in fantè (the local dialect) and sweeping with makeshift reed-brooms, and for a moment I could be back in my room in Sydney. But then, as I walk to my window and add sights and faces to the sounds, it becomes real and I realise just how extraordinary it is to be on this adventure. How truly lucky we are. How much we all adore this country, warts and all.

These past few weeks in Ghana have become less like a dream and more like a lifestyle. We no longer are guests in our school, homes or town, but are accepted as just another - albeit paler - part of the community. We know our kids and how each one of them tick, and in return they all seem to know precisely what annoys us the most. Oh, do they use this to their advantage! We have begun to swap songs and nursery rhymes with the students, and in doing so have realised they have their own versions of 'Old MacDonald' and 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' that put ours to shame. We have also begun to use the money we have fundraised to improve the learning environments we are working in, much to the kids' excitement and appreciation (we are greeted with "God bless you, Madame" on an almost daily basis). So far, we have plastered and painted the walls, painted murals, bought two large whiteboards and are planning to install ceiling fans. It's amazing how far just a little Australian money goes in a developing country like Ghana.

We have also been spending a fair amount of time with the beautiful kids at the orphanage, which is both uplifting and depressing. Last Friday we took all 40 of them on an excursion to Winneba beach, and they absolutely loved it! The memory of children screaming with delight while running from a tiny wave is one that will stay with me for a while.




Our host families have been incredible, to say the absolute least. James and Tom (lucky boys) have been lucky enough to live with a bunch of little kids, who give them endless cuddles and love 24 hours a day. Nicole and Phoebe have Kelvin, a best friend in the form of a host-brother, who has been an irreplaceable source of support and guidance. Georgia, Sophie and I have a host-mother and father that are truly the kindest people on earth. This weekend we were invited to the family church to experience a Sunday service, and wow was it an eye-opener. Such energy and passion! It was one of the most fascinating (and at times even frightening) experiences of my life.



Our weekends have been the best way to relax after the exhausting week of volunteering. A few weekends ago, we travelled to Kakum National Park, about a three hour tro-tro ride out of our home town, Swedru. There, we hiked for two hours through the rainforest in pitch-blackness, to arrive at the secluded tree house we were to stay in. Our sleep that night was punctuated with the rustlings of native nocturnal animals, and, according to our, let's say 'interesting' tour guide, the spirit of the antichrist! We took that one with a grain of salt...

We began the next day with a canopy walk- a rope and ladder walkway suspended 100 meters above the floor of the canopy- which was undoubtedly incredible. As you can see from the photo above, it was pretty scary too!

Despite the amazing time we're having here, we do really miss home. We could spend an hour at a time talking about how we 'could so go for a cheeseburger' or are just wanting a cuddle from mum. This is to be expected though. We wouldn't give this opportunity up for the world.

That's all for now,
Hope you enjoyed!
Etta

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Sunday, 19 October 2014

GapBreak update from the consistently chaotic Cuzco


COUNTRY: Peru
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Construction
WRITTEN BY: Stephanie Rainbow

Hola,

It is now nearing the start of Week 4 in Peru, and everyone is becoming accustomed to the chaos of living in Cuzco. Yesterday we all went white water rafting for Bridget's birthday and then today we explored markets that are located near the airport and splurged on buying DVDs. The markets were very different from the markets you come to expect in the streets of Cuzco and instead of alpaca wool jumpers and beanies, we discovered miles of shoe and clothes stores. It seemed that this was the place for the locals to buy anything and everything. We then went for lunch at an Aussie-owned restaurant that was recommended by Laura's all-knowing 'South America on a shoestring' book, where we consumed burgers and massive ice cream sundaes. Most of our money lately has been going towards food and snacks, thanks to the local stores that are just 100m from our homes.

During the week we teach at the school at Pumamarca where we are greeted every morning by the children screaming "Amiga!!!!!! Amiga!!!!!". Even the teachers great us as 'Amiga'. In the lessons we teach English, art and sport, where we struggle to control the children and communicate in a different language. My personal favourite is art, where Chloe and I have taught the kids to make masks and mosaics, the latter of which I spent half the time drawing 'Marriposas' or butterflies for the girls. We also did a house visit to the home of one of the students at the school where we found the living conditions to be very basic. The house consisted of just two mudbrick rooms and the walk from the school left us breathless. Part of the money from the fundraising we did in Australia will be going towards giving some of the families furniture.

We are currently planning trips to Arequipa, Lake Titicaca and the much anticipated Machu Picchu. Time is flying by here but I can't say I am not looking forward to home, where there is a guaranteed hot shower and water that does not turn off at random points in the day. Cuzco is amazing though, and every day is an experience. There is always some random parade or festival that you pass by on the bus or stumble across on the street.

Adios,

Steph
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Friday, 17 October 2014

A day in the life of the India girls!


COUNTRY: India
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Phoebe Laing

6:00am - The day begins quite early for some of us (Fiz), who make the most of the cool morning to do some yoga on the rooftop and watch the sunrise. At around 6:45am, a group of us goes jogging, although this depends on whether we can drag Pankaj or a male volunteer along, as it's not always safe for girls to go running unaccompanied. Then it's time for cold bucket showers, lounging in the rec room, or doing some hand washing on the roof.

9:00am - Meena Ji's "Breakfast is ready!" rings through the house, waking the last of the sleepers (Shoumyaa). Breakfast is bananas, cornflakes, toast and chai, but may also include omelettes, rice flakes or a special Indian rice and lentil porridge. After breakfast we handwash the dishes and finalise our preparations for school.

10:20am - We leave for school in our trusty van, spending 20 minutes avoiding potholes, chickens and oncoming vehicles. Our school is on the outskirts of a poor tribal village, one that is small enough to ensure that everyone knows who we are, so we do a lot of waving along the way. The kids are always happy to see us - they run up to us for high fives, or to hold our hands or even to carry our bags for us. Teaching can be exhausting, but it's also a deeply rewarding process, especially when we can see progress being made or notice the children trying really hard on a particular day. Moreover, we all agree that teaching is the focus and highlight of many days, and we swap funny or touching stories for much of the trip back home.




1:00pm - We arrive home to lunch, which typically includes daal or curry, vegetables, rice, chapati (Indian flatbread), cucumber and often pineapple for dessert.

2:00pm - The afternoon is spent planning the afternoon lessons for the orphanage and the next day at school. Now that we're used to the process and have figured out how carbon paper works, this passes with impressive speed (at least we think so). This leaves us with an hour or so to fill with relaxing or slightly silly food challenges - most recently Fiz ate 1kg of Gulab Jamon (sweet dough balls cooked in honey syrup) in just ten minutes. Even after that she found room for a couple cups of chai at chai time, an essential part of the day for many of us.

5:00pm - We leave for the boys' home, which is just 10 minutes away. The home houses some orphans, but many boys are from desperately poor families who can't afford to keep their children with them. The boys, being older, took longer to warm up to us than the school kids, which made it even more rewarding when they began to happily greet us and joke around - the lessons are always excitingly unpredictable because they're so cheeky. We try to plan fun lessons, as the boys already attend school each day. We also play games for half an hour afterwards, as an added incentive to voluntarily study for an extra 45 minutes per day.

7:00pm - We arrive back to dinner, which is in the same style as lunch. Dinner is always a fun meal, as most of our tasks are over for the day and we can relax over the delicious food.

Of course, this routine is only during weekdays. During the weekends at home we're free to do what we like, which usually includes going to the markets and chatting with the growing number of vendors who recognise and greet us. Otherwise we're off on our weekend trips, the most recent of which were a desert trip and tiger safari.



We all loved the desert trip - seeing the sights of Jodhpur, before making our way into the desert (which included some crazy off-road sections) where we slept under the stars on homemade beds. Our host family was very friendly, made us delicious food and joined in with our fun. We watched the sunset from a sand dune, got up at 5am for a camel journey to see the sunrise, took lots of camel selfies (see above photo) and sat in the dunes and around the house, enjoying the stillness of the desert.

The tiger safari, in Ranthambore National Park, was a great way to see the forest, but unfortunately, for us at least, didn't include any tigers... This didn't matter too much, as the hotel was lovely and we spent lots of time by the pool trying to tan (i.e. getting burnt).

You can probably tell what a great time we're having and how much we love our kids. We can't believe we only have a month left, but we're determined to leave a lasting impact so that they can benefit from us like we've benefited from them. Because of this, we've recently set up a crowd funding website (https://www.mycause.com.au/page/84008/acoffeeforachild) to address health issues in our school community, help the orphanage with basic infrastructure, and we're also looking at setting up a fund for the orphanage boys to continue studying once they leave. If you can help us out at all, we'd appreciate any donation.

Phoebe

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Rain won't stop the fun in Borneo


COUNTRY: Borneo & Cambodia
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Building & Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Clare O'Brien

If the last month was a gym work out it would be leg day.

The four remaining members of our Borneo group headed to Bongkud, the camp situated right next to Mt. Kinabalu. This was a major change in landscape from jungle to pretty much rolling green hills. When we arrived at camp we were greeted by Eve, our new camp manager, who told us, "Just think of me as you're older sister. I would say mother but that makes me feel too old." Despite this, she did in fact become our mother. She was always looking after us making sure we were well fed and having fun. Not only that but she would join us every dinner time and just sit with us. Chatting to her and listening to her stories made time fly by.

The reason I called this month leg day is because we had to prepare for our Mt K climb. The camp is situated right next to Bongkud hill, a hill that if you climb 8 times is the equivalent to climbing Mt K. We could not resist a hill like that and we were determined to climb it at least twice before our climb. Not only did we climb it, but when the new gappers for this month joined, they climbed it with us. They did this even though they weren't going to be climbing Mt K- that's impressive!

However, we did made one mistake. Our second time climbing was a project day. This made the day SO much more intense. The project work that we were involved in was cement mixing, and a lot of it. Even though it felt easier than Tinangol we defiantly mixed more cement. We were helping to set the foundations for a new kindergarten the community was building.

On the second week, in the afternoons two people would go back to camp and teach some of the community kids. Now this was amazing. The kids were different ages ranging from 6-12 so we had to somehow cater for them all. It wasn't a problem though the older kids acted like the translators and helped out in any way they could. Right at the end, however, we completely broke the language barrier. We played Frozen songs. Everyone was singing in perfect English- it was fantastic.



Soon enough we were set to climb the mountain. There was one problem Eve had given two of us a case of conjunctivitis and I had twisted my ankle. We were determined to not let it stop us though, and we powered right up that mountain.

I can't even describe the experience. I wish I could upload photos because honestly it was amazing, turning around and realising you were in the clouds, climbing at 2am to reach the summit and turning back to see a stream of head torches it was just an incredible experience.

Even though all this sounds like it was happening in fantastic weather this month brought rain so much so that it started raining inside our long house!

Anyway, the night before we left there was a bonfire, speeches, songs and even us singing and dancing. It was incredible and I never wanted to leave Eve, but Mantanani was our next stop.

This beautiful island was sadly only beautiful for us for two days, then it rained, every single day. And I don't mean light rain, this is the crazy thunder and lightning storms we get back home. The thunder was so loud it had the chief cowering in our dinning room. You couldn't dampen Aida's enthusiasm though. Every chance we got we were out doing project work and then having to sprint back to camp when it started raining.

We did get to finish the toilet blocks but due to the amount of rain on our last few days the pipes burst and sadly destroyed a lot of the hard work we had put in.

Whenever the weather was calm though we were either in the sea, playing volleyball or touring round the island with Aida. I even got a private sunrise walk (mainly because no one else wanted to get up at 5 in the morning). It was beautiful, we walked our way out to the tip of the island and even though it was cloudy the sky still turned some amazing colours.


I think the most fun I had on that island was the last two days, well three considering we got stuck on the island an extra day. There was a bit of unrest on the island so four of our nine decided to leave the island two days early, but that's when the fun began. We got cooking lessons with Aida and walked over to the other side of the island where we saved some birds and saw some awesome starfish. Not only that but we were smashed in scrabble by the chief and Aida, people who speak English as a second language! It seemed like the others just left at the wrong time. Our supposed last night was fantastic, we had this massive BBQ, but because it was raining we had it out of a wheelbarrow inside our eating area. We then chilled with Aida, played cards and just had a great night.

We woke up to weather that ensured we'd be stuck on the island for one more day. We then had a roller-coaster boat ride out the next day. And our two months in Borneo were up, just like that.

Time has absolutely flown by, the places have been fantastic, however it's the people that have made the biggest impact on me. Eve and Aida have inspired me. Eve's story of having to build her camp in a month, have the most stressful time of her life and not giving up, to work through that and come into the most amazing job of her life. And Aida who when I made the comment "there's just so many different things I want to do" replied "why can't you." and then had the most amazing stories to tell.

It's sad leaving them all behind but we're onto the next leg of our adventure now. Four of us are heading off into Cambodia, for what I'm sure will continue to be a fantastic journey!

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Finishing the mud house, a trip to the sandbank and 4 important lessons



COUNTRY: Tanzania
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Building, renovation & construction
WRITTEN BY: Sybilla Galvin

The past two weeks have been so busy for us here at Camp Tanzania! We've had our first African clubbing experience, handed over our finished house, been sea-weeding with the local mummas and said goodbye to a couple of team members (down to 12 at the moment and will be 10 by Wednesday). We are loving every minute of our placement and sometimes have to remind ourselves that being here is real.

The Friday just past was a rewarding and humbling day for everyone involved in the construction of our mud house. Although we weren't the ones to start the project, we are filled with a great sense of achievement that we were the ones to finish it. Sticking to our goal, we managed to get our mudding, paving, flooring and painting complete within three weeks. The bulk of our time was spent paving the walls, which everyone had an equal part in doing. While Lauren, Ella, Sarah B and myself stayed to make the floors level with mud and string, the rest of the crew began working on a toilet block for a member of the village who recently became paraplegic in a soccer incident (work on the structure will still be underway this week).

By midweek most of the team were back in our mud house coating the walls with lime. On Friday we were handed buckets of bright coloured paints & brushes and were granted creative liberty for the day. Eliphas, our leader, was quite keen on the idea of flowers, so that's the theme we went with and I must say I'm pretty stoked with the result. At the end of the day we met the family who would be moving into our house- their gratitude and loss for words made it all worth the effort, and that alone has made me all the more excited to get started on our next project.



One day this week, we put work at the mud house aside to give a hand at seaweed harvesting with one of the local mummas, which turned out to be a really interesting process. The seaweed is sold and used here in the village as a source of protein for children (made into a powder and added to meals). We spent the morning in the water breaking off small branches of weed and tying them to a long row of strings, which we fastened into the mud in neat rows with stakes. The afternoon was not what anyone would describe as riveting work. We sat in the shade around the biggest tangle of smelly, rotten strings I'd ever seen and attempted to free each line. Our efforts looked pretty dismal but I suppose it was one less thing the mummas had to worry about.

This past Saturday was a great day for everyone as we planned a well-deserved excursion to the 'sandbank' for Hannah's birthday, travelling by bus and boat. In not what I would describe as the most seaworthy vessel, we departed from Tanga town (into quite calm waters- to the relief of the few motion sickness prone passengers on-board). The first stop was a kilometre or so away from the sandbank shore, where we stayed for an hour for a spot of snorkelling- there really wasn't too much to see beside a school of fish and 2 or so starfish but in all it was a lot of fun for those of us who did go in. The sandbank was exactly what comes to mind when one mentions a deserted island; the sand was white and the water a brilliant blue. We couldn't believe how beautiful and secluded it was, not to mention how refreshing a proper swim was.




We were supplied with a packed lunch of chapati, salad and food things of an unknown variety. By 3:30pm the island was beginning to disappear so we packed up and headed back to camp, all feeling a little sun kissed (some much much more than others) and exhausted from being in the sun all day. In the evening we got into embarrassingly matching NFL jerseys (purchased from the markets) and got a maxicab to a club in Tanga, which I'm really not sure how to describe in text. I'll leave the description at… different.

3 weeks has been enough to learn some valuable lessons when it comes to life here. These 4, however, seem to resonate with everyone in the group the most:

Lesson 1: never ask what you're eating
Lesson 2: don't expect anything to happen on time- if the taxi is booked for 9, don't bother getting ready until 9:15
Lesson 3: vague answers are about as good as it gets- don't expect a full explanation of what exactly it is you will be doing in advance of it actually happening; 1 minute crash courses are given for each new trade when we get to site.
Lesson 4: do NOT leave the zip of the tent open (even the slightest) at night as it makes guests including the camp dog, frogs and lizards feel welcome.

On a final note, we heard word this week from Bronwyn and Nathan (the Melbourne couple who were at camp with us for 2 weeks) about their Kilimanjaro success. The lack of training they did in the lead up has made us all feel ready and led me to believe that we will make it- no sweat.

Sybilla x

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