Wednesday, 28 January 2015

5 adventures in India not to be missed

PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Jasmine Horrocks, Newcastle University Business Faculty

India has been a unique and hectic but completely fascinating country to explore. From New Delhi’s bustling streets to the ancient pink buildings of Jaipur, India has something for everyone to enjoy. Here are five adventures/experiences you don't want to miss:

1. An auto-rickshaw ride

Auto-rickshaws seem to be the life blood of Delhi and are easily spotted in traffic by their distinctive yellow cab covers. These vehicles weave in and out of the congested streets with seeming ease, often driving on the bicycle paths along the sides of the road in order to avoid the chaotic traffic. We have taken many rides in these wonderful vehicles and even once squashed four people into one (normally autos take two to three people) which was hilariously fun!

2. Getting inked with henna

This is a top pick for everyone, especially girls. At the learning centre where we are volunteering, the older girls spent an afternoon drawing beautiful patterns, flowers and swirls on our hands in henna, which was so special.

3. Delving into foodie paradise

Dehli really is heaven for those that appreciate a variety of flavours. The range of spices, curries, breads and sweets is quite simply phenomenal! Our favourite dish so far has been chole bhature, which consists of puffed up fried bread and a spicy chick pea dipping sauce, eaten with your hands, of course.

4. A trip to Jaipur

Outside of Delhi there are two essential adventures in undertake. Firstly a trip to Jaipur is a must; its scenery, local ambience and spectacular Moghul architecture is dazzling. The highlights of this city include its famous pink buildings, elephants travelling along the streets, fantastic market shopping and of course the spectacular Amber fort sitting against a dramatic mountain backdrop.

5. The Taj Mahal

Secondly- but most importantly- an adventure to the Taj Mahal would be the top of any traveller’s itinerary in India. There’s no mistaking why. Seeing the Taj Mahal in reality is truly breathtaking and is made even better when seen while wearing saris too! If you only do one thing out of my 5 must do's- make it this one. (I'd recommend doing all five though!)


Monday, 26 January 2015

A thrilling and surprising farewell to the Maldives for team UTS

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Sport and health workshops
WRITTEN BY: Joshua Dipple, UTS Sport and Exercise Science / Management student

With our trip underway, the 11 representatives from UTS were in full swing of island mode. Island mode consisted of starting everything later than the confirmed time, slow service at caf├ęs and scooters pulling out in front of you on the roads. Island mode also includes privileges such as stronger connections with students, in clinics and workshops and luxuries such as snorkelling, fishing, turtle catching, island getaways and eating a fantastic array of local food. With the locals so welcoming to us foreigners, the transition into Maldivian life was seamless.

It was not all smooth sailing though, as everyone knows ups and downs are experienced in all forms of life, especially when travelling. Sickness rocked the household for a few days and rain appeared in torrential measures for periods of time. But when given lemons, we make lemonade! Rain didn’t hold any team member back, with commitment still at full capacity; this was exemplified when we rode highly dysfunctional bicycles to soccer, netball, swimming and nutrition clinics in monsoonal rain. Although this became part of this UTS group's identity for the rest of this trip. Strong, determined, committed and passionate.

As all workshops and clinics began to finish up in the last week, it was a sad time for everyone: team UTS, the parents and all the students that have been on this journey with us over the three weeks. This was signified on Thursday, the climax to an amazing, life-changing experience. The workshops came to a close, gifts were exchanged and so many photos were taken and shirts autographed that we felt like celebrities, even if it was for only an hour or so. The swimming students even put on a picnic after their last lesson, with some students being lucky enough to receive individual gifts from appreciative students and their parents. The coaches also reflected the special connection shared by giving presents of their own to the kids.

It was all coming to a conclusion, with Friday being a day for cleaning, packing, reflecting, and making the most of our last day in the beautiful atoll of Addu in the Maldives. The day began with some cricket with the locals, some more goodbye photos, followed by a group lunch at a private island resort in the afternoon. Farewell dinner was consumed and present shopping for the most important people was undertaken directly post-dinner. On arrival at the guesthouse after a long, jam-packed day, the team were finalising packing and getting some much needed sleep.

But sleep was never on the agenda. Little did we know, but there was something much more exciting about to take place. It started with two swimming students offering to casually take us about 50 meters away where a couple of the cousins were dancing. We weren't too keen on the idea of it, but oh how wrong we proved to be. There would have been about 10-15 male dancers there, aged approximately 20+ working up a sweat that could nearly put the entire Maldives underwater, and the passion and enthusiasm which they exerted were sights to be seen. The locals soon caught onto us, offering us to dance, play drums and sing with them. It was absolutely amazing, and such a treat to experience an authentic local party on our last night. We headed home around midnight as we really did need some sleep. We later found out it was a circumcision party and I can say from being there, it was the best Maldivian party I’ll ever go to, and certainly not one I'll ever forget.

Ok, now it was time for sleep! Or was it? No, a soccer superstar that had deserted us for the last week due to a tournament he was attending, surprised us with a return to send us off. Night jumping off the peer, scooter riding and eternal chatting kept a few of the remaining students up until around 3am, with one student pulling an all-nighter just before the plane was about to leave! It was really special that Bonda paid for himself to come back and bid us farewell, so staying awake was the least we could do to repay his kindness.

Finally, team UTS would like to send out its biggest thank yous to Suna, Misbah, Bonda (Shamweel), Anif (Captain), Suni, Saif and Mika. There are many, many more people to thank, including students who attended clinics, food preparers and many more. To the UTS and Antipodeans staff behind the scenes who put in the hard work to make everything run smoothly for 11 happy-go-lucky uni students, our appreciation and thanks go out to you.

Anif (Captain), we appreciate the trips out to the big blue and to experience snorkelling, sea fishing, teaching us the ropes on how to jig and trolling. These opportunities will be cherished forever.

Suni, you were the person who we looked to when a smile was needed. Always smiling and happy, thank you for your translation skills and assisting with activities carried out. Saif, we are so appreciative of your hard-working attitude. Even though he only knew two English words ('yes' and 'no'), he was the most efficient and kind person we've even seen. Mika, at six year old, the world is your oyster. Everyone has had so much fun with you, thank you for taking us into your world. Bonda, the Maldivian international soccer superstar, thank you for sharing your experiences, wisdom and personality with us.

I have to leave one last special mention for Suna and Misbah. These wonderful humans are Antipodeans' in-country partners that made everything happen. Our initial perceptions of this trip were to work with kids, but Suna and Misbah’s efforts have enhanced the experience of this trip immensely, as if it wasn’t great enough! Activities such as snorkelling, fishing, dinners, transportation, private islands, resorts, and assisting with soccer, netball, swimming and nutrition clinics shows their dedication and commitment to this wonderful cause.

Mutually agreed by the entire team, these amazing souls weren’t just a part of our lives, but they WERE our lives. Words aren’t able to sum up the gratitude we as a team have towards these wonderful people and this trip, but memories and experiences last a lifetime, so nothing will be forgotten. To all future UniBreak volunteers, you're in unbelievably good hands!

Shukuriya (thank you)!


Saturday, 24 January 2015

JCU teachers making a difference

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Education
WRITTEN BY: James Cook University

Since arriving in Siem Reap on Thursday 8 Jan, after 3 flights and 12 hours in the air, so much has happened already. We have completed our first week of teaching, gotten to know our students and enjoyed many bumpy tuk tuk rides. We have sampled various delicious local dishes and tested almost every coffee shop in town (‘Sister Srey’ cafe is becoming a favourite amongst many of us). But, most importantly, we have all been very busy developing relationships with our Khmer teachers and with each other. So, where do I begin…

Upon our arrival in Siem Reap, we were greeted by the very friendly Davy and our very patient bus driver who loaded our very heavy luggage into the van and we were off to Jasmin Guest House. We arrived at our guest house, dropped our luggage off, connected to the Wifi (very important) and were taken to what has now become our regular lunch hang out, Neary Khmer. The food here is amazing and we have all been shocked at the service and quality of many of the restaurants and cafes around Siem Reap.

In general we have so far avoided eating the coveted tarantula, snake and scorpion. Maybe next week! :) Lime sodas, mixed fruit shakes and fresh coconuts are regular sights at our lunch table each day. The program has been organised so that we get to meet up each day for lunch. This is a good opportunity to share our experiences with each other. Our group has been divided up between three schools. One is in the Siem Reap township and the other two are a little further out.

The girls at the school in the city are treated to a tuk tuk ride from our very comfy guesthouse to the placement. We expected each school to run their day-to-day activities, lessons and timetable differently, but it has been quite a surprise at just how much each program and the students differ.

The girls who have been placed at the further away schools are driven by minivan at 6:30am for a slightly earlier 7:00am start. Despite these two schools being just 10 minutes apart, they are worlds apart in terms of development. The vast differences will ensure, however, that each of us will take away unique memories from our time here.

The days are long here. We are up at around 5:30am and do not return to the guest house until 5:30pm most days and then there is planning to do and resources to be made. We eat out at restaurants and cafes for dinner most nights; the local food is so varied and delicious! Sometimes if we're feeling super tired we'll just order in pizza and occasionally wash it down with the local Angkor beer.

We have our weekends to sightsee, shop and be pampered. Our group has a keen interest in responsible tourism and has been actively seeking out organisations and products that help the local people lift themselves out of poverty. From fishy foot spas and facials to trips to Phnom Pen and elephant rides- the Australian teachers know how to have a good time :) We can’t believe how quickly this 11 days have flown by. We miss you all!



Thursday, 22 January 2015

UniBreakers sink their feet into Maldives' golden sand

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Teaching & Sports Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Emily Edwards and Katie Brown

After months of anticipation, our adventure finally began. We were warned of delays, but little did we expect it would be days before we would arrived at Kolamaafushi. Instead, we had our own little adventures at Male and Thinadhoo, meeting the locals, riding motorcycles, searching for coconuts and buying a not-touristy-at-all ‘I-Heart-Maldives’ tee.

The team assembled on the Blue Shark (a ferry) to Thinadhoo. Boarding the vessel proved to be an interesting experience, as it was connected to the land with a single plank. Our fear quickly dispersed with the sight of the gorgeous local kids grinning and staring intensely. This sensation continued when we arrived on the island, surrounded by local smiles and curiosity. Everyone on Thinadhoo was incredibly welcoming, providing us with canoes and hours of karaoke. Definitely a team bonding experience.

We were sad to depart from Thinadhoo, but extremely excited to see Kolamaafushi – an island we fell in love with almost instantly. It was definitely a red carpet experience, greeted by the teaching staff and families. We had an accommodating welcome at the local school where we were given fresh coconuts while we discussed our plans and intentions for the next month.

Our first day was full of adventures – Assad, our guide, showed us around the island. Kolamaafushi has two main roads, going vertically across and horizontally across the little island. On our second day we were taken out to an uninhabited island to go snorkelling. The huge underwater coral formations were breathtaking and we were lucky enough to see a shark. On the beach of the island we barbequed a dolphin fish, with a potato for Sonia and Emily.

We were renowned on the island for our enthusiastic singing, constantly chanting the lyrics to Katy Perry, Shakira, ABBA and Avril Lavigne. We became known as Phil and the Girls. We've loved our short time here so far and are very excited for the days ahead; we'll keep you posted.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Summary of my GapBreak in Argentina!

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Clem Rocks

Our volunteering was an experience like no other. We spent the afternoons in our banged up van driving out to ‘las villas’, the slums of Buenos Aires. There, we worked with children filling their time after school with fun activities so they weren’t left to wander around the dangerous slums alone. Although the surroundings were confronting our afternoons were certainly filled with joy as we skipped, played with puzzles and taught some of the older kids English.

The way our placement was structured meant that we were essentially living in a student residence in Buenos Aires for 3 months. For all of us this was the first time we lived away from our parents, leaving us to take care of ourselves in a new city far away from the comfort of Australia.

Our volunteering was much more flexible than most, giving us quite a bit of downtime to explore BA and Argentina. We spent a lot of this time exploring the city and doing touristy activities such as a graffiti tour, a day trip to Tigre and ‘La bomba del Tiempo’, a local percussion concert just to name a few. We spent a weekend in Mendoza, Argentina’s wine country and went on a trip with our volunteering organisation to Northern Argentina and Iguazu Falls. For many of us, this was the highlight of the trip working in the Peruti Village as we got the opportunity to see a totally different side of poverty in Argentina which was unlike our work in the slums.

We froze in the snow in the Andes and cycled in 34 degree heat through Misiones. We ate our weight in $2 pizzas from 'Fabrica’s' and spent a day in Uruguay. We met some interesting people, from sassy Argentinians to loud Germans and everything in between. We played puzzles, read (very poorly) in Spanish and woke up with sore muscles from piggybacks in the villas. We laughed, we cried and we spent a confusing day in Paraguay. All in all, it was a crazy, incredible and unforgettable way to spend a gap year.


An emotional first week in Cambodia for Newcastle students

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

What an adventure it has been so far! We arrived safely in Phnom Penh on the night of January 11. Straight to the hotel and I think we were all so tired that none of us realised that Cambodia is left hand drive and we got on the bus on the right side!

We woke up a little jet lagged and headed out for our day trip at 8:30am. We had the pleasure of doing the first part of our tour on a cyclo, which is literally a chair on wheels in front of a bicycle. Being able to look around and take in the city this way was amazing. We went to the palace (right where the king actually lives) and learnt all about Cambodia's past governments and leadership. We went to the national museum and were able to observe the art, Buddha statues and historical items. It was very enlightening to learn about the beliefs within Cambodia's culture.

After this we hopped on a bus and went to lunch at the Friends Restaurant that supports children and adults living on the street by teaching them skills in hospitality. 40 minutes away were the Killing Fields. I don't think any of us were prepared for what we were about to see! There was a building that was full of bones and skulls, weapons and some clothing in glass boxes. The Fields were a shocking experience, as was the Genocide Museum. This was in the main city of Phnom Penh at a place that used to be a school which was turned into a jail during the Khmer Rouge. A lot of the shock came from the fact that we were able to walk straight into rooms used in torture and captivity. A positive was meeting a survivor and showing our respects to him, all getting photos with this incredible man and purchasing his book to understand his story.

The next day was much quieter. We visited the school and refuge to see where we would be operating for the next 5 sessions. The school is incredible. Its founder and manager are inspiring for the work they do here for struggling families and orphaned children of the garbage tip workers here in Cambodia. The school operates for 2 large sessions a day, with classes as large as 80 students! The children are eager to meet us, as we are them, and we can't wait to get started tomorrow! The refuge is unique and an imperative support for children attending the school. It provides a safe sleeping place and home environment, supported by their lessons and regular meal they receive during school days. The organisation is truly incredible. To end the day we had a lesson in the local language, Khmer, and hit the pillow early to rest up for the big day ahead.

At the school we really hit the ground running. Making do with what we had available to us, we set up a makeshift clinic that consisted of several nursing stations. After only an hour to set up the students started filing in. The excitement on their faces as they came through was unbelievable and filled us all with pride for the work we were yet to do.

The last three days has been full on with many emotions ranging from heartbreak, joy and the frustration that comes with working in a low resource environment. But our amazing team have pulled together to make the most of the resources we had. Doing health checks on children, we are finding that there are a lot of the similar problems in this community. Some of the conditions we have commonly encountered are head lice, terrible dental standards, some minor wounds and fungal infections and a lot of dehydration, dietary and bowel issues. This hands-on experience makes us all appreciate the luxuries we take for granted back home such as sanitation and basic health care.

My typical day teaching in Pokhara

PROJECT: Education and Nursing
WRITTEN BY:  Julia Quine

This past week, the clouds have lifted and the fog has shifted, and we were finally greeted with uninterrupted views of the beautiful mountains that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by here in Pokhara. This made for perfect conditions to do the arduous walk (for me anyway, the others were powering up) to the World Peace Pagoda. The stupa itself was incredible, and when viewed with a backdrop of the mountains, it made for one of those moments where you all you can really think is '…wow'.

We got a true Nepalese experience this week… a surprise strike! We are still not entirely clear on the reasoning for it, but what it did mean was that we were left with two days of no taxis or buses, and very few shops open. This took away from us a day of work (and also our opportunity to paraglide :’(, but gave us an opportunity to do the rather long walk to Lakeside and enjoy a more leisurely day than we usually have on our work days. On that note…!

A Day In The Life (when there isn’t a strike)
This daily routine is specific to myself, but the food part is certainly one that many of the others probably experience too!

7am– Alarm goes off. We roll around groaning and muttering “but we’re so warm and toasty.”

7:10am– Think about the breakfast we are about to be given by our host family and get out of bed a little more willingly.

8am– Walk to our host family’s house (we are living in a separate room a few doors down) and find a jug of tea and cups waiting for us on the table, every single morning without fail. Breakfast is generally one of two things: porridge with apple/banana and buffalo milk, or an omelette and copious amounts of ‘pali’ – Tibetan flatbread that is served warm. Amazing.

8:45am- Hop on a bus to work. The buses are small, with a rundown exterior but quite an elaborate interior. Decorated roofs, loud Hindi music playing, and some sort of tasseled decorations hanging around the driver.

9am– Arrive at the nunnery, being greeted by 36 smiling girls waving and shouting “Good morning miss!’. Watch as the girls line up for assembly and start singing their morning prayers. It is quite hypnotising.

9:30am- Lessons begin! Each lesson is only 40 minutes, making planning for each day quite an easy process. I take every level (Kinder, 1, 2, 3, 4) throughout the day, each presenting their own challenges but all full of the loveliest young girls you can imagine (except for some of the tiny ones – there are definitely some cheeky little monkeys running around.) The level of English is impressively high among the majority of the girls, and they are all very attentive and eager to learn which makes my job much easier and more enjoyable.

11am-Tea break. Literally all that happens on this break is tea drinking. The girls all sit around and drink tea quietly.

12pm- Lunch time! This isn’t any old lunch break though – this is a 2 hour break where I am fed a huge meal and then can do anything from play badminton with some of the girls, sit on the roof and do henna, or even be forced to dance while all the girls sit around in a circle and laugh while the teachers and even a monk whip out their smart phones and start filming. I like to think they are laughing with me, but it’s definitely at me. Definitely.

3:10pm– School ends. We are served tea and biscuits, and are then on our merry way back home on a similarly funky bus, but this time it is significantly more crowded. People are hanging out the door and people are getting on the roof. You see pictures, but it is something else to see it in reality.

7pm– Dinner time. Dahl baht is the staple meal here it seems (lentil dahl and rice), but we have also been served ‘thukpa’ (a delicious traditional Tibetan soup that has yak cheese in it) and fried rice. Sit around for many hours some nights discussing various things, often laughing a lot. We absolutely love our family, and everyone else seems to be growing similarly close to their own families. How lucky we all are.

9:30pm– Pack our bags for the next day, face the freezing cold shower (and by shower I mean bucket shower. You truly haven’t lived until you’ve had to pour cold water over yourself from a bucket in freezing temperatures), and then hop in bed to get our beauty sleep ready for the next day.

The nurses wake up considerably earlier (we’re talking 5:45am some mornings!) and head to work about 6:30am on one of the aforementioned public buses. The days can vary from observing surgeries to working on the wards. No two consecutive days are the same. Some have witnessed babies being delivered and a caesarean, and some have witnessed practices that are no longer used in Australia, which has made for an interesting experience.

This week some of the nurses also had the opportunity to go to the Monastic school and teach the boys about good hygiene practices using posters, songs and presentations.

This weekend the group is heading to Chitwan National Park! Crossing our fingers and toes that we get to see a tiger. We’ve also been informed that there are more strikes happening next week. We are well and truly integrated into Nepalese life now…