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Friday, 19 September 2014

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!


COUNTRY: France
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Language Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Allie Boyd

It seems so incredible that two weeks ago I was saying my goodbyes to family and friends with both excitement and nervousness. The journey is already a quarter of the way through and it seems like only yesterday I took my very firsts steps in the très magnifique city of Paris!

I arrived a day before Holly and didn’t waste any time ! I spent my first day in Paris walking though the beautiful, elegant Parisian streets, passing the sophisticated men and women, and gazing at the mouth-watering pastries and macaroons in little café windows. I think you get the best view of Paris by walking its streets. You catch portions of the language, the style and beauty of the city. After all the days and nights of dreaming of the magic of Paris, I was so excited to finally be there and experience it all. It was so much more than what I expected!


After an excellent walk through Luxembourg Gardens I eventually made it to Notre Dame. After marvelling at the building I went inside and decided to attend the mass service. It was entirely in French but it was a wonderful experience to witness. Towards the end of the service, I decided to head back to FIAP to see if Holly was back after I embarrassed myself by not knowing how to take part in communion. It was an amazing first day in Paris and I was so excited for the following week and all the amazing things I could do.

Having little background knowledge in French other than a basic knowledge and some 'key phrases' from the first semester at university (which have not actually come up in a conversation), we were very nervous for our first day at Paris Langues. At 9am Monday morning we waited anxiously to take our French level tests to see what class we would fit into.

We both came out saying how we thought we knew more than we actually did and we were both placed in a great beginners class. Our teacher, Claudine, was so lovely but only spoke to us in French! Over the week, hearing French continuously became easier to understand but the work on verbs and grammar was extensive and at times quite difficult to understand. But we did feel like our vocabulary was improving every day and that we could construct some basic sentences with the help of our classmates. In our class there were people from all over Europe. We had lots of fun getting to know them and learning about their individual country’s culture. They were so patient and willing to help us out.

Our classes were from 9am-12pm, which meant we had all the afternoons to explore and wander the streets of Paris. Everything is incredibly beautiful and so old. Being from a small country town, I was completely fascinated and enriched by everything I saw, as everything in Australia is so new in comparison! Every piece of Paris holds a unique history and story, and I was enchanted by the gothic architecture and detail in every building, garden or statue. It was also lots of fun to try out some of my French in some of the cafes and patisseries. My favourite was a place called 'Paul', which is all over the city and j’adore the pain au chocolat!

We visited some great places like Luxembourg Gardens, Notre Dame, Arc De Triomphe, the Louvre, Catacombs, La tour Eiffel (of course!), and went on a cruise along the Seine River! It was an absolutely incredible experience and we felt so independent and grown up.

After an incredible week, we had an early night on Friday so Holly could prepare for the next part of her France journey: meeting the host family in Le Mans, while I decided to stay in Paris for another week at FIAP.

Best week ever!

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

A personal reflection of my time in Cusco


COUNTRY: Peru
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching, Building & Construction
WRITTEN BY: Lydia Searle

Hola amigos!

Our Antipodeans Abroad placement in Cusco has come to an end, and the time to reflect on it is beginning. The two months have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but I am so very glad that I took his opportunity and came to Cusco to volunteer. Thinking back over the two months, I can’t believe how differently I feel about the trip now to how I did as I was leaving Australia. On my flight from Sydney to Santiago I sat next to an older man from Lima, who was very interested in what I was doing and why I was headed to Peru. When I explained to him about our Antipodeans group and that we were volunteering in a school, he told me that we all must have strong characters and good hearts to do what we were doing. He bolstered my conviction that I could do this.

That feeling disappeared when I landed in Cusco, and all I could think about was that I was here for two months, in this foreign place without my friends or my family or anything that I knew. As someone who is naturally quite shy and introverted, I often wondered during that first week of introductions and group activities if I’d made a mistake- if I’d gone too far out of my comfort zone and set myself up for a hard, unhappy two months. As it turns out, it was a hard two months- but definitely not unhappy. I didn’t expect when I left Australia that I would come to think of Cusco as a second home, or that I would find a second family and a new group of friends who I could spend my evenings laughing and joking and having so much fun with. I didn’t expect to feel such a strong sense of pride and care over the children in the school, and the skills that they developed in our classes. I didn’t quite know what to expect of construction, but I was sure it would be hard work- that I was right about!

As well as being an amazing learning and growing experience for us personally, our two months in Cusco were definitely well spent work-wise: we built a tank and irrigation system to supply the school’s six greenhouses with water, we taught the children in the school basic English that we could see them demonstrate every day, and we ourselves became confident enough Spanish speakers that we were able to have conversations, book our own tours, and come away with skills that will serve us well into our futures.

Looking back, the placement wasn’t exactly what I expected. It was so, so much more- one of the best experiences of my life.

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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Exploring the mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland


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

Sawubona to all our Australian family and friends! Our first week on the African continent has flown by, and already we have many great stories to tell.

We all arrived in Swaziland on Monday and were greeted by the staff who took us to Lidwala Lodge, our home for the duration of our stay in Swaziland. The first two days in the mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland were spent exploring the local area and settling in to our new home. We are slowly getting used to the concept of 'Swazi time', the laid back lifestyle here means that often (nearly always) things to do not run to time, but we would not have it any other way.

A highlight for many for the first few days was a visit to Lobamba Village. Here we were able to really be immersed in Swazi culture and see how the locals live. We were greeted by many local children who were excited to say hello and give us a cuddle or a high five. During our visit to the village we also had the chance to taste a freshly brewed Swazi beer, which kind of tasted like salad dressing. Our visit was followed by a traditional dinner, comprising of three different types of meat, maize and beans with chilli, tomato and onion.

On Wednesday we embarked on our journey to Kruger National Park where we would be spending the next five days on safari. After a five-hour long bus ride we arrived and were immediately greeted by hippos, giraffes and impalas. The incredible scenery and wildlife continued to amaze us over the coming days. I think I can speak for the whole group when I say that the number one highlight was spotting a leopard and watching it stalk and kill a mongoose! Some other great moments were watching a lion walk in front of us on the road and spotting a month-old baby elephant. We were lucky enough to spot the Big 5 over our time at Kruger as well as many other animals including cheetahs, baboons, kudus and a wide variety of birds. Our days were filled with unlimited game drives, however at night we enjoyed sitting around the campfire sharing stories or enjoying a cocktail by the bar that overlooked the river where elephants and hippos often came down to drink.

We are now settled back in to our home in Ezulwini, and have much to look forward to, with our first day at our neighborhood care points on Tuesday and a ziplining canopy tour of Swaziland planned for the weekend.

Until next time, Sala Kahle!

Emily

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Friday, 12 September 2014

Tanzania Gappers complete project work in record time



COUNTRY: Tanzania
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Building, renovation & construction
WRITTEN BY: Madi McAllister

Jambo!

This will probably be the hardest blog I’ve had to write, after the best three months of our lives it has come to an end, but for some it’s not goodbye – it’s see you later.

The main project – the toilet block, was scheduled to be a 5 month project, and was supposed to be finished in October… but with all the hard work we put into over the past two and a half months, we were definitely not letting another group finish our work! We were working full steam ahead on the toilet block to get it done. In the final two weeks we have: built doors and door frames, made two "L" shape walls around the doors, laid hundreds of bricks and plastered absolutely everything! We built the structure of the roof and the Fondis (tradesmen) put it all up and put tin sheets on the roof. In our final three days of project work, we were pushing ahead- exhausted, and some sick- to get it done. We spent three full days of painting, starting with a few coats of lime undercoat, then the yellow top half and the bottom blue half. In the final few hours we painted black all around the bottom as a border and we added all of our handprints and the names of everyone who contributed to the building. We could not have been any prouder or happier with completing our project ahead of schedule and showing the school, village and our project workers that with determination, hard work and a focus of finishing it can be done!


There was another group who was also working on a mud house for a Mama in the village next to the school; this project began during our second month and they already finished! The mud house consisted of building the mud walls, painting and putting down a concrete floor. The mud house group put money together and brought her a bed and mattress with a mosquito net and a few items for cooking. It was another incredible moment that touched everyone's heart. The Mama was incredibly grateful of the work put in to her house, and was so thankful she now not just had a bed, but a mosquito net too. We've learnt that even the smallest gifts can truly make an impact on someone’s life.

With all our projects done and dusted and only a few days left in Tanga and Mwambani village, we held an assembly at Mwahako primary school to hand over all our completed projects. The included the classroom repainting and replastering, the verandas, two new taps, re-built desks, the toilet block and 728 books we donated after raising enough money! The head teacher made a lovely and touching speech in Swahili, translated into English by our project leader Eliphas. The village, teachers, school board, students and families were so grateful for our hard work and what we have done for them. They say “You haven’t lived a day until you do something for someone who can never repay you” and I’m pretty sure we all walked away feeling this way. We celebrated by getting tuk-tuks home on our last day, which we have been waiting to do the whole time, and it was a crazy and fun experience enjoyed by everyone!

After all of our work, we spent two days at the beautiful Peponi Beach resort, while we all got to relax by the pool and beach and reflect on the past months we have spent in Tanzania. Our last weekend consisted of our last trip into town, last football match against the locals (like every other game… we lost), last outing to the club 'La Vida Loca' and our last play with all the kids in the village whilst all the girls got their hair braided and henna tattoos for the trip home by the Mama. Saying goodbye was not easy for anyone and many tears were shed- even by the people we least expected it from.



We spent our last day in Moshi on a Safari at Tarangire National Park, where we got to drive around for hours in our opened roof, Jeep type of cars in the hot sun. We saw so many animals, including lots of elephants (like the one above!), zebras and giraffes, which were so amazing.

Now we are all safely back in Australia, Tanga and Mwambani village hold a special spot in our hearts. If it weren't for the friends we made, our project workers, chefs, camp leaders, our camp 'mum' and 'dad', the people in the village and everyone’s welcoming smiles and laughs, we wouldn’t have had such an incredible time. Some of us definitely plan to return there one day.

Thankyou to everyone and my fellow Aussies who I got to share the trip with – it wouldn’t have been the same without any of you. Goodbye for now, and I’ll see you all soon!

Love
Madi

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GapBreakers arrive in India


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

After 24 hours of travel, which included losing Fiz in Mumbai International Airport and finding her again in the domestic terminal, we arrived, exhausted, at the small airport in Udaipur. There we found our group leader, Pankaj, waiting for us with a big smile and a small van (without seatbelts, obviously). Initially we were surprised by every cow wandering across the road, but now they've become as normal as hair-raising overtakes and casually driving on the wrong side of the road. The share house is a small three storey block of flats (including an open roof with an amazing view of the sun setting over the hills) with bunk beds in each room; so far we've shared the house with four English girls, an Austrian, and most recently a girl from Switzerland.

Our first week was largely spent in orientation, getting to know the city, the school and the boys' home where we teach. Now, after just two weeks we know our way around the markets, and have figured out how to squash ourselves into public rickshaws- just 10 rupees or 20 cents for a twenty-minute ride! The markets have a great variety of shops, with lots of hippy pants, long skirts, leather-bound books and tempting silver jewellery. One of the best parts about India is the way that there's always something happening on the streets, whether it's donkeys fighting, a group of people chatting as they sell their vegetables, or an elephant standing in the middle of an alleyway.

We were all quite impressed by the tribal village of our school - despite very basic conditions, such as one-roomed houses with rocks covering the floor and no running water, the people are almost always smiling. The children are ridiculously cute, from the very first day they were running up to hold our hands and calling us Didi (big sister). Coming up with lessons to keep them interested has been a bit of a challenge, as 5-year-olds get distracted very easily, but the Hindi we've learnt during our lessons, such as "don't be naughty", "come here" and "be quiet" has been very useful!

At the orphanage we teach slightly older boys, and play 20 minutes of games with them at the end. The boys are lots of fun, although it is difficult to maintain discipline when you can't help laughing at their cheekiness. Our greatest success in games so far has been Fiz, who fell facedown in the dirt while trying to catch one of the boys during tag.

We've all settled in well, and in a way it's hard to believe it's only been two weeks. Watching the sun set from the roof, the rain fall on the impressively lush green fields, and the locals playing volleyball just across the road is a very peaceful way to pass the time - we've all been doing a lot more reading and much less phone time! Even yoga at 5:45am is bearable when the view of the surrounds is so beautiful. We're very excited to see what more India has in store for us, especially as this weekend we're off to Pushkar and travelling to the Taj Mahal next week for Shoumyaa and Annie's birthday!

Phoebe

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Never underestimate the power of stickers


COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Jess, Susie and Tarnya

Hello everybody!

We have officially been in Nepal for a month now and are celebrating with a weekend in Kathmandu - filling up on chocolate creeps from Himalayan Java and pizzas at OR2K, our new favourite vegetarian restaurant.

Two weeks ago we travelled to beautiful Pokhara, an eight-hour bus ride from Kathmandu. Pokhara is a beautiful, clean city, the main tourist strip surrounding Phewa Lake. We spent the weekend visiting temples, Devis Falls and the mountain museum. We also took a boat ride around Phewa Lake, and best of all, we went paragliding! It was such an exciting experience, and the city and surrounding countryside was even more incredible experienced from above.

We also travelled to Kathmandu for last weeks' long weekend. We began plans for a visit to Chitwan National Park, as well as white water rafting and a trek at the end of our placement! We are settling well into life in the village. Our mornings start at 7am with a cup of sweet Nepali tea, and then it's off to our daily Nepali lessons. We are slowly starting to get a grasp of the language, though usually find that our attempts at conversation are met with laughter by the confused locals - perhaps our accents need work!

Breakfast at 9.30am is usually dal bhat - rice with lentil soup and curried vegetables - but sometimes our lovely host mum Leela makes us pancakes. School starts at 10.20am and we take it in turns teaching our classes until 2.40pm. Teaching is a lot of fun and we love getting to know the kids! They can be loud and rowdy- especially the younger ones- but the noise is more than made up for by their cheeky grins and enthusiasm. But you can't underestimate the power of stickers! They have turned out to be the best thing we could have possibly brought; it's amazing to see the pure joy on their faces when they get a sticker for good work. And of course they are perfect for bribery! The kids love the Australian games we've taught them, and we are begged every lesson for a game of octopus (stuck in the mud) or heads down thumbs up.

After school we spend time in the garden making lesson plans, reading, playing cards, and doing our washing. Washing a week's worth of dirty clothes in a bucket is a daunting chore, and we will definitely appreciate our washing machines when we arrive back home.

When it gets dark we head inside and help our host brother, Sirjan, with his homework, and sit with Leela in the kitchen, trying to learn all the secrets to dal bhat. Leela has made us pasta for dinner a few times, which has made us feel very spoiled and at home with our beautiful family. By the end of the day we are exhausted and fall into bed, ready for the next days adventures!

Our next two weeks will be spent in Nursery celebrating the women's festival Teej, which we are very excited for!

Until next time,

Jess, Susie and Tarnya

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Friday, 5 September 2014

Goodbye Africa, thanks for the memories



COUNTRY: Southern Africa (Swaziland, Mozambique & South Africa)
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Elise Dean-Jones

Friends, it has come to the final stage of our trip to Southern Africa, and we couldn’t be sadder to leave.

The last blog post left you with the end of our first week in Cape Town, so here’s what we've been up to in the 3 weeks since then.

Every weekday we caught a cockroach up to our crèches, where a typical day during holiday time would involve reading stories, singing songs (some we learnt in Swaziland and taught to the kids here), playtime, lunch and then putting the kids down for a nap, which was our cue to leave for the day. We found that the kids here knew a lot more English than those in Swaziland, so when it did come time to teach or read stories the children could follow along much more easily. Despite their knowledge of the language, they sometimes chose to ignore us teachers until we offered incentives like stickers!

Unlike the others placements, our school doesn't have any electricity. This is problematic during winter mornings, where it can get very dark. So towards the end of the trip Lydia, Rosie and I all pitched in to buy some rechargeable lights for the classroom that Liesel- the principal- could charge at home when not in use at school. When we brought them in she told us "You are now bringing light into 74 people's lives", which is something I think will stay with us for a very long time.

After volunteering at our crèches in the mornings, we had the option to join in on some afternoon volunteer work around Hout Bay and Imizamo Yethu. On Monday and Thursday afternoons, a group of high school boys from the township come together to discuss ethical and moral issues within the community. We got to join in and discuss our opinions on different topics such as differences, relationships, life choices etc. I think I can say for all of us that it was a really enlightening experience to hear the boys' ideas and their positive attitudes - we could really learn a lot from each other. As a special treat we also got to take the boys on an excursion to the Cape Town Science Museum, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

The after-school care club didn't start up again until our last week in Cape Town, during which some of us volunteers helped to re-paint the exterior walls of the main building and also donated some paint for the logo to be printed on the wall. All the staff were very impressed and so grateful that we could do this for them, and it certainly gave us immense joy to help!

Josh and I plus a few friends volunteered some of our time at a soup kitchen run by a woman called Mirriam, who twice a week serves bread and soup from the back of a car to the hungry people living in the community. She shared a story with us that a young boy had told her the reason he stole was because he was hungry and didn't have any money for food. This made her more determined to have the soup kitchen running not just twice a week, but nearly everyday, as it would not only feed people but would hopefully eradicate most of the crime in Imizamo Yethu. Us volunteers were so inspired by what she was doing that we collectively donated some money to her cause, surprisingly the equivalent to what she would receive in a month from the government. She was so grateful and overcome with emotion that it reduced us all to (happy) tears!

On the afternoons where we weren’t volunteering, we decided to see some of the sights Cape Town has to offer, including the famous Table Mountain (we were very lucky to have clear blue skies that day), the spectacular view from Chapman's Peak, and exploring the city centre of Cape Town.



A couple of weekends ago we went on the Red Bus tour, which filled us with information on Cape Town's history and enabled us to join on the Constanta Winelands Tour – which was $4 for tasting 5 different wines! The next weekend we booked a tour to see Boulders Beach, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. The highlight was riding bicycles through the national park alongside the captivating rough ocean, where so many ships have been captured. Lydia, Rosie and Laura and a few other volunteers attempted to go shark-cage diving, but the bad weather, sea-sickness and lack of sharks made it a less than ideal day. However, luckily they went back a second time and had a much better experience, even managing to spot some sharks! Josh and a couple of other volunteers attempted to go skydiving, but unfortunately the weather resulted in it being cancelled multiple times.





All the volunteers also had the opportunity to go on a homestay in Imizamo Yethu during our final two weeks in Cape Town with two different women, one of which was Mirriam, the same woman who runs the soup kitchen. Both women had grandchildren staying in their home so we were welcomed by the whole family. It was a really wonderful experience to stay in their homes, eat their typical food and really talk and engage with each other. Needless to say we all now have families to return to in South Africa.

Our final days soon crept up on us, and all of us were very emotional and sad to be leaving. Although the children at our schools might not have understood to the full extent that we wouldn't be returning after the weekend, there were tears in our eyes when we had to say goodbye to these kids who had stolen our hearts within the last month. The teachers all hope that we will come back soon, and I know that we all really want to! Our time in Africa has been an amazing, life-changing experience, and to any future Antips volunteers who might happen to read this, I can vouch for all of us and say that we strongly recommend the Southern Africa trip; you get to see so many places and meet so many great people!

Despite splitting up to go in different directions, we know that the tight knit family we have formed will stay in contact. Our time here may be over, but we have made friends for life.

Thanks Antipodeans for the amazing experience!

Elise, Josh, Laura, Rosie and Lydia

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