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Thursday, 18 December 2014

UTS students dive in to the majestic Maldives


COUNTRY: Maldives
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Sport and health workshops
WRITTEN BY: Melanie Boudib, UTS Sport and Exercise Science / Management student

Our travels began with three plane rides and a bus trip to our guesthouse, and after flying in at night, we were not at all prepared for what treasures lay before us on this island.

The 4.30am call to prayer wakes us from our air-conditioned slumbers, and marks the beginning of another day on an island full of colourful buildings and even more colourful locals, surrounded by impossibly blue waters. After months of anticipation, a week of frenzied packing, and a long 24 hours of travel, we are finally here.

Our first few days are full of exploring, and before we have even started teaching we've already toured the island with our gorgeous and hilarious in-country partner Suna and her husband Misbah, who is a never-ending fount of local knowledge and adventures. Then, of course, there is Bonda... Maldivian soccer star, fishing extraordinaire, and the one who has consistently cracked us up with his quiet jokes and constant "Aahaaa’s”. We've also played a soccer match in the local stadium, spent hours snorkelling the amazing reefs, visited the school we'll be running sports camps and health workshops in for the next three weeks, launched ourselves into the stretch of ocean we'll be teaching swimming in, and had numerous bike malfunctions which have just added to the adventure.

On our third day it feels like we've known each other forever, and it's time to start running the sports sessions. The kids are shy to start, but by the end of the three hours they're running around happily. Despite the heat that sees us Aussies sweating rivers before noon, the soccer and netball stars on the court don't want to stop, which is surely the sign of a morning well spent.



Our health workshops don't start until after the weekend, so we have a nice long break in the middle of the day until swimming coaching starts. These hours are generally wiled away riding bikes, climbing coconut trees, fishing with the 'Captain', or playing ball in our front yard. Then it's back to what I hesitate to call work, wading into the water to teach a younger group how to swim. It's surprising to see the varied skill levels of the kids, but by the end of the second day we've found our groove and everyone's having a lot of fun kicking, splashing, and laughing their way through the two hour lessons.

After what seems like only a day on the island, but in actuality has been a week, the weekend is here. We spend it much like we spend the other days, but it starts with more sleeping in and ends with an amazing beach barbecue for dinner, after a few wrong turns by our truck driver.

The next morning, those of us who haven't been out fishing with Bonda and the Captain venture across the choppy seas. After letting a HUGE fish get away with two hooks, leaving us only with a bent lure, the Captain tells us with a smile "there are three sizes of fish, small, medium, and 'the one that got away'". So we leave him to fish in peace and dive in to the water for a snorkel with Bonda, who catches us a big turtle to hold and get photos with, truly a once in a lifetime experience.



To see the weekend out in style, we boat over to a deserted island where the girls are allowed to ditch their rashies and boardies in favour of bikinis, and spend a blissful five hours snorkelling, playing beach soccer, and playing games in the water. We come home to a delicious buffet for a ridiculously low price by Australian standards, and then it's time to sleep.

The first week here has been a constant adventure. We've played countless sports (a Human Movement student's dream), ridden our bikes till the pedals fell off (literally), and we still have twice as long to go. Every night we exclaim how amazing this place is, and how long it feels like we've already known each other. We can't wait to see what other treasures this island holds, and we've definitely befriended the right people to help us find out.

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

UniBreakers in Nepal: Volunteering, living with a host family and travelling


COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Nursing and Paramedics
WRITTEN BY:  Amelia Walsh & Ellen Brown

The week started with an exciting trip to the Trisuli River for some white water rafting. It was great fun, although we found it would be better suited for the warmer Nepali months. Braving the freezing water with our comical and cheeky rafting guides, we took on the icy rapids with only one overboard incident… Nice pink undies!

The exhilarating first day of rafting ended with a campfire on the sandy banks of the river. Fresh faced and bleary eyed we bravely took on the rapids for a second time the next day. Needless to say there was a lot of cheering when it was the other boat that capsized, plunging into the artic waters. Ekta and I decided to brave a rock jump though could not convince the rest of us to follow. The two days of laughter and memories were well worth the hyperthermia!

After an interesting and eye opening first week we have begun to settle in at the hospital (though nothing seems to make the 6am starts any easier). With our professional relationships with the staff beginning to strengthening we are seeing many interesting cases.



The most significant and distressing patient I saw in E.D. was a lady being half carried in with obvious chest pain, even through the language barrier. Ten minutes later it was decided that an ECG should be done and as it was being printed I noticed the most obvious anterior STEMI I had ever seen. Though, the most shocking part of this patient experience was that this lady had to lie in the emergency bed, being untreated for over an hour before it was decided she should go to ICU for treatment. This was especially hard to watch, especially since we tried to suggest treatment options and they were dismissed.

Another significant patient was a baby less than one year old, who came in looking very limp with a low level of consciousness. It was decided by a nurse that suction was necessary as the baby was suffering respiratory distress. This didn’t seem to improve the baby’s state so it was then nebulized with salbutamol. Hours later, the baby was sent to the paediatric ward and was diagnosed with late onset sepsis.

As well as feeling more comfortable in the hospital we are all feeling right at home with our host families. With a lovely visit from our older host sister and her husband from Kathmandu, we brought 'Christmas' to Nepal when we hosted a large family dinner. After a grueling recipe search we decided on fritta and salad with honeyed banana pancakes for dessert. Although the food was well received and devoured within minutes a second Nepali dinner was needed to keep the hungry masses at bay. Continuing in the Christmas spirit we stayed home with our families the next day for a rare festival treat of Sel Roti- deep fried ring of ground rice, sugar and ghee- and momo, which are Nepali dumplings. The family roared with laughter as our poor Western mouths were shocked after tasting the extremely hot momo filling (our lovely sister then watered ours down with mashed banana).


The second week ended with a trip into the jungle with a visit to the tourist region of Sauraha! Meeting up with the boisterous Antips health team from Kathmandu and our brilliant Dutch friends we bravely took on the jungle on foot with a surprise close up sighting of a Rhino. We basked in the beauty of the setting sun and relaxed in the tranquility of early morning canoe ride down the foggy river. We took full advantage of the Western amenities, thoroughly enjoying our first hot shower in weeks. With a break from Dhal Bhat we enjoyed the hospitality of the resort and partook in some much need relaxation and retail therapy.

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A day in the life of a Swinburne student in Jaipur


COUNTRY: India
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Women's Empowerment and Street Children
WRITTEN BY: Kirsty Troy, Swinburne University

India has been amazing so far. It is so different to Western life in so many ways. The impression I get is that the people here do what they want, when they want. It is actually so refreshing that there are limited rules and that people are trusted to function together. It is especially surprising how well the traffic functions, considering the roads are so crowded with motorbikes, cars, tuk tuks, and the occasional dog, cow, or donkey. The way it works is that the vehicles sound their horn to alert others of their presence and make people move out of their way. Unlike in Australia where beeping your horn is considered rude or aggressive, here is it is expected and encouraged; the phrase ‘beep horn’ is usually painted on the rear of trucks.

Our weekdays are usually structured like this:

8.00am: Serve yourself breakfast, cooked by the wonderful cooks (Archina and Ladoe). We usually have a few dishes, such as fruit salad, vegetable curry, and chapatti.

9.00am: Leave for our placement in Elephant Village. The journey takes approximately 1 hour.

10.00am: Conduct the Good Morning song and prayer with the children, and then do 15 minutes of exercise.

10.30am: The volunteers break up into four set groups- working with and caring for young children (aged 4-7 years), teaching older children maths and English (aged 7-11 years), teaching girls and women computer skills, and teaching health and life skills to women.

3.00pm: Travel back to the guesthouse. Have chai tea and de-brief with our groups. Discuss how the day went and plan for the next day.

5.00pm: Free time to explore Jaipur! Our expeditions have included trying street food, being welcomed into Indian engagement parties and weddings, catching tuk tuks, and sprinting madly across busy roads.

7.00pm: Have dinner. We serve ourselves delicious authentic Indian food, including vegetable curry, endless chapattis, rice, dahl, and salad.

8.00pm onwards: Free time. Usually spend chilling out on cushions in the lounge area.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Reflecting on my time in Paris


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

When I started high school I wanted, more than anything, to learn to speak Japanese. Yet fate was such that I ended up studying French. When I arrived in France something just felt so right. France is inspiring and Paris is a city you instantly fall in love with. I lived almost every dream I’ve had so far in a mere 7 weeks in France (there was even one week where I ended up in Malta!) and when I arrived back in Australia, I was completely content with life.

It is hard to describe a place and an experience that was so perfect. I’ve made life-long friends from multiple countries, tasted some incredible food and wine, found a love for Camembert, climbed the Eiffel tower, and been to Versailles twice! I went to a truck festival in the racing city of Le Mans, spent (probably) millions on tickets for riding the metro, and bought Pride and Prejudice in French- and I can read it! I taught kids how to say Aussie slang, witnessed sophisticated men and women sipping their coffee and smoking their cigarettes in the small cafes and all in all, just experienced as much of the culture and lifestyle as humanly possible in my relatively short time there.

Languages are beautiful and it's so fun in Europe because no matter where you are you hear up to 4 or 5 different languages in one day! When I left France and arrived in London, it was the strangest feeling knowing that I no longer had to think or speak in French. This trip opened up so many opportunities and ideas for the future. It made me think about what I really want to do, and I’m still without answer, although teaching English as a second language doesn’t seem like such bad idea after all…

Thank you to the Antipodeans team for making this amazing adventure possible!

Until my next adventure… Au revoir!

I’d also like to dedicate this last post to my grandfather Frank Elsworthy who passed away before I left for France; I wish he could see all the amazing things happening for me ☺

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

ECU students make big impact in Cambodia


 COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Edith Cowan University Nursing Placement
WRITTEN BY: Pam Mercer

We had mixed emotions about returning home. We certainly wanted to see our families and loved ones, however there was so much more we had to offer and really did not want to leave. After the very busy weekend, where we tried to pack every bit of tourism and shopping into two days, we were very worn out. I'll give you a summary of our last week in Cambodia, even though I wasn't with the group for whole days due to my stomach bug.

Monday: The second week of our placement became much easier, as each group knew what was expected of them and were given clear briefs prior to changing locations. We all worked very hard this week. The joy in everyone's faces showed that not only the local people but the teachers, nurses, other aid workers and all the ECU students loved every minute of the work we were doing and we could all see the impact made by a little help. This evening was considerably more quiet and earlier to bed, probably due to the busy weekend and another hard day’s work.

Tuesday: All rotations were desperate to participate in a birth however no babies were born whilst we were there. Many students were lucky enough to go into the communities to give Vitamin A and worming/parasite tablets to the children who seemed to appear from everywhere. We combined the vaccinations with teaching the children games and they taught us a few that I hope to introduce in Australia.

Our Khmer improved every day and all the Cambodian people smiled and giggled at some of our pronunciations. When the clinics were quiet we decided to clean the birthing suite and treatment room. We arrived with buckets, scrubbing brushes and cleaning products and proceeded to scrub walls, floors, windows, bedding and instruments. It was not long before the local nurses joined in and again we saw how a simple task can change a future by preventing the spread of disease.

We decided to spend our evening at the circus. They were incredible, and our eyes were popping out of our heads watching their tricks and precise balanced moves. We had the opportunity to take several pictures with the performers. It made us very happy to hear that the circus was creating opportunities for acrobatically talented children to pursue another working avenue.



Wednesday: With Megan leaving today we had all started to talk about how quickly the placement had been moving and there were only a few days to the end. We had distributed as much of the supplies as we were able to take with us and with the assistance of Vichai found good distributers of medical equipment and medication to ensure sustainability until the next ECU group arrive in these locations. We were also able to identify areas that needed immediate attention and set about changing curtains to washable ones, bedding that was torn and full of insects were replaced and after meeting with the teachers we were able to increase equipment they required immediately. Our interpreters were wonderful, and our ability to work with them had improved immensely during our time with them. We seemed to be all part of a big family. We felt sadness at the loss of our team member, but wished her well for the preparations and wedding of her sister. For me I found the evenings lonely with Megan gone as we always chatted about our days and analysed how we had worked and what we could do better, giving each other suggestions for our groups to make placements flow correctly.

Our evening was filled with many different things; some girls went for well-deserved massages, others just dinner and bed and of course there was always time for shopping. New road rules had also been introduced and the streets were filled with police trying to enforce them. Hopefully their next rule will include helmets.

Thursday: As usual, our wonderful hosts had our breakfast ready for 6.30am so that we could leave for our placement. They were always so accommodating, it felt like home and I know we will miss their outstanding treatment. We were all part of the team now, knowing what each clinic or school expected of us and setting to work straight away. The locals seemed to love us being there and had also started to try to communicate with us. When the interpreter was busy, sign language and pictures seemed to do the trick. We could not get over how people with so little were always greeting us with a great big smile.

We were amazed how our interpreters seemed to suit each group, it was almost as if it was planned that way. Khan, Phiran & August are fantastic, not just with their interpreting skills but also as individuals. I believe they went above and beyond the requirement of an interpreter and could be relied upon every minute of the day for work related issues and personal issues if required.

Tonight was the farewell dinner, which was sad but also an excuse to dress up. We were glad for the chance to show our appreciation to Billy, Vichai, Khan, August, Phiran and our minibus driver. We gave them all Aussie T-shirts and caps and then proceeded to have a wonderful dinner in a restaurant called The Nest. Vichai stood up and gave a speech, advising us that we were the best group he had had the pleasure of working with; we all felt so special. Katelyn spoke on behalf of our group and thanked everyone for their outstanding work. The dinner was followed by a little bit of karaoke and then time for bed to be ready for the next day.




Friday: As it was our last day, we were finishing at lunch time to collect all our new stores and distribute them as a group. There were over 800 toothbrushes, toothpaste, sports equipment, books etc. for the schools. There were batteries to last the year for all the new medical appliances that we had trained the nursing staff on. And there was also soft mattresses for the weighing scales, new washable curtains, and I managed to arrange to have the maternity bed newly upholstered with wonderful waterproof material. We also gave Aussie T-shirts, our own stethoscopes, nurses watches and uniform to those that wanted them as a souvenirs.

We were awarded certificates of appreciation, coconuts and pineapple sticks from our respective schools and clinics, as well as plenty of hugs, tears and goodbyes. We then had the hardest goodbye even though we knew we would see Carol again. We learnt so much, she had a wonderful way of making us all feel comfortable and provided great feedback on a daily basis to ensure we improved and got the most out of our placement. I personally will aspire to be like her when I receive my registration.

Most of us leaving on Saturday did our last minute present shopping, had massages and booked hair appointments for the morning so we could feel beautiful for the flight home. Then we had dinner and reminisced on all the amazing things that we had experienced. We had mixed emotions now, excited to be going home and sad to be leaving as we had so much more to offer.

Saturday: Khan, Erin, Tayla & I got up early to rush the new upholstered bed to the clinic. It was great to see that the nurses had already put up the new washable curtains and they were very grateful for the new bed. A big thanks to Khan for taking extra time out of his day to help us. We left for the airport at 2pm, said our goodbyes, gave gifts to Jasmine Lodge and promised to return with our families next time.

Billy and Vichai came to the airport and we said goodbye. There were more tears and overwhelming feelings as we hugged them both for their fantastic efforts in making our experience better than we could ever imagine. Our lives have been touched by the beautiful Cambodian people. We have all grown and changed in some way.

A magnificent thank you to Antipodeans Abroad for arranging all the behind the scenes hard work and selecting amazing people in Cambodia to work with us. This was an experience that we will never forget.

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Friday, 12 December 2014

Rounding off an unforgettable African experience


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

My last blog post begins with an end as today we all head our separate ways.

The last three weeks in Cape Town have been the perfect end to our African adventure. We jumped head first into our second volunteer projects and have enjoyed the challenges of working in an urban setting, which faces very different social issues to that of it's rural counterpart like we experienced in Swaziland. Many children here are exposed to violence, drug abuse and the toll of HIV/AIDS from a very young age.

We have been working at the local primary school in Hout Bay. This school has overwhelming numbers of students and classes are overcrowded with children. Many of the teachers struggle to give the necessary time and attention each student requires to excel. Our role was thus to spend time with the weaker students in the class, offering them some one-on-one help with the hopes that they would not have to repeat a year. It was amazing to see how quickly they improved when we gave them the attention they had required for so long. With the school year coming to an end we also helped the students learn Christmas carols and prepare for the Christmas play.

Those who weren't placed at the primary school participated in childcare projects in the Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu townships. Here we helped plan and carry out lessons, prepare the children's lunch and love, laugh and play with the children. We wanted them to receive the love and care they deserve that many unfortunately do not receive at home.

With our morning projects over we would make our way back to our stunning accommodation at Hout Bay backpackers for lunch before heading off to three different afternoon placements. Most of the girls were working at an after school care in the Imizamo Yethu township. This program is for children who were either affected or infected with HIV/AIDS. This really was a haven and safe environment for the children, who came after school to both learn and play. We participated in a myriad of activities over our time there, which included maths tutoring, reading and organising games to play with the children. On our last day the kids put on a show for us where we witnessed their amazing singing and dancing skills.

Whilst the girls were busy at the after school care, Mitch, Harry, Tom, Jack and Ben spent their afternoons working with the boys at the youth centre in Imizamo Yethu. This is a youth group program for boys aged 13-18. Our work here was to provide a stable role model for these boys, as many of them do not have responsible male figures in their own lives. The boys enrolled at the centre really embraced working with us and we really enjoyed our time there. We spent afternoons providing career advice, maths and English tutoring, with a few competitive games of soccer in between.

Our weekends were jam-packed as we attempted to experience as much as we could of Cape Town in our short time here, and there was an endless list of things to do. Our weekend activities included visiting canal walk, a huge shopping mall, shark cage diving, eating lunch at the beautiful V&A waterfront and experiencing Cape Town's vibrant nightlife.



One particular highlight was a day trip to Cape Point, the most south-westerly point in Africa (photo above). On this day we got to experience beautiful scenic views from both lookout points and on bikes. Another highlight was our trip out to Robben Island, which over it's history has served as a point of exile for people with leprosy and most famously as a political prison for those who opposed the apartheid regime. Our tour guide was a formal political prisoner who shared with us his history and we were all incredibly moved. Witnessing Mandela's prison cell was not something we're going to forget.

As our African adventure comes to an end today we are all extremely sad to part ways. We arrived in Africa as strangers but we leave as a family. We have made memories and friends here that will never be forgotten and we all hope to return one day, as it really does feel like a second home to us all. So, to the 16 incredibly talented Antipodeans I have had the privilege of working with over the past three months, thank you. We have all learnt so much from each other and I know there are many more memories to be made in the future.

For the last time,

Usale Kahle!

Emily Forbes

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A day in the life of a volunteer in Palampur


COUNTRY: India, Palampur
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Physiotherapy
WRITTEN BY: Sally Laughton

6:00- Wake up to the birds chirping in the fields outside your room. Curse the birds for waking you up before dawn but, considering you’re awake so early, pile on jumpers and socks and trudge up to the rooftop to enjoy sunrise.

6:15- Find Owen and Sally G already on the rooftop in yoga poses that that look excruciatingly beautiful. Attempt to join in. Fail to even touch toes so sit cross-legged and watch the sunrise. Watch as hidden mountains are slowly lit up and sparkle in the morning light. For a brief moment you even forget its 5 degrees outside. But then you remember and quickly run inside for some hot chai tea and toast.

9:00- The mini bus arrives to pick everyone up, say goodbye to the smiling kitchen staff and snake down the hill in our rickety van. First stop: Ayurveda clinic with its enormous white walls and pristine gardens. Second stop: Goenka hospital in Palampur town, sitting amongst black tarpaulin tents and piles of debris. Third stop: Karan hospital perched on the edge of a hillside and bathed in sun, women chatting in the waiting room as you pass by. The first patient wanders in and the day begins!

12:30- Chai tea break brewed expertly by Monica the secretary. Chat about the morning and plans to go to the market in the afternoon. Seize opportunity to practice Hindi with Monica who giggles at your poor attempt at pronunciation. Scribble new phrases in notebook for practice later.

1:30- Bus comes to pick everyone up one by one. Discuss today's experience whilst keeping an eye on the winding road to fend off travel sickness. Arrive home just in time and completely forget sickness when you walk in the door to the smell of Paneer curry and fresh roti. Devour lunch.



2:00- Head to the market for supplies. Begin with a set plan and shopping list. Get distracted by sari shop and food stalls selling spiced cauliflower chips. Slink down narrow alleyways lined with knick-knack shops that spill out into the fruit and vegetable markets. Realise you really need/want fruit. Buy the entire fruit sellers stock of pomegranates and chiccko. Find other volunteers dragging bags filled with fruit and groceries and Angus, whose entire shopping consisted of Rasbhani traditional Indian sweets.

5:00- Head to the chaotic local bus depot and realise no one can read Hindi. Search around for buses returning to Kandibari and clamber on a noisy green one that’s ready to leave. Get greeted by the amused faces of the ticket inspector who looks very pleased we are supporting the public transport initiative. Thank the universe that we got on the first stop as the bus is inundated with locals returning home from the markets. Realise you can actually fit 40 people on a 20 person bus if you really try. Cheer like crazy when we finally reach our stop and thank the bus driver and ticker inspector profusely for getting us all home safe without a word of English.

7:30- Snuggle in to the loungeroom for dinner and remind ourselves how crazy it is to live and work in India.

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