Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Working Life in Timor-Leste

COUNTRY: Timor Leste
PROGRAM: Faculty Placement
PROJECT: Health Science
WRITTEN BY: Conor Rock, Rebecca Parker and Jantje Lezius

Botardi! (Good Day!)

This week, UQ students further connected with CNR staff which resulted in joint plans for a weekend outing with one of our favourite staff members, Physiotherapist Tomas. We are also embracing the inter-professional nature of our teams, thus optimising client outcomes. Whilst still a challenge, the language barrier is slowly disintegrating with the help and support of CNR staff, as well as exploring creative ways to communicate, such as using Tetun songs and music to engage and motivate our clients. We spend one day a week in each department, Speech Therapy, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, and use our teamwork to holistically treat children and adults with a variety of conditions.

Every day, one team gets the opportunity to be a part of the Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) team within CNR. Each team of students from Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy travel to a client’s home with an educator and members of the CBR team. There is no greater insight into a patient’s life than sitting in their home or on their front porch. Although sometimes the situation was somewhat confronting, our hearts were warmed by the friendliness, humility and grace shown by the clients and their families for our help, as simple as it sometimes seemed to us. It’s very rewarding to be able to try and improve the lives of those who may not be able to get to the CNR clinic.

We started the long weekend on Independence Day Friday by visiting the Santa Cruz cemetery which was made infamous by the massacre in 1991. After lunch, we sampled the local gelato and some of the group headed to the Taise Markets on the way home where we bought lots of bags and other items that featured traditional Timorese weaving and craftsmanship.

In the afternoon, we went to visit the sacred place where Timor-Leste’s independence was declared at a midnight mass on the 20 May 2002. Pope John Paul II congratulated Timor-Leste on joining the list of “the free nations of the earth” and urged the nation’s people to use their new freedom to build a just and peaceful society. As a result, a statue was constructed on top of a nearby mountain in order to pay respect to the Pope, which we climbed that afternoon and enjoyed scenic views over Dili.

On Saturday, our friendly CNR host for the day kindly took us to our first stop Liquica, a tourist beach. We enjoyed the day playing beach sports and swimming, which was complimented by a hearty picnic lunch of fish and local veggie sandwiches. In the afternoon, we went to Maubara, a local beach where we quickly made new friends: local children, who joined us in our beachside play. We showed them some English songs (e.g.,Hokey Pokey as well as Heads, shoulders, knees and toes) in exchange for some new Tetum songs which we all performed together. Children and students enjoyed playing grip ball, marbles, clapping and ball games as the afternoon seemed to fly by. We left them with gifts so the fun would not stop when we left. We had made our own community for the afternoon, then and there on the beach in Maubara.

It’s hard to believe that we are half way through our trip, but it is safe to say that we are continuously learning more about ourselves and Timor-Leste.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Welcome to Cusco

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Emily Hicks and Sindy Wang

Day 1 - Sunday May 8th

Our first impression of Cusco was that it is immensely different to anything we have ever experienced before. The sheer number of mountains surrounding the city was a surprise. As soon as we landed, we were collected by our in-country partner and taken to our hostel which had an amazing of even more Peruvian mountains. From there, we got to know each other over our very first lunch together, prepared by our personal chef, who over the next week made us realise just how amazing Peruvian food is.

Day 2 - Monday May 9th
On the second day, we drove up to the local community of Pumamarca where we would be teaching and where ‘Peru’s Challenge,’ our in-country partner volunteer organisation, has been working for the past ten years. Our in-country partner explained to us the story behind the organisation which inspired us about the work we’re going to be doing during our placement. Next, we visited the community school where we will be teaching. There were around 100 children from kindergarten to Year 6. The school was very colourful, cheery and picturesque, and the best part was that they had three real alpacas as their school mascots!

Day 3 - Tuesday May 10th
On Tuesday we had a full-day tour of Cusco city to explore areas such as the Plaza de Armas and San Blas. We were absolutely stunned by the architecture and fascinated by the amalgamation of Inca and Spanish styles. After a long day getting to know the city we would be living in for the next two months, we went home to celebrate the birthday of one of our fellow volunteers. It was then and there that we first experienced an interesting Peruvian tradition - the birthday person is required to take a bite out of the cake first and have their face pressed into it. Needless to say, we all got a bit of a laugh out of it. At night, we went out to celebrate her birthday and discovered how breathtaking Cusco is by night.

Day 4 - Wednesday May 11
This was a relatively relaxing day. We split into three groups for teaching sport, art and English at Pumamarca School. We made lesson plans for the week ahead and enjoyed a calming day at home.

Day 5 - Thursday May 12
We left early in the morning on a bus called the ‘Batman’ for a six hour tour around the ruins in Cusco with our tour guide to the Temple of the Moon, Qe´nqo and Sacsayhuaman. It was a long walk with some difficult climbing involved but it was definitely worth the pain for all of the amazing views of the city and surrounding environment. At Sacsayhuaman, we went through a pitch black tunnel and had a lot of fun on the natural rock formations that were in the shape of slides. It was an exhausting day, but incredibly worth it.

Day 6 - Friday May 13
On Friday we had another day at the hostel in order to finalise our lesson plans. That night we also tried a very traditional Peruvian dish: guinea pig. It tasted gamey and not at all like chicken!

Day 7 - Saturday May 14
In the morning, we enjoyed our last breakfast together before heading out to our homestays. We all felt a little nervous to be meeting our families, having lunch together for the first time, trying to communicate in Spanish and seeing where we lived. However we were all really happy with our families and the houses are in an amazing place as we are all close to each other and near bus stops and shops! The families were all so welcoming and nice and made us feel at home straight away. I think it's safe to say we're all very excited for the weeks ahead.


Namaste India

PROGRAM: Faculty Placement
PROJECT: Physiotherapy
WRITTEN BY: Ali Thomas

Taj Mahal

Before the hard work began, there was some sightseeing to be done! After a day of flights on Monday and a nights sleep in 30 degree heat, our group of 11 and our teacher followed a guide to the Taj Mahal. We were told the history, the do's and don'ts and most importantly, the best angles for photos! No one was underwhelmed by this wonder of the world and our love for India’s beauty, architecture and amazing people had begun. The day was hot as we wandered around being amazed by the symmetry and beauty from every angle. 1 of the 100 group photos taken in front of the incredible Taj Mahal can be seen above.

Trip to Palampur

We had a day to visit Delhi. We caught underground trains to the Red Fort and a few different markets before finding some souvenirs and heading back home for dinner before the trip to Palampur. The overnight bus was an experience for all! Once we had escaped the mosquitoes and found a comfy position, a few of us were able to get some sleep on the bus before arriving at our new home in Palampur. Our little house was nestled in a valley, with beautiful views of the snow-capped Himalayas in the background. A photo of us walking down to our new home for the first time can be seen below. After settling in, we visited our placement sites on Friday for orientation and to get an idea of what the next week and a half had to offer.


Before we knew it, it was the weekend and time for activities. Saturday was the day to experience the local bus ride to visit the traditional Palampur market, a strip of shops catering for all things local; fruit, street food, clothing and toys. We now visit the markets every few afternoons to walk around and usually buy snacks, mainly Nutella! Sunday was a time to conquer fears and get the best view of our surroundings: paragliding over the Himalayas! The drive up to our take off spot was possibly more scary than the paragliding down. A thin road shared by too many cars on the cliff edge left most of us with jelly legs before we even saw where we'd be jumping off! The safety briefing was just that; brief! Before we knew it, we were strapped in with our pilot and running down a hill before the parachute took us up off the ground and we enjoyed 15 minutes of spins and floats down to the town. A photo of the amazing view from the top can be seen below.

Let the Physiotherapy Begin

After a few tourist activities and plenty of sight seeing, it was time to become immersed in the culture by attending our placement sites to see how physiotherapists worked in India. During week 1, 4 of us went to private practices, 4 of us attended the Rotary school for children with special needs and 3 of us carried out home visits to those who had difficulty leaving their house for physiotherapy treatment. During the middle of the second week, a few of us will swap over to experience a different side of physiotherapy in India at a difference site.

The first week and a half has been an amazing whirlwind of activities, new experiences, sight seeing and getting to know each other better. Next week will give you an insight into our day to day experiences at each of the different placement sites.

All the photos in this blog have been taken by myself, other students or our teacher. Thanks to everyone who let me borrow them! Read More...

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Bondia Timor Leste

COUNTRY: Timor Leste
PROGRAM: Faculty Placement
PROJECT: Health Science
WRITTEN BY: UQ Health Science Team


As we all gathered in the airport, the feeling within the team was filled to the brim with excitement and anticipation of what was to come in Timor-Leste. Our first glimpse from the plane was of the mountainous landscape and beautiful coral sea. As we stepped onto the tarmac we were hit by the wave of heat and humidity. We were greeted by Paulo and were quickly guided to the local form of public transport – a mikrolet.

Our first few days were spent exploring the local Dili sights and learning about the country’s rich history. A highlight included hiking up to Cristo Rei, where we were rewarded with a 360 degree view of Dili. Our hike was followed by a nice swim at a nearby beach, a chance to interact with the local people and practice our Tetun. The Resistance Museum provided us with a chance to learn about and understand the country’s past challenges and gave us an insight into how they overcame adversity.

The team was warmly welcomed by the Centre of National Rehabilitation (CNR) staff whom we would be working alongside for the next 4 weeks. We were impressed by their facilities and resources and the staff’s eagerness to learn more from us as well as us learning from them. Our first day of placement took us out of the busy streets of Dili and into the countryside where we met children and their families at the local rehabilitation centre. Our language learning was fast tracked by being thrown into the deep end as we needed to communicate and connect with both the CNR staff and our clients. This was challenging but we always had a good laugh together over our language mistakes. Throughout the week, we had a chance to work with CNR staff from each of the professions in our interprofessional teams and it has been a great learning experience so far. The week flew by and we had our first weekend exploring Timor’s natural beauty.

This took us to Mt Ramelau, the highest point in Timor. We woke up at 2am to make it to the top by sunrise and it was an experience we will never forget. We are excited to see what the next 3 weeks holds for the team both at CNR and on the weekends.

Until next time, adeus! 


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Weekends are for Exploring

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Georgina Griffiths

We are now a little over halfway through the program, and loving every minute of it! As the weather is warming up, all the blossoms are coming out making the school and local area more and more colourful. Each week at school is different, filled with surprising little comments and questions from the children. Their excitement every class makes everyday enjoyable, even if they are a bit naughty as all the Chinese teachers have told me. Teaching 50 children in a has taken a bit of getting used to, trying to get all their attention and making sure they are quiet whilst keeping them busy and engaged in an activity has taken time to master. Most of us have around 700 students we see every week!

Teaching Grade 1 and 2 has been a lot of fun. Lessons are filled with vocabulary games, songs and little drawings, covering topics like the weather, clothing, likes and dislikes, sports, days of the week and many more. Outside the classroom they will run up to you and try make sentences out of what you have just taught them! Having been in Suzhou for a little over 2 months now, we have begun to make local friends and explore the area, as well as trying the huge array of food there is on offer. Visiting and exploring all the historical gardens here has been a highlight as they are all very different and have their own unique story.

Long weekends are perfect opportunities to travel. The first was the Qing Ming Festival where people visit to their ancestors’ graves. We had three days off school so I travelled on an 11-hour train to Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain with a friend from the program in Beijing. As I had booked my train so late, there were only standing tickets left! Our first morning of hiking was gorgeous; we were able to see up the cliff faces. Then the rain hit, meaning for the rest of the afternoon we could only see 20 metres ahead. On the way up to the summit, we met of group of Chinese friends who were also staying at the hostel we were. So the afternoon was then spent learning different card games and chatting. The next morning we got up early for sunrise and whilst we didn’t quite see the sun, we had spectacular views of the mountains around us which were covered in the dense fog the day before! Then a storm came in and the lightning lit the sky up pink - weather on the mountain is so confusing! A few hours later as we were exploring the various peaks we were rewarded with amazing views of the sea of clouds. Having booked the train home for the wrong day (I will have to work on my planning), I had an extra day in the town of Huangshan so I took an hours bus to one of the nearby traditional villages, Hongcun.

The most recent holiday, May Day, saw a group of 15 of us meet up in Shanghai! We had such beautiful weather; it is starting to feel like summer. We visited the YuYuan Gardens which were quite like the gardens in Suzhou, the Jade Green Temple and the Bund. A highlight included going up the Shanghai tower – 632 metres tall, and it took less than a minute to go up in the lift. The view was incredible - we could see the entire city lit up.

Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, was another great city I’ve explored while I’ve been over here. Xi’an is very different from Suzhou as the whole city wall is still in tact and isn’t very built up. We were able to hire bikes on top of the wall to see the entire city. The Muslim Quarter was an interesting part of the city where there is a working Mosque and an abundance of street food unique to the area. One evening, we decided to try some of the local food, bread and mutton soup. It was an interesting experience as when we ordered the food we were handed a bowl with the bread and shown back to our table. Around us people were tearing the bread into tiny pieces so we followed. Then checking what others were up to we took the bowl to the front of the restaurant where we were given a number and about 10 minutes later a delicious hot soup appeared in front of us! Another favourite part of the Xi’an trip was the day trip to the mountain Huashan, one of China’s many sacred mountains. We had the perfect weather, blue skies which allowed us to see right down the steep cliff faces into the valleys and along the horizon. We managed to climb each of the four peaks, each giving a different and more stunning view.


Friday, 18 March 2016

India, I'm in love

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Nancy Bucher

As my time volunteering in a teaching placement in India is quickly approaching its end, I have been reflecting on my experience and what I have learnt over the past 4 weeks. I now know that some of the most friendly and happy people I've met have been Indians. No matter the circumstance, happiness shines through. Many are keen to chat and meet a foreigner with a curious grin.

I have a new found appreciation and thankfulness for everything that I have because I have seen that so many people are not as fortunate. Despite that, some of the happiest people we met had so little, which makes me believe that it's not what you have that makes you happy, but what you make out of a situation and your own positive attitude.

I have come to understand that it is the dedicated, continual and sustained hard work of the volunteers in the schools and boys home which results in the students gradual progress of their education. It doesn't happen overnight, unfortunately. I wonder constantly what will happen when I leave and the new volunteers don't arrive for another month. Have I actually made a difference and what will my kids remember? I can only hope that my short time here has given them a small boost in their learning which will be continued by the next didis.

I have seen Pankaj's saying in action- anything is possible in India, and it seems that almost everything does happen. From the boys home to the streets and markets, life here is a crazy, indescribable experience.

I now more than ever know that to travel and see the world is such a rewarding, inspirational and eye opening experience. I've definitely caught the travel bug being surrounded by all the other travel loving and orientated volunteers.

India, its been real! I have loved every moment. I have taught, played, become a mentor, travelled, met amazing people, turned 21, celebrated 2 national days and had the most surreal time. Now it's time to go home and bring on the next adventures!


Thursday, 17 March 2016

India's Top 5 Travel and Teaching tips

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Nancy Bucher

India has been a whirlwind of culture, traditions, emotions, spirituality and friendship, and going into my last week of placement in this country of endless possibilities, I want to share my top five travel and teaching tips - not from an experienced, travel expert or teacher, but a young girl who has visited India for the first time to teach young kids and travel, and has had indescribable experiences over here.

You have probably heard it before but it's so true - India is a country full of traditions and a culture extremely different to Australia. I can't roam the streets here in clothes that don't cover my entire legs and shoulders, I can't buy alcohol as it is not appropriate for girls to do so, I do say namaste and smile at strangers who are in the same tuk tuk. So my first tip is to come with an open mind and enjoy and embrace everything about the Indian way of life while traveling here.

Secondly, say yes to every opportunity you can while you're here and throw yourself into the placement - into teaching, into the sports and games with the kids, into eating traditional food, to the experiences and to the adventures. As cliche as the saying may be, it's really true - the more you put into the experience, the more you'll get out of it. As our leader Pankaj always says, everything is possible in India, which also means I always hold degree of caution when in public and I expect the unexpected.

On a more practical note and something I wish I had done, try to pack as lightly as possible, but still try and be as thorough as you can be. It's definitely better to be over prepared than under in this country. Some staples that will be your lifesavers are all medicines, loads of tissues, hand sanitiser, lip balm and toilet paper. Flowy pants will be your staple outfit, jeans are a no go and maxi skirts are okay when wearing leggings underneath. I wish I packed more coloured pencils and textas for the students and to make the work sheets too! Also save and bring as much money as you can so you have plenty of spending money for shopping and the weekend trips. Last weekend, we visited the small city of Pushkar which had the most amazing markets! I am looking forward to my final weekend trip coming up, visiting India's most iconic monument, the Taj.

On a teaching note, it is important I think to set realistic teaching goals and expectations for your students and for your teaching - my school placement has been with grade 2 students who don't often have volunteers. The language barrier is very strong and it's tricky to teach some students - others pick up on things so fast. The level of differentiation in my class in high. Be prepared to not be able to teach your students everything you wish. I tell myself each time I enter the class, try your best and baby steps are all you can hope for. Nothing happens overnight and continual practice and the hard work of the future volunteers is what will shape the kids English education.

For first time travellers and teachers, it is important I think to prepare yourself to be overwhelmed, both in school and in daily life here. The students are beautiful but they are just like kids everywhere – they can be cheeky or not want to do as they’re told, and on top of that, there can be many kids in your class, 2 teachers, and a varying but prominent language barrier and levels of ability. As for daily life and routines, prepare yourself to be the centre of attention, just walking the streets or sitting in a tuk tuks, there are stares all round, especially at big groups like us. Shop owners will hassle you to check out their store and beggars will ask for money. Just brush it off. Expect the unexpected. You will find yourself not knowing where you are, which is particularly hard for me because I have a natural urge to always know my sense of direction. One of the best things about travelling with our group and Pankaj is that you will always have people looking out for you.