Monday, 8 February 2016

Feeling At Home in Cambodia – Newcastle Nursing's Final Week In Phnom Penh

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: University of Newcastle Nursing Placement
WRITTEN BY: Molly Batnich

Sous sdei! (Hello)

One week down and we're almost locals. This week we have spent much time absorbing the culture of beautiful Cambodia. It's Tuesday afternoon and we are currently getting pedicures after a long, but rewarding, day. We have seen over 500 kids, with only the teeny tiny kindergarten students to go. Each grade has its own profoundly unique characteristics and personalities. 

The grade 6 students are extremely smart and caring of both the younger children and us foreigners. The infant children are much louder, however, but their endearing smiles and everlasting happiness take us by the heartstrings. We have poured out heart and souls into trying to help these children and the outcomes have been absolutely incredible. Watching these children smile and laugh, as well as holding their hands when they cry has been extraordinary and inspired us to continue to do such great work each and every day.

However, this week has not all been about hard work and no play, we also had the weekend to explore the everlasting sights of Phnom Penh.

 Our top 5 must-dos from this weekend included a visit to the heartbreaking killing fields. Our Saturday morning was spent touring the place where millions of Cambodians were slaughtered only 40 odd years ago, and was a life-changing experience, especially hearing the survivors’ stories. On a happier note, that lunchtime we immersed ourselves in some traditional Khmer food... Tarantulas. Huge, scary and hairy – but delicious – spiders.

 Another must-do in Cambodia is to get a massage. They are super cheap and perfect for anyone who wantsto relax for a peaceful hour. We decided to go to one named seeing hands, which employs blind locals and gives them a stable job to live by. Another highlight was the night markets. The setup of these was unexpected in an extremely delightful way. They were completely different from any markets back at home, with live music and so many food options to choose from, we were absolutely in our element whilst bartering away for cheap shoes, clothes, jewellery and everything in-between.

But after a couple of nights here, our wallets were begging us to stop. So the last must-do for this week was a free and eventful night at the Olympic stadium. But no, it was not for soccer or football, or even athletics – but rather, for aerobics. Every night locals spend sunset swaying and Cha-chaing the night away whilst listening to all types of music. It's the funnest way to burn away all of the food we have been eating.

Speaking of food, we have been getting to know each other, as well as our translators, much more this week over lunches at the mall. These were done throughout the week in the middle of the days at the clinic. The air conditioning and good company has been a great way to split up some of the difficult days. The translators are incredible locals who all attend the university for either medicine or dentistry. We laugh hysterically on a daily basis when we are together, and they are absolute lifesavers with both their translating and medical knowledge. They will surely be missed when we leave.

Ah kon (thank you) to them all.


Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Best Places To Hang Out in Siem Reap

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Tianna Killoran

After spending a few weeks here and being faced with a crazy amount of choices for places to eat, we’ve finally settled on a few of our favourites.

Sister Srey Café 
200 Pokambor Street, Riverside, near the Old Market 

A beautiful café run by two Australian sisters that makes the best coffee around! Their food is brilliant, all of the staff are very friendly, and there's always some chilled out music. If that weren’t enough, we've all found that Sister Srey has a mind for supporting sustainability in the local community. They hire local Khmer staff and then train them in English and Hospitality, whilst also maintaining support for other local projects and donating a percentage of their funds. We’ve been back now a few times. You'll usually find us there on weekends or for a sneaky breakfast some days before school!

Temple Bar 
Pub Street 
This place is basically the best on Pub Street! They have three floors, with a restaurant, a balcony restaurant and a sky lounge with beanbags and a big water feature. Either way, they're the best to either chill out or party on a Saturday night. Tonnes of cheap cocktails and really good food! There's another Temple Bar on the other side of the river too, which is much quieter if you're not up for the bustle of Pub Street.

Soria Moria 
Wat Bo Road, Siem Reap 
$1 tapas and cocktails on Wednesday nights: that's really all there is to say! They serve Western and Khmer food and it's all good! Soria Moria also supports responsible tourism and employs local individuals with the aim of equipping them with work skills.

98 Hospital Street 
We have all dropped into Charlies a few times now, but it's our plan to spend the day there on Australia Day! They'll be playing triple j’s Hottest 100. They're always playing really great music and lots of sports, plus they serve Khmer food and some other favourites like potato skins, nachos, and chicken wings! 

For Life
The Lane close to Ms. Wong 
Thank you Antipodeans! This place is where our lunches during the week are organised and it is honestly the best food. We are always given an array of different dishes (a good way to try all the different Khmer food) and it's always delicious. The people there are so friendly and we look forward to lunch there each day. It's a bit of a hidden gem, but definitely worth it.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Newcastle Nursing Settle Into Life in Phnom Penh

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: University of Newcastle Nursing Placement
WRITTEN BY: Molly Batnich

Six strangers travelled together to Phnom Penh and luckily, so far so good. The traffic is chaotic, the language is unknown and the culture is immensely different. For the first couple of days we were thrown straight into the culture and sights of beautiful Cambodia before starting our work at the health clinic.

This epic adventure that was enabled by Antipodeans Abroad has influenced us to do other charitable activities whilst here. On day two, we decided that lunch at Friends was a must-do. Friends employs disadvantaged youth to get them off the streets, and teaches them vital cooking skills so they can have a brighter, happier future. This vibrant restaurant not only encourages hope for these children, but also has a positive environment and incredible food.

Many of the must-sees of Phnom Penh were checked off of our bucket list in these days. This includes visiting the S21 jail where the Khmer Rouge genocide took place during the 1970’s, wiping out 3 million Cambodians in just over 3 years. The Palace was also another wonderful sight to see, and was such a shock to see how much respect and devotion was still directed towards Buddhism and their King.

A sunset cruise is also a must-do if you are looking for a peaceful end to the day – a serenity-filled dinner. Whilst in Phnom Penh, it’s also fantastic to experience the bustling markets. Barter with the locals and shop till you drop, whilst spending little amounts of money on clothing, paintings, ornaments and everything in between. Lastly, if living on the edge is your style, jump on a cyclo-bike and rush through the city streets. You will support a local charity, whilst maneuver crazily through the traffic to get to around the city.

After exploring, we were ready to immerse ourselves in the clinics.

The alarm buzzed at 5.30am on Wednesday morning, and we dressed in our scrubs and got ready to tackle the busy day ahead. We were faced with many challenges and our worlds were put into perspective. From the poor working conditions, to the extreme health conditions, we were feeling overwhelmed by what we came across. Basic health checks in our country seem like so little, but to these children they were so much more. We set up stations to include eye checks, ear checks, skin and hair integrity, height/weight and temperature, vital signs, as well as dental interventions and quality of life questionnaires. By the end of the afternoon, we had our routine down-pat and established rapport and trust with the children. The day drew to a close and we were feeling both exhausted and excited for the many days to come.

30 children assessed, only 470 to go. Wish us luck!


Final Week in Laos for Griffith Team B!

PROJECT: Nursing – Griffith University
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Bell

Reflecting on Griffith Team B's final week in Laos is bitter-sweet, as Laos has really gotten under their skin (in a good way).

Monday, Day 16
Today turned out to be our largest clinic – we had 120 families turn up, however, with Madeleine in charge the day couldn't have gone more smoothly. We send a couple of students out to make a home visit, a 74-year-old gentleman not eaten or drunk anything in the last three days. Sophie and Chris spent some time scrubbing up on their painting skills, or I should more correctly say, they spent lots of time scrubbing everything after painting. Either way with the help of Hazel and Elizabeth's daughters, they all managed to repaint a number of well-used blackboards. The school now looks the part, and the classrooms should be more usable; the experience left a mark not only on the girls but the school – and perhaps the girls’ clothes as well!

Tuesday, Day 17: 
Today our placement was a medium village, and we set up at a local high school. In this village most of the problems were respiratory issues, and it would seem cooking plays a large role in this unfortunately. Locals cook with wood fires indoors, often in the middle of the living space; the resulting soot that lines the tin roof also lines their airways. I did educate some people on the benefits of setting up an outdoor cooking area, one still under cover, but the interpreter said to me laughing, "But they won't, it's cultural." Later that night we discover the local hangout, a place of beer, burnt pork and Patong, a game played with large solid steel balls, closest team to the jack wins. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, I thought so too. The locals throw these balls with astounding accuracy, and the brief moment of pride you feel as your ball sits two inches from the jack swiftly turns to dismay, as they promptly apologise for knocking it out of the playing field before they even make the shot! Michelle and I stayed out later to meet Kood, a local member for the department of agriculture who proved most useful with his grasp of not only Patong, but English which he learnt in Vientiene. We also met another group of travellers from France, and after several rounds of nation vs nation we retired a draw.

Wednesday, Day 18: 
Loaded up with supplies we head out to the next village, our second last one. The school we operate out of is situated on the steepest of steep hills with no water or power. After we carry all the gear up the hill, one of our team is in a bad way with her asthma – the meet and greet continues but several of our cohort huddle around her and lend support and reassurance. It is sad to see one of our own needing treatment and without power, the nebuliser machine won't work and going down the hill again would almost certainly exacerbate the asthma. However not to be defeated she continues the day, a testament to her dedication to the clinics and the people who need her skills. Today turns out to be a huge clinic as well, 131 people – it seems like most of the village turned out for this one. There were as usual a few standout cases that came in to the clinic, such as a lady with the biggest goitre I have ever seen, about the size of a cantaloupe. One cardiac case came through that was also complex, but then again, when aren't cardiac cases? However there is not much we can do for them seeing as they cannot afford the ongoing medications that would be required to extend their lives.

Thursday, Day 19: 
So the final clinic has arrived, it's a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy to be soon returning home to our loved ones, but sadness that we couldn't help more and that our team so tight will soon be dissolved and dispersed. Today we visit the Pak Seng District Children's Hospital. It turns out to be a small but rewarding clinic, and for me was the trip highlight. One of the last patients of the day is brought to Elizabeth Coyne the leader for group C. The local nurse indicated the child of maybe four years old needed a head dressing redone over a laceration to his forehead that had multiple stitches. However, language barriers being what they are, when we asked the interpreter to clarify, he said they wanted the stitches removed. Despite not having a proper stitch cutter we made do with sterile scissors and tweezers, eleven stitches later and a new dressing the child was on his way home. The little boy never made a sound. For a lucky few in our team, they got the opportunity to sit in for a birth, and witnessed a beautiful baby girl being born. It was very fortuitous for mother and baby that Hazel was there to help the local midwives, or the outcome could have been very much different. It was a difficult birth and only the second one that Hazel had been apart of in seven years.

Friday, Day 20:
Following our blessing ceremony, we head to the vehicles and leave for the three hour journey to the caves; caves that contain thousands of Buddha statues that have been placed there throughout the centuries. So now the clinics are all done, we are free to do as we wish before returning to Luang Prabang and then home to Australia. We eat, drink and enjoy our final days together. I should at least mention the market shopping; some were a little addicted to say the least, but I guess to be fair, no more than my love affair with Lao beer. The final goodbyes for some at the Luang Prabang airport are strangely hard as they leave us to travel further afield, some won't leave us until the next stop Bangkok. Either way with each one that parts ways we lose a little more of our team. I hope that this final blog reminds us all of the time and the experiences we shared. Read More...

Monday, 1 February 2016

First Week in Incredible Swaziland

COUNTRYAfrica Combo
WRITTEN BY: Devna Luthra

Five days in Kruger was a great way to break the ice. Being away from wi–fi and electricity, with no time for makeup or hair straightening, and sitting in an open safari car on a 48 degree day meant we definitely bonded! Seeing the animals was a surreal experience. Giraffes, elephants, buffaloes, white rhinos, black rhinos, cheetahs, leopards, lions, impalas, chameleons, vultures, eagles, hyenas, wild dogs, and hippos kept us entertained and our cameras in high use. Volunteering jobs started in our second week. 

We split into two groups, one doing construction work and the other sports development for the local kids. The constructors replaced an old wire fence around a preschool, in time for the new school year. Though physically challenging, we finished the fence by the end of the week with all fingers still in tact. The sports group ran drills and activities for about 20 kids each day.

The highlight was definitely coaching swimming lessons and seeing their confidence in the water improve in just a short time. We've also been holding curriculum workshops to create classroom activities in preparation for working in the preschools. A particularly confronting moment of the trip so far was visiting the children's ward at a local hospital. It was overwhelming to see gorgeous young kids so ill, especially when comparing their basic facilities to ours back home. The parents and carers seemed surprised for to see us, and the kids were a bit wary. However, giving them small presents and something to smile about made the trip worth it.

We've also found some comforts from home. The supermarket down the road is stocked with milo and Weetbix, in addition to the local Swazi 'ligusha' and 'umbhidvo'. Of course, a few hiccups were bound to occur. All of us Aussies have the same black Haviannas thongs, and in a dorm of six people much confusion arises. More major ones (lost luggage, missed flights and sore throats) were taken in good humour with help from others in the group. 

 The All Out Africa staff has been the backbone of the trip. They have bent over backwards to make our stay comfortable, safe, worthwhile and fun. This was my first time staying in backpacker accommodation. Not once have I felt unsafe. It's secure and there are lots of people, always someone new to talk to! It's been an interesting two weeks. 

The question many of us are asking is how to make a lasting difference while we are here. Though putting up a wire fence or teaching soccer drills is not going to cure AIDS/enhance education attendance/solve gender inequality/fix broken families, the changes we make are subtle but steady; for the local community and us as individuals. After all, 'The way a mouse eats an elephant is one bite at a time.'


Sunday, 31 January 2016

Five Must-Do's in Palampur, India 2016

COUNTRY: Palampur
PROJECT: Teaching
Five things you "must do" according to our intrepid blogger.

1. Trying Indian food 
There is no point coming to India without having the delicious local food. Although our chef always cooks us nice food, I think trying new food on your own feels the best. (However, be careful with potential food poisoning!) I ordered a ‘masala dosa’ (an Indian crepe with black lentils and potatoes in it, served with three different kinds of curries) at a bus station on the way back from Agra. As there were no picture, nor explanation on the menu, I did not even know what I ordered until I saw it. It tastes really mild but the potatoes inside were warm and tender, and the spices in the curries were so special and yummy!

2. Bargaining at local markets 
You can always negotiate the prices with shopkeepers in many markets. I was an absolute beginner at bargaining, but after watching Teresa demonstrating a couple of times, I started to pick up some techniques. For example, always stick with one price and avoid leaving an impression that our can be persuaded to the shopkeeper. In the end, they usually compromise by saying ‘I give you special price because you are my very important customer’, which reminds me of Russell Peters imitating how Indian people do business. It was hilarious!

3. Queuing like the locals
Queues in India were insane! People do not keep their distance from you while queuing, so you may be squeezed in the middle a lot. The locals also don’t wait after you when you reach the ticket office so there is no need to be too polite! It may sounds a bit strange but it is quite fun when you do it.

4. Taj Mahal 
The Taj Mahal is the most iconic place of interest in India, and also known as the most complicated Indian-Persian architecture in the world. It still remains unknown about how this mausoleum was built. Definitely recommend a visit in the morning as the scenery was spic and also few crowd at sunrise.

5. McLeod Ganj 
McLeod Ganj is situated in upper Dharamshala, which is famous for the home of the Dalai Lama and the government of Tibet in exile. This place is so attractive to me not only for its exotic atmosphere but also for the history that I could not learn from classes when I was in China. Read More...

Exploring the Crystal Clear Waters in The Maldives

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Teaching & Health
WRITTEN BY: Caitlin White

Wow, what an experience this trip has already been. Since arriving in Hithadhoo just a few days ago we have all been snorkelling, visited the schools and hospitals, eaten lots of yummy Maldivian food, been swimming in the stunning aqua waters, sweated (uncontrollably), sipped on coconuts and ridden around the island countless times.

Excited by the prospect of going swimming we all raced into our rooms and changed into our swimming outfits consisting of 3/4 tights, long shorts and conservative rash shirts. While I am sure many of us would have preferred to be donning bikinis and working on our tans, we were all understanding about the cultural and religious customs here in the Maldives. We all jumped on our bikes and followed Suna’s little pink car as it drove down the main road towards to ocean. As we rode we quickly realised just how hot it was as sweat started to drip from our arms, brows and necks almost immediately. After a few short minutes the crystal clear aqua waters that had drawn us to the Maldives in the first place greeted us. The coastline here is truly stunning, made up of every shade of blue imaginable and the water temperature is perfectly refreshing.

Part two of the orientation began the following morning as we all piled into the taxis and cars for a tour of the island. As most of us arrived tired and a little bit delirious in the middle of the night, we all struggled to find our bearings. Our tour guides helped us to understand more about the island of Hithadhoo, the surrounding islands in the atoll and the local language of Dhivehi. Our specific car lucked out with a driver who either loved Taylor Swift or knew that we loved Taylor Swift, which made for a spectacular partnership and an even better car karaoke set up. As we drove back towards the guesthouse, hugging the stunning coastline the tour guides decided to pull over on the side of the road and treat us to a fresh coconut. As half of the group tested out the make shift hammock chairs hanging from one of the trees the other half simply appreciated the view. The coconuts were young and had a natural sweetness to them, unlike any of the coconut drinks we have in Australia. As we sipped I began to wonder whether my coconut was in fact a Mary Poppins bag in disguise - no matter how much I sipped on my straw it still appeared full.

In the afternoon we all piled into the tray of a large truck and headed for a local snorkelling spot. To get to the beach the truck had to wind through narrow dirt roads, lined with tropical trees and shrubs. After dodging tree branches the truck eventually broke through into a cleared road and again we were mesmerised by the beautiful waters. The snorkelling was incredible with schools of fish swimming just off the shore. The guide even managed to find a sea cucumber the size of a big tree branch camouflaged amongst the coral.

On the way back from our snorkelling adventure we all piled into the truck again. Unfortunately though one of the team was stung on the lip by a wasp that had been sitting on one of the moving branches as we drove by. Luckily Suna came to the rescue in her little pink car and took her to the hospital straight away. Lucky for the rest of us, she had a sense of humour and we all joked about the swollen lip ‪#‎kyliejenner‬ ‪#‎lipchallenge‬ ‪#‎freebotox‬.

Our third and final day of orientation was centered around our placements in either the hospital or the local schools.


After being assigned to our individual schools we all set off early in the morning to meet our students, leading teachers and mentors. Dressed conservatively in long pants and long tops we were all extremely sweaty as well pulled up at our schools after riding for 10-15 minutes from the guesthouse. The schools varied in their size, year levels and facilities but the one thing that remained consistent was the level of excitement amongst the children. All of the children seemed overjoyed to have someone new in their classroom and as teachers we were just as excited. We all jumped straight into helping students with their work and some of us were even given the opportunity to teach whole class lessons from the outset.

The children here are inquisitive and a number of us were asked questions like ‘Why do you have that colour skin?” or “Miss, why you have blue eyes?”. While we didn't take offence to the questions being asked, the majority of us struggled to answer such complex questions. As the Maldivian weekend runs Friday to Saturday we only got two days in the classroom before the weekend so I am sure there will be more to share next week - looking forward to getting involved and teaching them all about Australia on Australia Day.


This week the nurses and health students we were placed into different parts of the local hospital on Hithadhoo. Some of these areas included the intensive care unit, operating theatres and the most exciting to date - the labour room. While the hospital was much quieter than they had anticipated all of the girls said that the hospital was much more extensive than they had originally thought.

The two nursing students were lucky enough to witness the arrival of a healthy baby girl as they were given the opportunity to sit it on a cesarean. One huge difference they noticed was that the mother to be had been placed under a general anaesthetic and was not able to witness the arrival of her daughter. The husbands are also not allowed to be a part of the birthing process due to religious restrictions. Both girls found the procedure quite confronting and were astounded when one of the nurses told them that the majority of the babies here in the Maldives are delivered via cesarean operations.

The health students are looking forward to their next week of placement and are hoping to witness more births and other exciting procedures during their time on the island.