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Monday, 3 March 2014

A week at Beijing University


COUNTRY: China
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Stephanie Chan

Wow! A month has already past and the teaching training in Beijing has ended. It has been probably the most exciting, wild and awesome experience so far. This adventure all began when I arrived in Beijing on January 15th, after an annoying delay and 3 hour plane ride from Guangzhou (as I came to China in early December to visit friends and family in the south). I exited through terminal 2 and waited at the meeting point for the IES global representative.

During this time I saw another person waiting with their luggage too, but being me, I was too afraid to go over and ask if he was part of the program. Our representative finally arrived and her name was Bella. Sure enough, I met Jason who turned out to be a fellow Aussie! We had to catch a shuttle bus to meet up with the others who were at international arrivals. First impression was: woah, so many European backpackers. It was followed by a bus ride to what was to be our living headquarters for the next month, UIBE: University of International Business and Economics.

After receiving our name tags and room keys, then lugging my luggage up 5 whole flights of stairs, I was surprised by my room - two beds, two desks and a bathroom. The bathroom especially, was a small but adequate contained space, though the showerhead was right next to the toilet.

I met my roommate, Gabriella (or later to be called Gabz by me) and she was Swedish. She invited me to dinner with the fellow Swedes she met, and I was glad I accepted. Our first night was a free night so we headed out the west gate in search of a local restaurant. We stumbled upon a Japanese restaurant and ate there. There was a problem in asking to split the bill and I was the only one knowing a reasonable amount of Chinese, so I was proud to put my forgotten Chinese skills to the test (my parents are both Chinese and I went to primary school in Guangzhou for 4 years but haven’t since learnt more). It was a fun night and I met so many new faces, some who are true close friends now :D

Orientation was the next day and it was followed by warm up games/icebreakers to meet others. That night we had an introduction dinner and the food was delicious, buffet style! – a mix of western and Chinese, for example French fries but also dumplings. We started classes the day after and it was great being introduced to our new teachers and classmates. Participants of the teach and travel china program (ttc) was split into 3 classes in random assortments- class A, class B and class C – and I was in class B, best class of course :P

The classes taught theory on how to become a good teacher; such as learning icebreakers and fun games to rouse or settle the mood of the class, learning how to teach vocabulary through flashcards etc, learning how to teach listening and speaking skills, and most importantly, how to write and create a lesson plan for teaching a whole period of class- based on age level, English level and class size. Then we were also offered 4 periods of mandarin class each week. I went to the first class and learnt the alphabet again, but decided the pace and content was not appropriate for me. Upstairs, there was a mandarin corner, where the ttc staff could separately teach you with the others who knew some of the language as well. This is where I met Theo, otherwise known by his Chinese name as Dongyu, a fellow Chinese from Denmark, as we were the only two full Chinese in the program.

Each day we could head over to the canteen/cafeteria for breakfast lunch and dinner (it was pretty big, to accommodate all the students at the uni of course), although people soon got a bit tired of eating the same style of foods over and over again haha, not me though! I really liked the food there, and there were always long queues for the fried rice station.

Until next time!
Stephanie Chan
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India is now part of us!


COUNTRY: India
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Georgie McRae

Namaste,

All of a sudden, our final weeks are upon us, the whole 6 weeks have flown past and this incredible experience is now reaching its end. The final fortnight was jam packed with so much happening that there was no time to think about the fact that we would be leaving so soon. Our last weekend was our market marathon. Two whole days of haggling and running from shop to shop to make sure we all got enough goodies to bring back home. Intense, but so worth it. Hope the baggage allowance can make some exceptions! And after all, knowing our way around the markets, being on first a name basis with shop vendors who invite you to have chai, and ordering Golab Jamon from the inside of a rickshaw is definitely an experience that us and us alone will be able to remember from the time we lived in India. It was just another aspect of Indian life that made us feel so at home.

We were also lucky enough to share our last fortnight with Sue and Jill (Soup and Jelly according to the Orphanage boys), two English women doing a short-term medical project in the Orphanage & School. These two lovely ladies were like mothers to us and we loved them from the first day. As the day we would have to leave the kids reached us, we found that, of course, the whole lesson planning and teaching process became so much easier. We had finally found our routine and we had to leave!

Our final day teaching consisted of many photos being snapped, making chatterboxes, bracelets, cow masks, mandalas and blowing balloons & bubbles. Oh yeah, and a whole load of emotional teary eyes on our part! Those tears got even worse when two boys Bhursingh and Jeevan from the orphanage asked us when we were coming back, to which we all we could do was hug them and pray they were going to end up okay. Our last Saturday in India began by waking up side by side in the ‘Rec Room’ (lounge room) after having ‘commited a criminal offence’ (sleeping somewhere other than our own beds – shock horror!), then we got ourselves down to the City Palace and were amazed by the intricate designs left, right and center all over the building. Indians, are amazingly skilled!! After viewing the Palace, we rushed off to catch our van home.

Although, the rush was hardly necessary as we were late to lunch anyway – the traffic jam due to a wedding in the middle of the road made sure of that! A ‘Wedding Jam’ we called it. It was lovely to see though, all the people dancing and singing, with the groom on the white horse being blessed by multiple women. It was just the fact that part of getting through the ‘wedding jam’ included scraping up against a school bus that was about 2 centimeters away from the van that concerned us slightly. Talk about special awareness!

That night, Meena Ji, our cook, dressed us up in the Sarees we had bought earlier on in the week and we headed off for a delicious dinner on the lakeside, overlooking the Udaipur lake & the Lake Palace, also the full moon was a sight never to be forgotten.

Of course, our last day was filled with panicked packing frenzies on all of our parts. It’s amazing how much you can spread yourself and your belongings in just 6 weeks. Meena Ji also did henna on our hands, which were so beautiful and it helped us to feel just a little bit more Indian as we left. During our time here, India has taught us so much. We learned the importance of community, family, and group belonging. We learned that simplicity and selflessness is an art, and that happiness isn’t something you can pay for, something that the kids definitely taught us. Also that trust, (within reason of course) is invaluable when travelling.

Random acts of kindness and finding goodness in people can happen anywhere at anytime, and these may not happen unless trust is given to another. We also discovered that all people, no matter where they come from are the same at the core, even though we speak different languages and practice another culture; smiles are the same in every language. That is a fact.

As our final post, you wont be hearing from us again. India is now a part of us that we will never part with, and hopefully we will return one day to visit our Channel Youth family and this wonderful country. We hope the next volunteers will have just as many fantastic times as we did, and that they can continue to make a difference in these children’s lives.

Georgie, Lizzie, Bec & Sam
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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A sneak peek into the life of an Antips volunteer in India


COUNTRY: India
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Bec Farquhar

8:00 Good morning India! Rise and shine it is time for a hot/luke warm bucket shower, bedroom duties, yoga and the occasional last minute worksheet.

9:00 'Breakfast is ready' we are being called to breakfast by Meenaji (our delightful cook). Toast, cereal, fruit and of course chai; occasionally we are treated with an Indian breakfast: savoury porridge or Indian rice flakes.

10:00 Our mini Van 'Magic' is waiting to take us to school. Our bags are packed full of resources for our teaching. We have a 20 minute journey to school, in which we drive on the wrong side of the highway to the reach the dusty pot holed road to school. Passing a cow house, army base, chicken wishing temple and many farms just to name a few.

10:30 "Say Good morning, Say Good morning, How are you? How are you?" our routine morning song is sung with with our school kids, followed by thousands of high fives.

10:45 Teaching begins. Here we constantly refer to our previously organised lesson plan in an attempt to keep our kids happy & engaged. In the two hours of teaching we manage to use our entire Hindi vocab, although not very extensive, is still very useful tool to bridge the language gap.

12:30 Teaching finishes. Time for the goodbye song..."Bye, Bye, Bye my friend...Thank you for today"

13:00 Lunch is ready. We are always pleasantly welcomed home from school with new and mouth watering Indian meals.

14.00 Lesson planning for school and orphanage begins. A production line of worksheets are made (lets not forget to mention they are handmade using layers of paper and carbon paper), we have a stocked resource room at hand stocked full of teaching aids and we busily prepare for the coming lessons constantly experimenting with new ways to effectively convey the syllabus.

16:30 CHAI TIME! Half an hour out of our day just to sit and relax with a cup of chai tea & 'Parle G' Indian biscuits.

17:00 Time to depart to the boys orphanage. Again our van 'Magic' is waiting for us to depart, so to is our wonderful driver Kanhaiyaji, whose patience has kindly dealt with our very bad singing to and from the orphanage.

17:15 "Gola Banao" (English translation: make a circle) here we sing the good evening song with our group of vibrant and polite boys & begin teaching.

18:00 Allocated game time for 45mins. Includes skipping, dancing, murder wink, poison ball, circus acts etc. Game time never fails to put a smile on both ours and the boys face, their energy and positivity is contagious and we always leave feeling uplifted.

21:00 Dinner time: Yet again our taste buds are spoilt and our stomachs are content after another brilliant meal prepared by the beautiful Meenaji. Dessert it rare, but is a welcomed occasion especially when it is our favourite Golab Jamon (a-hot-golden-syrup'y'-soft-doughnut-like-ball) Hungry yet?...It is even better with ice-cream.
After dinner, time is ours to spend as we wish & another day in India has been lived.

Goodnight!

Georgie, Lizzie, Sam & Bec
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A week of 'lasts' for UniBreakers in Maldives



COUNTRY: Maldives
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Swimming Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Jessica Moyes

Lauren and I got up for the sunrise on Saturday, and Steff, Lauren and I got up for the Sunday sunrise. Both were unreal and worth the early morning.

Saturday also entailed a trip to the Uninhabited island, our last for the trip. We jumped from the boat in other deep water and swam to shore. For many this was daunting, though we all enjoyed it. We made ourselves comfortable in hammocks and in the sun. We had lunch on the Islam and learnt to make one of our favourite Maldivian foods, disk bread. We cracked and scraped the coconut, kneaded the dough and cooked it on the fire. This was a treat.

On Sunday we were invited by the school deputy principal, Ajeeb, for a home made Maldivian lunch. We were running slightly late so we asked someone who was driving a truck to help us. We all piled into the back and he took us to Ajeebs house where he, his wife, and his girls welcomed us. Before lunch we watched a movie then enjoyed the variety of Maldivian food. This was unreal as the meal included chicken, something we had been missing during our trip.

We also finished the murals and wall art at school on Sunday which was fulfilling.

On Monday I walked with Misu to school. I have walked with her a few times because she lives near our guesthouse and sees us walk to school in the morning. She is in one of the year six classes and is always smiling and happy to go to school. Steff and I ran classes on comprehension passages for the two year six classes which was great. I really enjoy teaching and having the responsibility of organising a lesson.

Tuesday was our last day of swimming which was fun. We played games with the children and took plenty of photos. It was great to see the improvements that had been made in confidence, skill and enjoyment in the water.

Wednesday was our last day of school at Thinadoo a School. Shafeeq Sir allocated time in each of the year six and seven classes to farewell the kids and give out small gifts that we had brought. We played with chatter boxes(paper toys) that steff and I made for the students with the help of some other girls, taught them about the meanings of some of the words we use, sung Australian songs like waltzing Matilda, the national anthem, tie me kangaroo down sport, laugh kookaburra laugh, and give me a home among the gum trees. We also showed them Lleyton Hewitt's c'mon call and Aussie Aussie Aussie oi oi oi. The kids gave us a lot of gifts like poems, cards, bracelets and flowers. We took many pictures and said goodbye to them all.

Shifa and some of the other teachers brought in traditional dresses which we chose and tried on for the celebration at night. We then had our last meal at one of our daily restaurants.

At 730 that night, we left for school to get ready. The teachers did our hair and helped us get ready. We had a lovely meal in the school grounds on the lawn and tables and chairs were set. Ajeeb spoke and thanked us, and we thanked the school and teachers for the food and hospitality.
We played a few songs and danced, played musical chairs and before we knew it, it was 11 pm. We said our goodbyes to the teachers and made our way home from school.

Gabby, Lauren, Liz, Anna, Tegan and I went to bodu beru practice for the final time too that night. They played our favourites like the one with the under water move and the ghost song.

On Thursday part of the group were up early, ready and packed for the resort. We were at the wharf and leaving by 9am sharp. We sat by the pool, relaxed and took photos. We had consecutive rooms and chappey was also next door.

At 430 gabby, Lauren, steff and I played volley ball with some of the robinsons staff.
We then went to our room and got ready for dinner.
We went to the sundowner bar for sunset. Chappey got us champagne which was delicious.

Friday was much the same, including a lunch that we managed to drag out til we'll past our departure time.
We arrived at kadaadoo airport island at 3 and waited unil 345 to check in and get out flight to male.
We checked in to our hotel in male and headed our for our final group meal at a restaurant by the ferry wharf. We walked to a few shops and said some goodbyes for those with early departures.

My flight from male was one of the morning ones so I had to leave early to meet my family. It was touching that some of the girls woke up to say goodbye.

It's so amazing to leave knowing that you will be seeing some girls again and will definitely be in touch after only four weeks of knowing one another. I am very grateful for this unreal experience with such a fantastic group of girls. I have come away from this experience with both difficult and awesome experiences, learning opportunities, many wonderful memories and many great friends.
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Final Clinic Placement and Farewell for UQ Nurses


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Nursing
WRITTEN BY: Willow Durrington

Monday and Tuesday were the last days of clinical placement, with the different groups rotating to their last clinic site. Things continued as usual with us settling into our respective clinics and schools and continuing to use our assessment skills. At Ang Chagn (also nicknamed the baby clinic!) group two almost got a baby, despite staying back after hours and returning in the morning the woman unfortunately was still in labor and had to be transfered to the hospital for further care – but did successful give birth to a beautiful baby!

Wednesday became a shopping and packing day. We split into three groups – one group set off to the markets with the list of supplies needed for the military clinic community, another set off to a gas store to buy an autoclave while the rest of us remained at Jasmine Lodge organising our supplies/donations for the three clinics, schools and military community. On Thursday morning we set off to the Military clinic community where we distributed the supplies needed at different house holds – it felt pretty good being able to give back to the community, especially knowing that the equipment was needed! After lunch we set off to Ang Chagn, Svey Chek and Krabei Riel to drop off our donations and say goodbye.

On Friday morning we were given a ceremony at the military clinic to thank us for our time and work. The military staff also presented us all with a Krama (aka scarf). After the ceremony we traveled to the military school where we participated in some Chinese New Year festivities such as removing the petals of Lotus flowers. A traditional band had also been organised to play for us but unfortunately were running on Khmer time and were going to arrive to late for us to stay around and wait. Friday afternoon was designated Quiz Time – Lindy had organised a quiz for us complete with prizes. It was an extremely fun afternoon with points being given for not only correct answers but also the funniest ones. Team Handwashing (Group Two) were the quiz masters each winning a Blue Pumpkin Ice Cream voucher.

Saturday was our last full day in Cambodia and we didn’t intend to waste it! Lisa W set off on a tour of the temples as she had been sick the previous weekend. The rest of us did some final exploring, shopping and of course many people got massages, manicures and pedicures while they were still cheap! Mia, Lindy and Lucy decided to splash out and get pampered at the Bodia Spa for a few hours. Saturday night we got dressed up for our farewell dinner at Raja, with Davvy, the clinic staff and translators. On the whole it was a wonderful night, filled with thank you presentations, memory sharing and some sad goodbyes to all the wonderful people we had met and would never forget. On Sunday morning we set off to the Siem Reap International Airport to start our journey home.

Our first flight to Singapore went off without a hitch and we spent our five and a half hour stop over indulging in fast food, resting and exploring the butterfly garden while Lindy, Amy and Carolyn booked themselves into the Singapore lounge of some relaxation time. Our flight from Singapore to Brisbane was rather eventful, after finally setting off there was an altercation between a passenger and steward which provided some in flight entertainment and after that Lindy had to show some of her nursing skills when there was a medical emergency with no doctors on board.

Fortunately we all made it safely to Brisbane where we said our goodbyes, collected our luggage and were welcomed by our family and friends.
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Friday, 21 February 2014

A week of firsts for Griffith University nurses


COUNTRY: Laos
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Nursing
WRITTEN BY: Josea Brown, Griffith University

Coming back from the villages we arrived at our hotel and wasted no time in getting to our rooms and having a hot (or for those of us less fortunate, lukewarm) showers! Dinner over the weekend consisted of walking across a questionable, rickety bamboo bridge that looked like it would collapse under the weight of a feather, leaving us to swim in the dark. Fortunately it held all our weight. The rest of the weekend was then spent shopping at the various markets in Luang Prabang, spoiling ourselves with $15 full body massages and treating ourselves to a 'snake shot' (which also consisted of gecko and millipedes)! Sadly, our weekend in luxury was short-lived as we left the city on Sunday afternoon and headed back to the villages for a week of clinic.

A day in the clinic

Our day starts off with a cold open-truck ride to one of the villages. Upon arrival we are welcomed by the villagers and given bouquets of flowers by the children as we walk through a 'guard of honour'. We then line up at the front, facing the villagers and receive an official welcome address from the village chief or deputy. Pride emanates from the chief as he speaks of his village and the people. From the welcome speeches, we have witnessed that the Lao are a very proud people. Proud of their culture, their heritage and their history.

Next up it's our turn to talk as two students present a donation bag filled with toys, clothes and school supplies. The children's faces light up as a soccer ball is pulled out and an excited chorus of 'Ohhhh!' fills the air. The village elders gladly accept the donation bag with sincere appreciation. After the official welcome some of us run health promotion sessions, whilst others set up the clinic (usually in the classrooms). The villagers then disperse into their related health promotion sessions: the women attend the mother's and bubs/maternity sessions where breastfeeding, antenatal care and birthing are spoken about (and they get to witness a student 'give birth' [see picture]), while the men learn about proper manual handling techniques and back exercisers and the children are educated on proper hand washing, teeth brushing and coughing/spitting.

Then, madness begins! Reception/Triage is swamped as a multitude of villagers line up to be seen. In reception the students get their Lao on as we ask them questions in Lao. After reception (and if there's a line) the people sit in the waiting area until Crowd Control ushers them in to Assessment (and from what I've gathered crowd control is mayhem!). At assessment there are 3 students, a translator and a health care worker all working together to help the people they see. Here they tell us what's wrong and after a few questions and some investigating, a diagnosis is made and if needed medications are prescribed. They are then off to Pharmacy, where (as you have probably guessed) the medication is kept and dispensed. At pharmacy, reading glasses (which were donated) are also given to villagers when needed. We're finding that a lot of the people here are needing the lower strength glasses (+1.25 to +2.00) as we quickly ran out of them. In both assessment and pharmacy the villagers are given instructions regarding their treatment regime (i.e. take 1 tablet 2x a day for 10 days) and are translated in Lao in case they forget. They then head home, usually with a look of relief on their faces. :)

This week was a week of firsts for most of us.


- On Monday we saw our first colostomy bag in Laos. It wasn't unlike the ones back at home, however, we were surprised to see one here in Laos (in the 5 years this program has been running we hadn't yet seen such a sophisticated operation out in the villages). Unfortunately, the lady (who is only 23 years old) could no longer afford medical treatment and had to go home with the bag. Therefore, as a group we are trying to see if it is possible to help pay for her next (and hopefully last) operation. Will keep you updated.

- Tuesday saw us eating buffalo meat and fried river weed (actually yummier than it sounds)! There is a chance we may have already eaten buffalo meat on this trip, but this was the first time we had been informed about it.

- Wednesday was one of the group member's birthday (happy birthday Amanda!) and we asked if it would be possible to have something special for her, a cake perhaps. What came out was a pumpkin based/decorated cake with sticky rice. It was delicious (especially for those of us who love our pumpkin) and was a wonderful treat after dinner.

- Thursday night the people in the Pak Seng held a Baci (Baa-zi) Ceremony for us to wish us well on our way. It was unlike anything we had ever experienced. Our home stay family gave us a scarf as a gift and the we sat in a circle, were given a glass of beer to drink and a plate of food (a boiled egg, banana and a packet of chips or cake). After wards white string was tied onto our wrists to symbolise strength and give us good luck on our travels. After the ceremony we danced the night away! :)

- Friday was our activities day. We tried our hand at weaving, cooking a traditional Lao dish and bamboo rafting. With weaving the women make it look a lot easier than it is! It's quite fiddly and hand-eye-foot coordination is needed. After our quick 30 minute session (which was just enough time to get the hang of things...kinda) we had all developed a new-found respect and admiration for the weavers and look at the scarves and skirts with awe-like wonder.

Cooking, on the other hand, was a little bit easier/more manageable. In our smaller groups we each made a separate dish for lunch; pork tomato sauce, vegetable stir-fry, vegetable soup, pork noodles and a potato-based coconut milk dessert (these dishes have Lao names, but unfortunately I have forgotten them). Needless to say, lunch tasted great! :)

Next up was Bamboo rafting in the Suang river. It was beautiful. Sitting on the bamboo rafts (some of which were being made as we arrived) we were able to relax in the serene beauty that Laos had to offer -- pure mountainous grasslands and forests all along the river. Then after some time we decided to jump in (although some of us were pushed) and have a swim. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

After rafting we went back to our village and said good bye to our home stay family. This was a bit sadder than we had anticipated. Despite the little communication we had with our home stay family (due to the language barrier) they had touched us and will leave a lasting impression in our lives.

We're now at the hotel getting some much needed rest. Good bye until next week!

Photo 1. A student (Elise) giving birth during the women's health promotion
Photo 2. A student (Jackie) being taught how to weave by our home stay mother
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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

'I Was Here' - Maldives adventure comes to an end


COUNTRY: Maldives
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Swimming Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Erin Smith

And so the time that everyone dreaded/anticipated/never thought would come, is finally here. We have had such a jam packed week that the past few days seem to have literally flown by. The past four weeks have been such an awesome, challenging and inspiring experience, it's hard to believe it's almost all over.

Last Thursday went extremely well with the first aid class being received extremely well. We were also fortunate enough to be able to donate some basic first aid equipment for the school to keep. The afternoon beach clean up was also a success with us collecting countless large bags of rubbish. It is so sad to see the beautiful beaches in this condition, however we positioned some huge bins around and managed to draw lots of attention with our clean up. We are hoping our example will encourage others to be responsible about their waste.

We began our week with a relatively quiet weekend, organising ourselves for the week ahead and taking, what we considering, was a well earned break. We journeyed to yet another secluded corner of the island on Friday night for a sunset BBQ, prepared by Maldivian chef royalty. The food was great, the company was even better, and we all relaxed by the fire and the sound of the ocean. On Saturday night we took our ICP's and their family out to dinner in an attempt to demonstrate our immense gratitude. We then trekked home for a decent night sleep before the hectic day that would be Sunday.

Despite Sunday being a public holiday at the schools, we all woke nice and early, ready and rearing to get down to business. We had the mission of painting the entire children's ward ahead of us and upon arrival, we had no idea how we were going to do it. Paintbrushes and pencils at the ready we broke up into teams and were designated a wall, or in Georgia and my case, a whole room, to conquer. In no time at all however, the ward came to life. We had countless visitors throughout the day as word spread, many of which offered a helping hand. Even patients from other wards were getting up and coming over to visit us. It became apparent that no task like this had even been attempted before. By lunch time we were more than halfway, and by 5:30pm, we we're finished. One day, one completely transformed children's ward. The walls now depicted images of space, under the sea, the sky, a farm and the jungle. Running on empty, we all returned home with a huge sense of accomplishment and pride at what we had been able to achieve.

On Monday we had a slightly later start than normal thank goodness, and headed off to another island to visit the school of Feydhoo for a culture day. We split up and taught the primary students all about our animals, aboriginal culture, music, food and Aussie slang. The children were extremely enthusiastic, buzzing with questions and energy. It was such a worthwhile experience and we all felt like celebrities when the students and parents insisted on shaking our hands and taking photos with us.

Tuesday commenced as normal with everyone returning to their everyday routine. The girls at Sharrafuddin school began their final two days and were surprised by their teachers with presents and a lunch out. On assembly on Wednesday we were publicly thanked for our work at the school and presented with certificates of appreciation. Jess, who had generously organised to bring some laptops to donate, was able to pass on the gifts to the principle. The laptops will go to great use in the Special Education class who are all very excited. That afternoon our teachers shouted us lunch and presented us with traditional Maldivian gifts. It was a bitter sweet farewell and all the teachers expressed their well wishes and said they would miss us immensely.

Josh and the girls at Hithadhoo had an exciting final day as well. Upon arrival they were taken to the oval where they were surprised with an organised picnic with their grade 1's and 2's. Their teachers then herded them off to be redressed in traditional Maldivian clothes, complete with hair accessories. The celebrations continued with cake, photos, certificates and a huge pile of parcels from both teachers and students. Normal lessons for the rest of the day were cancelled and the Antips had time to pass on their souvenirs and say goodbye to their class for the last time.

Cait also had a rough farewell with her little students at Kangaroo Kids. The teachers and children will all be very sad to see her go and she will be sorely missed.

Swimming lessons have now sadly finished for both groups. The afternoon group finished on Tuesday afternoon and present the class with kick boards and goggles as a congratulations on the progress they had made and as an incentive to keep at swimming. I managed to convince one girl that she was so good, she'd be at the Olympics in no time. She assured me it would be for butterfly though, the crazy girl! The morning group finished on Wednesday morning and had organised certificates for all the dedicated swimmers.

The hospital gang had a busy week this week with multiple surgeries and a birth on the agenda. After welcoming a little baby girl into the world and helping stitch some patients back together it was time for them too to bid farewell. On Thursday an afternoon tea was put on in their honour and there was many tearful speeches of thank you. Myself and Georgia were lucky enough to be included as we passed on the medical equipment we had been able to purchase for them with our donation funds. It was a touching afternoon and a great way to finish the week.

On Wednesday afternoon we had a final meeting with the mayor. He congratulated us on our stay and thanked us for everything we had achieved during our time at Hithdhoo. We were even presented with hand painting coconuts and certificates from the city of Addu. On Thursday night, continuing in the spirit of farewells, we had our final dinner with our in country friends and each other. They had prepared a video of our time here on the island with backing vocal from Beyoncé's 'I Was Here.' They blew us away yet again with their kindness and generosity and we all celebrated the time we have shared on this incredible island.

This weekend we will all be heading in different directions. Jess will join her parents for a weeks holiday in the Maldives, the boys will be leaving at different times and heading both home and on to more destinations. Some girls will stay on for 3 or more days and the rest will return home on the 8th. Thursday will be another quiet day as a few of the girls prepare to leave early the following morning. They will spend their last night on Paradise island at the resort. Eight of us will join them the following day for three nights and have a cross over of a few hours before the others head home. It's crazy to think that after spending all day every day with these amazing people, in just a few days we won't be seeing some for a very long time. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that we have friends for life, and it will take a lot more than a few hundred kilometres to keep this family apart.
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