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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The dreaded half-way mark!


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Kimberly Maguire

We've reached the dreaded half-way mark, and what an eventful week its been! Last Saturday we went to Chambok community for the day, which is about three hours from Phnom Penh. Chambok is a community of 9 rural villages where visitors can experience village life and explore the area’s beautiful natural surroundings. It is located on the border of the Kirirom National Park in southwest Cambodia; the area is known for its forests, waterfalls and rice fields.

The community-based ecotourism project was established in 2002 to provide an additional income for the local people and help protect the surrounding forest. When we arrived at the village we were provided with a delicious lunch cooked by locals. After lunch we watched a traditional dance performed by Khmer children. Claire and I had the opportunity to show off our not-so-coordinated dance moves as we joined in the coconut dance. Both our fellow volunteers and the children got a great laugh out of watching us struggle to mimic the actions. We then took an ox cart ride (which is definitely just a novelty and not an effective means of transport) to the start of a trail, which led us to some beautiful waterfalls. The tour guide then showed us where the homestays are and showed us the machine that is used to make rice, and we all sampled some rice wine! It was fascinating to see all the different Cambodia-style houses along the way.

On Sunday, Claire and Tom visited the orphanage in the Stung Mean Chey slum to teach the children about Aussie rules football. A large number of smiling children enthusiastically welcomed them and escorted them to a spare patch of land nearby. They set up drills and taught the basics such as how to kick a drop punt and handball. The kids here love soccer and almost all of their immediate reaction was to place the ball on the ground, kick it as hard as possible, and marvel at the precariousness of an oval shaped ball.

Despite the difficult combination of a language barrier, short attention spans and uncontrollable excitement making structured drills difficult, the kids had a fantastic time! It was very rewarding to watch our sport bring so much joy to these underprivileged children. Fortunately, thanks to a very generous donation by Auskick Queensland, we were able to leave a number of balls at the orphanage for the kids to enjoy in the future.

Lucy and I have both been quite sick throughout the week so missed some days of teaching. It was such a shame not being able to go to school but it was definitely all part of the experience. Claire, Tom, Tash and Daisy had a visit from the PIO coordinator last Monday and his comments were all so positive. He mentioned he was very impressed with the standard, which is fantastic to hear! The volunteers all mentioned noticing the little things that the children are learning in their respective classes and this week was definitely full of many success stories!

As we get into the swing of things in town we are trying out many nice restaurants and have found some very well priced (and delicious) meals. We have all become accustom to travelling by tuk-tuk and it no longer fazes us what side of the road we are on, what direction we are travelling or how close we are to oncoming traffic. We have become great friends with the staff at the hotel and are being so well looked after. It is safe to say that none of us are quite ready to come home! We are off to Sihanoukville for the weekend and can’t wait to share more interesting stories!

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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cambodia a real eye opener for UniBreak volunteers


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Healthcare & Teaching
WRITTEN BY: UniBreak Volunteers

Last weekend was very busy and full of touristy adventures in contrast to our week volunteering. On Saturday, Skye, Jess, Tara and Amy went on an 80km bike ride around the countryside of Siem Reap, which was absolutely stunning. The other volunteers went to see the floating villages of Tonle Sap.

On Sunday we were up at 4:30am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, which was absolutely gorgeous despite the cloudy weather. The rest of the day consisted of exploring Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm, and Louise and Caitlin went zip lining! In the afternoon, Jess, Caitlin and Louise ventured out to a waterfall with Siphuong (one of our awesome translators).

The children at Krapeu village school and MHDC children are just incredible; their excitement and willingness to participate is overwhelmingly beautiful. At the village school we have been learning the alphabet, numbers, colours and family - so we made a 'rainbow wall' and put up drawings of their family - which they were incredibly excited about! At MHDC, the girls have been focusing the extremely energetic nature of the children into learning the alphabet, numbers, shapes, colours and clothing. These children don't get to choose the family or country they are born into, yet they make the most of the opportunities they are given. The optimistic, big dreaming mind sets of these children is exactly what Cambodia needs in it's future.







The girls on home visits have done an amazing job getting around to each house and assessing people's needs. Seeing the conditions and circumstances these people live under has been an incredibly humbling experience and change in perspective for the group. One of the houses they visited had a man suffering from extremely severe burns, which needed to be properly cared for at a clinic. However, they cannot afford the expense of treatment, so the family tirelessly cares for him, changing bandages and tending to the burns. It isn't until you see the everyday lives of these people and the battles they fight, that the hard hitting reality of poverty is truly realised. I think it is something that everyone living in a first world country should experience.

At the end of the week the groups rotated into their respective placements, so everyone is continuing to plan and adjust to a change of environment.

This weekend we caught the night bus to Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh, which was a very bumpy ride where sleeping was never guaranteed. But 8 hours later we were there! We all left Phnom Penh different times, however most of the group visited the Killing Fields and the S-12 Genocide Museum, which was an extremely sobering experience. People found it very hard to fathom the atrocities and horror that is Cambodia's all too recent history. On a lighter note, a few rounds of deserved rooftop cocktails, exploring Phnom Penh and the Russian Markets made it a great weekend!

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Campfire songs, tipi building and a secret ninja society



COUNTRY: Canada
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Work Placement
WRITTEN BY: Maddison Kowal

It's our second week of volunteering and I am finally diving into the deep end as this week I have no co-counsellor and 9 girls to myself! I was in the River Clan with Kasper and his group of boys as well as having to put the voyager canoes in the water down at Hector Waterfront. After coming back from the waterfront the bus with our kids arrived and ‘Bubbles’, ‘Gravity’, ‘Crocus’ and I collected our kids and played some name games before lunch.

After lunch we had our first proper session of tipi building where we got the kids to build small tipis out of sticks. Myself and the other counsellors then tested how waterproof, wind-proof and earthquake-proof they were, during which we saw a deer, which the kids loved. The rest of the day consisted of playing team-building games, eating dinner and then organising the campfire singing. At the end of teacher time (the hour we get to ourselves) the kids eagerly lined up to see us again and receive their snack.

At the campfire Rainbow, Chipmunk and I sang ‘Rock the Boat’. It started off with just Ripple singing, but then the counsellors, boys, girls, and eventually everybody joined in. My kids had no idea that I was going to sing at campfire and the look of excitement on their faces when they saw me get up was really quite cool because they love it when their counsellor gets up to sing. Trying to get the energetic kids to bed afterwards was always going to be a challenge though!

It's our second week of volunteering and I am finally diving into the deep end as this week I have no co-counsellor and 9 girls to myself! I was in the River Clan with Kasper and his group of boys as well as having to put the voyager canoes in the water down at Hector Waterfront. After coming back from the waterfront the bus with our kids arrived and ‘Bubbles’, ‘Gravity’, ‘Crocus’ and I collected our kids and played some name games before lunch.

After lunch we had our first proper session of tipi building where we got the kids to build small tipis out of sticks. Myself and the other counsellors then tested how waterproof, wind-proof and earthquake-proof they were, during which we saw a deer, which the kids loved. The rest of the day consisted of playing team-building games, eating dinner and then organising the campfire singing. At the end of teacher time (the hour we get to ourselves) the kids eagerly lined up to see us again and receive their snack.

At the campfire Rainbow, Chipmunk and I sang ‘Rock the Boat’. It started off with just Ripple singing, but then the counsellors, boys, girls, and eventually everybody joined in. My kids had no idea that I was going to sing at campfire and the look of excitement on their faces when they saw me get up was really quite cool because they love it when their counsellor gets up to sing. Trying to get the energetic kids to bed afterwards was always going to be a challenge though!

The next morning I woke up at 6.30am to find my kids getting dressed and ready for the day even though I had told them the previous night that I would get them up at 7.30am. Getting the kids ready in the morning is a lot easier than putting them to bed as the kids are always excited and ready to get stuck into camp. My Girls also decided that they wanted to make an ‘Atora’ song, which turned out to be really cool! It went like this…

Atora A-T-O-R-A
We try out best to get our way,
We’re strong, brave and we behave,
Atora A-T-O-R-A
We ask a lot of questions too,
One for me and one for you,
Atora A-T-O-R-A
Atora A-T-O-R-A
Sound off!
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
ATORA!

That morning we headed down to the Hector Waterfront for voyager canoeing, games and another round of singing 'Rock the Boat', which the girls had absolutely loved from campfire the night before. After lunch was the challenge course, where all the girls were sent through a vigorous ninja training course before walking on a tight rope between mountains (poles) to the hideout for all ninjas before graduating into the secret ninja society. Our next activity was Predator Prey which all the girls were looking forward to as the last year 6’s had told them all about it. This was a nice break for the counsellors and was really funny to watch. One of the teachers (who I later found out had worked at the camp the previous summer) acted as ‘human impact’ and chased and threw beanbags at the kids. It was then dinner, teacher time and campfire as usual, where this time I sang ‘Ba-na-nas’ with Ripple, Merlin and Maple.

Wednesday was hike day, which we started by going through Scout’s Field, where the kids loved hearing about the Mount Yumnaska legend. We then made our way around Buffalo Bill Pond where we stopped for lunch and a game of 'camouflage' before continuing on to Trails Rocks and back to camp. We walked 4.2km where I just sang songs the whole way; I was surprised the kids weren’t sick of hearing my voice by the end because I definitely was! The girls asked me many questions about the fauna and flora around us and I enjoyed answering them, as I have come to love learning about the environment around me.

On Thursday morning we moved all the bags from my tipi back to the luggage bins before breakfast and the raising of the flag. However, this time when the kids arrived at the table they found a stick, a green headband, a Sacred Tipi bundle, a map and letter saying welcome to the Nation of the Earth. To keep the suspense I didn’t reveal anything till after breakfast where the explaining of ‘Forts and Furs’ happened. Forts and furs is a massive game the whole camp plays on the last day where the kids have to run around getting animal punches in order to trade them for tools, blankets and rifle permits. While the kids are playing the game, us counsellors sit on the backpack pile that we made with the sacred tipi bundle and protect it from other nation kids. Following this we had tipi time, where we opened the sacred tipi bundle and gave the girls their camp bead bracelet to remember camp by. When the kids had to leave I ended up being crushed by my kids in the group hug before sending them on the bus and waving goodbye. As soon as the kids are gone, us counsellors go wild and have our weekly ritual of ‘little sally walker’, which is always good fun.

Friday was a staff development day, where we had our 'in-services' for high ropes and horse riding. After learning all the necessary safety rules and techniques we made our way down to the arena for a ride. As much as I’m not a horse person at home, I absolutely loved the little ride we had and was so disappointed when I had to get off my horse ‘Buck’. It was then on to the high ropes, where this time I actually got to try the dangler maze. It was a lot harder than I first thought, but knowing some of the handy tricks certainly helped.

The weekend was spent in Calgary having fun hanging out with people and going to the zoo where we got to see the bears and cougars from behind the safety of a cage. In saying that, I am looking forward to the possibility of seeing a bear at camp! All in all, it was another great week here in Canada!

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Friday, 15 August 2014

An incredible trip comes to a close: Obruni ba-bye Ghana!


COUNTRY: Ghana
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Work Placement
WRITTEN BY: Maddison Kowal

Our last 5 days in Ghana. We're not really sure how we feel about leaving this amazing place. But we had to send in this last blog (once again written on a Tro Tro) to tell you all what an incredible journey we've all been on. Sorry family, you're going to hear a lot about it over the next 5 years, this is just the beginning.

Let's start with the past week. We stepped out from the comfort of our houses in Swedru- saying a teary farewell to the town that has been our home for quite some time- and departed for the Tro Tro station, ready to start some adventures on our own. Beginning at Cape Coast (where we had our very first weekend away), we successfully steered away from the beautiful dresses and beads in the stalls along the main road, knowing they wouldn't fit in our small backpacks anyway. We then had some time to relax and process leaving Swedru.

From there we went to Kumasi, where we stayed for two nights. We went to the Palace Museum and heard the stories of the Ashanti people's struggle against the British, and how they conquered. From Kumasi, we made the mistake of taking a night bus to Tamale, which was a few hours shorter than we expected, meaning we arrived at 1am! Luckily, we were shown to a taxi that took us to a hostel where we got a few hours sleep. Tamale was just an unplanned stopover for us to reach Mole National Park. Here's where the real adventure begins.

Mole is known for its elephants, antelopes and baboons. On the first night at Mole we stayed in a comfortable dorm, fitted out with luxuries such as pillows! On the second night, we were pretty excited to be staying in a treehouse out in the jungle/savannah with all the animals. The treehouse was a beautiful open topped tree, surrounded by African wildlife. It started out a clear, starry night under mozzie nets, as we laughed in the moonlight with our buddy Abdullah. At about 2:30 in the morning, we felt a few raindrops. Thinking it was nothing, we went back to sleep, only to wake up in the middle of a lightning/thunderstorm, complete with torrential rain. Jumping off our mats, we scurried to get down a level where there was semi-shelter. Using the mats as umbrellas, we huddled together, shivering, teeth chattering and soaked to the bone. We begged our Ghanaian Bear Grills to call someone to come pick us up, only to be told he had no service. Luckily, he found reception and we were eventually saved. We were returned safely to the Motel and went back to the comfort of the dorm.

Friday was full of sleep and safaris. The previous day we saw elephants and antelopes on a walking safari, where the guides told us off due to our lack of protective footwear. All praise must go to Jess, who showed her true blue spirit, completing the safari in thongs. We had dinner with our new friends from the US, Holly and Lindsay, chatting about the boisterous baboons, home, and our love for hot chips.

That brings us to today, where I'm writing this message in a Tro Tro on the way to Koforidua- a bead market we've been meaning to come to for 3 months. Typical us.

Our journey is nearly over, but it's been a blast. Thank you all so much for supporting our adventure, and being so patient with our lack of blogging. We're dirty, sweaty, tired and looking forward to a hot shower (what even is a shower?) but we would not have had it any other way. Thank you so much to all who made this trip possible, the Antips crew - Lucy, Michelle, Colin, Shelby. The Ghana troupe - Seth (Dad) for putting up with us and our questions, Tina and Felicia, Gladys (Grandma) and Elizabeth, Charlotte and the girls, Mary and Clarence, Kwame and Pat for opening their homes to us. To all the kids who let us into their hearts, teaching us so much, you will be sorely missed by us all. To our families- without your love and support, we wouldn't be where we are today. We owe you so much.

My only pieces of advice for the next Ghana group is this: take all your love and bring it with you. What you give away, you will get back from everyone you meet. Just be here, have no expectations. I promise you, there will be ups and downs, but you will have the time of your life.

Thanks for reading my babbling, I promise, there's more to be had. See some of you soon, ta ta for now. Or as they say in Ghana: Obruni ha-bye!

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Reliving some African Adventures


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

So our African adventure may have ended in real time, and some have already arrived safely home, but we still have many more stories to tell!

Following our trip to Victoria Falls, we spent another day or so in Swaziland before the 5 of us (plus Dutch volunteer Ingrid) set off for our 10 day road trip down the east coast to Cape Town, with our guide Mpho, who had also accompanied us to Victoria Falls. The first stop was St Lucia, where we went on a river boat cruise spotting hippos and crocodiles, then onto Durban, where we thoroughly enjoyed the beach scene & shopping and spent one of our days there at uShaka Marine World, a combined aquarium and water park, which our inner children really enjoyed!

During our stop in the Wild Coast we had the opportunity to meet and pat two male cheetahs- one was quite inquisitive and starting licking our legs! Laura, Josh, Ingrid and I went quad biking through the reserve, unfortunately spotting no animals. We were mainly focusing on trying to keep up with each other after numerous road incidents; Laura nearly ran into a tree at one point, and my bike decided to stop working halfway up a hill – needless to say I was gripping on the brakes for dear life to stop rolling backwards! Josh, of course, seemed to know what he was doing, and made the rest of us feel inadequate.

Our next ports of call were Port Elizabeth and then Tsitsikamma, where we bravely embarked on the world’s highest bungee bridge jump! We all knew it was coming up on our journey, but no idea that it would be today until Mpho told us during a very filling breakfast, which was a smart move, otherwise we may not have eaten that day! We arrived at Bloukrans Bridge, where we all prepared for the most frightening moment of our lives. I was chosen to go first, so I didn’t really have time to chicken out, and just jumped off! For sure it was scary, but by the time I reached the top I was jumping for joy, so proud of our achievements! Everyone went down one by one, and all bought videos/photos to show you when we get home – just in case you didn’t believe us!

The next day we went zip lining over some waterfalls, which was stunning, and Rosie, Lydia and Laura went on a Segway tour through the small town in Tsitsikamma where we were staying; despite the rain they said it was money well spent and lots of fun! The following day we finally reached Cape Town.

Hout Bay, Cape Town, would be our home for the next month as we continued with our volunteer work. During our first week we were introduced to our ‘crèches’ – similar to the NCPs we worked at in Swaziland. Lydia and Rosie were placed in Hangberg, whilst the rest of us were at schools in the Imizamo Yethu township. Unlike Swaziland, where ‘kombis’ were the primary source of public transport, in Hout Bay they had ‘cockroaches’, which were generally old, beat-up cars that took us to our schools everyday. Sometimes you couldn’t tell the difference between a cockroach and a regular car, Rosie and Lydia certainly figured that out when a stranger they had hailed down offered to give them a lift anyway!

When we first arrived at our crèches the kids instantly surrounded us, trying to grab hold of our legs in obvious excitement. Siyazama is the biggest of the 3 preschools, with over 70 kids and a large building with 3 classrooms and an outside playground. It had originally been created by the government, and it has only just been returned to the people of Imizamo Yethu. Laura and Ingrid are working at quite a small preschool, as Sophie (pronounced So-fi-ya) the principal, runs it out of her own home, and is jam packed with kids squeezed into the small rooms of her house. Lydia and Rosie's placement has no electricity, meaning no light when it is cold and dark during the winter mornings in Cape Town.

Initially we settled into our new home and preschools, even though it was school holidays for the next 3 weeks, many children still came to have something to do during the day. Some of us went to an after-school care program (more like a holiday program right now) called Ikhaya le Themb to spend time with the kids there, doing craft activities or playing netball or soccer outside.

That weekend we visited the Bay Harbour Markets, a very popular tourist spot in Hout Bay, as well as the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The markets had amazing stalls and delicious food- I think we visited there every weekend! That's all for now- I’ll save the final 3 weeks’ adventures for the next blog!

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Thursday, 14 August 2014

A brief update from our week in Cuzco


COUNTRY: Peru
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching and Construction
WRITTEN BY: Kymon Mansfield

Week one brought with it a plethora of newness: new faces to meet, places to explore and things to do. In week two we continued with our scheduled classes, teaching the school kids art, sport, and English, while also helping to prepare their breakfasts each morning. It is still the cutest thing in the world to hear a 5-year-old kid say 'ensalada de frutas.' The work on the greenhouses is progressing well, as we've been working on completely remaking the roofs. This involves taking down the original roof, tightening up the wire support structure, and then putting up a new roof and keeping it in place. The theory is that hopefully a new roof on each greenhouse will allow less air to escape unnecessarily, consequently allowing more sunlight to the plants during the day.

As far as exploring Cuzco goes, I'm still enjoying my regular walks up and down the main streets. Last week I visited the Sacred Valley where I bought hands down the coolest backpack with a llama on it. I also bought a guitar this week, with the intention of possibly introducing some music into art classes at the school. I've never owned an acoustic guitar and really wanted one so am honestly just excited to have it!

The one thing I've really noticed is just how fast my time here is passing. It feels like my first night in Lima was only a day ago, but surprisingly, I'm already halfway through! And I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to leave.


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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

An action-packed week for UniBreak volunteers in India


COUNTRY: India
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Health Placement
WRITTEN BY: Helen Huang

We had another great week here in Palampur, participating in our first proper Indian yoga lesson on Thursday! It was definitely different (and probably more authentic) than anything we'd ever done before. While some of us seemed like professionals, the rest of us struggled - yoga is meant to be relaxing isn't it? Yet some of us were left out of breath, with muscle pains and headaches. Hopefully we'll fare better next lesson.

Our weekend challenge was trekking in Triund. The climb was 9km in distance and 2.8km in altitude- Bear Grylls style. On the way up we were all glistening with sweat, yet it was also cold when the sweat evaporated into the mountain air. Soon it began to rain, to the point where we didn't know whether we were covered in rain or sweat. The route was treacherous, with rocks and trees everywhere, as well as numerous cow and donkey paths that needed to be dodged. Fingers crossed we lost some weight. Yet again, the group was split into two halves: those who are excellent trekkers, and those who are not. During the struggle we managed to make friends with the volunteers from the mysterious other house.

Despite the strain, it was totally worth it as the summit was beautiful. We were greeted by friendly cows and horses, which also acted as efficient alarm clocks the next morning. We then hit up Mcloudganj, where we visited the Dalai Lama's temple. Even though it was supposed to be his birthday, we were too slow getting down the mountain, meaning that by the time we got there the celebrations were over!

We didn't have any time for recovery, as we (and our sore legs) were back at placements again the next day. This week some of us began observing surgeries. It was mostly just gallbladder removals, but there was an amputation of an arm and a toe, which caused a girl to faint. Blood is too gory for some.

During the week we also managed to have dinner with our Spanish friends that we made on the trek. It was wonderful as we were treated with meat (a rarity in our vegetarian house) and dessert. The cherry on the top was when the bill was paid for by our In-Country Partner!

Week 2 of our Palampur program has been as hectic as the first, with little time for rest! This weekend we'll be catching the border ceremony in Amritsa, amidst the projected 45 degree heat. Wish us luck!

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