Wednesday, 26 March 2008

A writer in our midst

Our intrepid traveller and sales exec Kirsten also moonlights as a travel writer. Her journeys to some far flung places have long been a topic of her writing. She has recently had a piece published on the travel section of ninemsn. Check it out here!

Wenhai School Project, China

Wenhai School in Yunnan Province, China, was the site of another community project supported by our Expedition groups at the end of last year over Christmas.

Brisbane Boys College and Barker College were two schools involved in fundraising for materials and local labour needed to renovate parts of the school. The two expedition teams also spent time at the school doing hands-on construction work themselves. They built a brand new toilet and shower block, renovated the teachers' room, and installed much needed heating in the dorms and classrooms powered by solar panels.

Old Toilet Block

New Toilet Block

New Shower Block

New Solar Panels

New Heating in Classrooms

Mural Painted by the Students

Xuehua School Project, China

Over the Christmas holidays, Antipodeans Abroad sent 2 school Expedition teams to rural China in the South West province of Yunnan. Part of their Expedition involves working on a community project and Xuehua school was one such project which was in dire need of some basic renovation and building work.

Stuartholme and SCEGGS Darlinghurst students were involved in raising funds for the project, repairing and painting the exterior of the entire school, building a brand new toilet block, resurfacing the walls of the classroom and installing a new ceiling.

The before and after photos below show some of the fantastic work these young students were able to do.

Xuehua School Exterior (Before)

Xuehua School Exterior (After) & New Toilet Block

School Courtyard (Before)

School Courtyard (After)

Classroom (Before)

Classroom (After)

Classroom (Before)

Classroom (After)

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Tanzania Video

Trawling through our old files and found some little videos that I thought we could share. Gives you a bit of an idea into some of the countries we visit! Here is one for Tanzania.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Health Care in Mumbai (2007 UniBreak Volunteer)

My time in India seems to be coming to an end, and looking back on it, i've had one of the most fantastic experiences of my life so far, one which I know will stay with me for the rest of my life. Where to start...

Coming into Mumbai late on the Friday night I found the orientation period during the saturday and sunday to be extremely helpful, and it allowed me to immerse myself with my new surrounding and adapt to the new culture of Indian life. We were well looked after by Sharad Kalee who made the transition into Pen a very smooth and easy process.

Beginning work at CFI on the monday we were greeted with nothing but smiles. It was also then that we got our first true taste of 'Indian time' as a half an hour wait extended itself into an hour in a half, but I didn't mind at all, happy to take in my new surroundings and introduce myself to everyone. For the first three weeks I worked alongside Dr Vayshali Patil doing community check ups with the mobile health unit. From my first visit to the village of Kumbhiva Pakuari, I knew that the mobile health unit was exactly what I had envisioned myself doing in India and I loved every second of it. As there were three of us doing the checkups alongside Dr Vayshali, we would alternate at every village; one person doing the checkups, one person taking the heights and weights of the children, and one person distributing the medicines. Although we were slow at first to learn all the names of the different medicines and their various uses, Dr Vayshali was more than happy to explain and answer any other questions that we had, and within a few days we were more than fluent in all of their applications. One of the main reasons that I truly loved the Mobile health unit was that it not only gave you the oppurtunity to put one's medical knowledge into practice and help other individuals, but it also allowed you to experience true Indian culture, as we were always invited into the villagers home's, and were given more Chaha than I knew what to do with!

Through the 3 weeks of working with the mobile health unit I found that the malnutrition was one of the main problems faced by the children as well as most of the general population of the rural villages. I realised that this was obviously something to expect within rural villages due to the limited varieties of foods incorporated into the peoples diets. One suggestion I wanted to put foward would be to maybe incorporate foods such as:

- bananas, which are rich in potassium and can be extremely useful in treating things such as anaemia
- Spinach: rich in Calcium which was also a major problem in some of the children as well as in the elderly members of the community.

The social workers that came with to the villages were beyond friendly, and were more than happy to answer any of the questions that we had concerning the villages. Before commencing the checkups, we would also be given a tour of the villages on some occasions, something which I found to be truly amazing as it allowed me to experience what life was like within an Indian village. One of the main highlights of my visits to the villages was in Sunkar. Finishing the check up we began to pack away all of the medicines during which time our driver was teaching us phrases in Marathi. As soon as
the children heard us speaking marati they rushed in to come see what was happening, and by the time I looked up to see what was going on I was surrounded by most of the village, all intently listening to what was going on and all wearing the biggest smiles that I have ever seen. We then asked the children if they knew any english songs and soon we were all singing along to 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' every one of us laughing.

I really enjoyed being able to work during the week and travel during the weekends as I found it allowed me to experience the best of both worlds. Visiting places such as Alibag, Mumbai and Goa I could not believe the beauty of the country. I also definately enjoyed being able to experience all forms of public transport, and now consider myself to be a professional when it comes to catching buses and trains in India :)

Also working at the CFI hospital as well the civil hospital I was able to experience how the medical system worked in India. At the CFI hospital I was able to watch surgeries performed by Dr Gawali, mainly those relating to 'family planning.' I found this to be extremely interesting and was especially intrigued about the fact that all of the surgeries performed were done under a local anasthetic. Working at the civil hospital allowed me to experience the clinical aspect of the medical system in India as I was able to observe check ups conducted by the doctors who were more than happy to answer any questions that I had.

I was also able to experience two medical checkups, one dealing with HIV/Aids and one which dealt with performing gynacological checkups on pregnant women. These were amazing experiences and allowed me to observe the various services provided to the communities. I also learned alot through these outings including the overwhelming problems faced by the Indian population relating to HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.

From our initial series of phone calls and Sms's as I arrived at Mumbai airport, both you and Aparna have been absolutely amazing and I really appreciate and wanted to thank you for all the work you have done for us.

Overall I have found this program to have been life changing and an incredible experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I have no doubt that I will return to India in the near future and enjoy many of the wonders that it has to offer...

Danyawad and thank you so much for all of your help and for allowing me to experience such a wonderful program!

Volunteers Making an Impact

Every once in awhile we will get a stand-out volunteer who truly embraces their placement experience. Liam, one of our recent Year Out students, made such a big impact that our Indian in-country agent wrote to us with this heartfelt feedback...
Saw him working with the mentally challenged kids yesterday. He was so amazing with them. Brought tears to my eyes. He is a very special boy. The youngest in the group but so mature, very loving, gentle and caring. You must tell his parents that they have raised a remarkable child. They should be very proud of him.
- Safeena (ICA India)
Well done Liam!

Education Work in India (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

To start with I want to say how much I have appreciated the chance to work in a wide variety of schools, as it allows me to get a greater view of the education system and the different problems faced at various levels. This also has some disadvantages as it means that it has been difficult to settle in, especially with the disrupted programmes of the schools. However, I still would prefer it the way it is, due to the fact that it allows for a wider spectrum of the school system.

Mother Theresa and Little Angels School

The Mother Theresa School is generally well run, the teachers have established teaching methods and despite the strong emphasis on rope learning, it is probably the most disciplined and well run of the schools I attend. A typical example of this kind of rope learning occured when students from KG Junior were forced to recite a story about the lion and the mouse. I then went to teach sentene structure and the teacher told me that they do not know how to construct sentences, only words are taught at this level. So they did not understand much of the meaning of the story at all, but merely were reciting a bunch of words they were forced to remember. Perhaps a disadvantage of teaching at this school is that teachers tend to be more hesitant to hand over their classes, due to the pressure for their children to perform. Generally, however, there has been much to do at this school, the children are obedient, the school is well supplied and the principal is particularly welcoming and friendly.

I have had mixed experiences at the Little Angels School, and find that as long as I have a text book to teach out of and know the level of the students classes run quite well. Unfortunately I turned up for my first ever lesson here, with about half an hour of intrtoduction stuff prepared, then was left alone in front of 60 students for 2 hours ... haha not the best introduction. I enjoy teaching the older students in years 9 and 10 English and history, as I do have a general interest in these subjects and study them at university, and the children tend to know what I am talking about, giving the teacher respect if you are actually being informative. Warn future students about grades 5 and 6 cause that is very difficult, usually big classes and long periods with rather disobedient children. Again I do think there is alot of rope learning, with few students thinking critically about a text, considering different points of view or being able to form their own opinion on a subject, however this may come in later years in university.

On thing that did suprise me about both of these schools was the inability of the founders and owners of the school to speak English. Whilst I respect that it would be arrogant and ignorant to make any accusations about the desires of these owners after being here such a short period, I do struggle to understand where their passion for starting an English medium and quality school comes from if they do not understand they do not know the language itself. Of course a school should not be viewed primarily as a 'business' to make money, and I cannot help wonder whether the primary intentions of these owners is to provide quality education, considering the fact that they do not know English themselves. Although this problem is not unique to India, constant complaints by parents about the excessive fees of private schools greatly concerns me, especially if this extra money is used to pay the owners and not to improve eduaction. I could be completely of the mark with these comments and they may be extremely passionate about eduaction and not be earning much profit for themselves, however I cannot help but suspect the contrary.

Candelli Public School (spelling may be wrong)

Due to disruptions of holidays and sickness I have not been able to spend much time at this school, but I greatly appreciate the ability to contrast this school with the private schools. The first lesson I had planned thoroughly, with difficult words in the story I would be teaching spelt out of cards and defintions prepared. This story was in their text book. However, when I turned up and did my introiductions it was clear that there was no way they could read a three page biography of George Washington Carver. I tried to teach them some nursery rhymes (to year fives) but struggled as when I pointed to the door they yelled "window! window!"

After I overcame this first day surprise I have grealty enjoyed teaching at Candelli. The children are well behaved, friendly and lack the well developed smart arse attitudes present in many of the grade 5 and 6 children at little angels. I have figured out some games that work well with the children and they tend to respnd well. Small classes make teaching so much easier between the ages of 10 and 13 as it is in this age that they seem to learn that they outnumber the teacher greatly and can use this to their advantage.

Many teachers at this school do lack much passion and honestly I cannot blame them. I belief that a basic education is important even if the children are not to attend university, but even if you sent these children to the best school I think they would struggle due to their home environment. Many in the community live in straw huts and I would be greatly surprised if their parents took much interest in making them do their home work or pushing their eduacation at home. Having said that I believe that what they do at this school, although seemingly minimal according to private school standards, is very important in their ability to conduct themselves and do basic things such as read and write their mother tongue at a reasonable standard. Some of the teachers are also very capable and due to the limited time I have spent here I am careful not to judge the teachers.

Disabled School

I strongly recommend future travellers to this school, the teachers are wonderful, it is well supplied and I love working with the children. I have spent time working witht disabled children in Australia and did not hold high expectations for this school but was blown away by the way it is run. The children have such a beautiful innocence and positivity that just rubs of on you. All of them have their own thing to offer the worldnd this it is wonderful to be the recipient of this. It is a bizarre concept that I child who cannot speak, with impaired movement and mental acitivity can have more to offer to peoples lives though smiling than any one else can through saying so much (or an excessively long e-mail).

Other Things

It has been a really awesome experience to be able to see the medical side of things here as well and appreciate the insight this has given me. I feel like I do so much 'lovey-dovey' stuff, playing with seven year olds, whilst the other students come back talking of the HIV/AIDS camps and diseases poeple suffer from. I also greatly appreciate the fact that I have been welcomed onto the weekend camps and into the hosprtals when the occasion has arose as these experiences have impacte dupon me greatly.

The programme has been really well run. Sharad and Sheetal make a killer combination of friendliness and approachability every day.

Well I have much more to write about but I must go now to the hospital and I can say that stuff next week.

p.s. I may have focused a bit on the negative aspects in this e-mail, but my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, I love Pen and the vast, vast majority of poeple I come across, teachers, principals and people in the street are very welcoming and competent people.

Social Work in India (2007 UniBreak Volunteer)

Firstly, I would like to apologise for grammatical and spelling erorrs, I am typing this at a dodgy cyber cafe in Pen on a keyboard with suspiciously sticky keys!

I would like to start by saying that I have had an amazing first two weeks- the generosity, friendliness and hospitality from the people I have meet in Pen has touched me deeply. These people may have little material wealth but their hearts are richer than any I have ever known. It makes it harder to observe the poor health status and living conditions of these people. My heart hs broken many times here, but each time it allows a little more love to leak out :)

The first week was particularly challenging. Liane and I were taken out to do health checks byourselves in the afternoon but we had not realised we would be operating on our own and had not been told how they wished us to conduct the health checks, how to fill out the forms, what meds we had access to, how to refer etc etc. We qickly worked it out by the first day (the social worker was unable to help us s they did not know either) and checked that we were fulfilling our obligations when we returned to CFI.

By the second day we had a hang of things and a dozen or so key Marati phrases under our belt and we have become a great team ever since.

Most kids really need fillings and good toothbrush but as one social worker was telling us the kids rarely turn up to the dentist to which they are reffered as the village people are scared to lode teeth. This is one are that requires more education and Liane is wroking on a program to further this I believe.

I have also seen alot of anaemia, an avoidable dietary deficiency. I am currently working on a program to educate families about foods that contain iron, vitamin C and B vitamins and how they are important their kids health, both in body and mind.

Colds and coughs, eye sight problems and skin rashes are also common.

Although I feel many of the medicines we give are inadequate at fixing illness that clearly arise from infrastructal and economic challenges (such as lack of access to clean water, proper sewage disposal, affordable medicines/operations and doctors, cramped living conditions and poverty) I am becoming resolved to the fact that we can for this moment only do what we can.

It is particularly devistating when a child with renal failure, or heart disease, or mental/physical disability approaches you for medicines that you know in you heart can not significanlty improve that childs quality of life.

One mother bought her son to us for itchy skin who had renal failure. Her eyes spoke a sadness that transcended our language barrier as she pointed at the cost of the operation on the doctors letter she had bought for us to look at (2-3 laks), an amount we both knew she would never see in her life time. Her young son looked at me and I wondered if he knew, if he understood.

Another boy had a 'rash' of purpura, bone pains, nose bleeds and other such symptoms indicative of advanced chronic diseases such as cancer (although I would never make that diagnosis!!)- they had taken him to bombay but the doctor told them he could do nothing- his mother wanted to know if we knew what was wrong and if we could help. No- we couldn't but we gave him panadol for his headaches anyway.

So yes, I have had an amazing time. I have cried at the sadness, I have laughed at the happiness, I have danced with tiny doe eyed kids, and I have learnt more about myself and human nature in three weeks than I have in 23years. Thanks Saffena-you do brilant work.

We LOVE hearing from happy parents!

After years of working with young students we are used to dealing with concerned parents who understandably worry about their children being away in strange foreign lands. So it always brings a smile to our faces when we get emails like the one below from a very happy pair of parents!

Thank you for your emails to keep us up to date with the activities in Ghana. This is a small reflection of the excellent way in which Antipodeans and you particularly have organised the placement. As parents it has been a great support to know that there is a safety net of competent people to support our kids if anything goes wrong. And the fact that all has gone so smoothly is evidence of your professionalism and care. Sarah speaks very highly of Tina and Seth and the advice they’ve given the students. She has been so thankful for Seth’s help in getting the toilet block completed before she leaves. For her friends and family who funded the project, it is wonderful to see the project completed.

Sarah has had a marvellous time in every respect, fulfilling a dream she’s had since she was 5 years old, to go to Africa. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she goes back when she has university training and more skills but this experience has been a great balance of adventure, exposure to a different culture and way of life, with both frustrations and joys and wonderful new relationships (Sarah and Ellen will be long-term friends and are planning regular ways in which to see each other while at Uni). Sarah has loved her host family and Grace has obviously helped Sarah and Ellen to understand and appreciate Ghanaian culture.

Thank you to the team at Antipodeans for offering these experiences to young people who want to do more than backpack around Europe and to parents who are thankful for the extra support that you offer. We have recommended you to many of our friends who’ve asked about Sarah’s adventure.

We are counting down the days till Sarah comes home when I’m sure we’ll be inundated with all she wants to tell us. Then we’ll have to adjust to family life with a changed Sarah!

Monika in Ghana Final (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

Despite now being in Thailand, we thought we'd give you our last report on Ghana.

Well our last week teaching was a quick one, the time just flew, right when we were loving teaching the most. On our final day there, the teacher insisted we come back just before we leave Ghana to say a final farewell. He spoke to the class and told them to bring gifts for us and all the kids looked really sad, it was only then we realised that we'd actually had some sort of impact on them. We had lumps in our throats, the nice things the teacher was saying to the children about us was really touching.

So after that last Friday we headed down to Cape Coast one last time just to say goodbye to some of the people we'd met there. We only stayed one night then traveled to the Western Region to a place called Butre Beach. It had this strange feeling to it. It was so isolated, you had to walk over a bridge to get there and once you were there, there wasn't mush else to do other than sunbake and swim. The waves were pretty huge so we stuck mainly to the sunbaking while we buried ourselves in books for the whole two days we were there. After those two days, we walked through a rainforest and the bush then onto a long beach to get to our next stop, Busua beach. This was no doubt the most beautiful beach we'd seen in Ghana. Apart from the beach, the town didn't have a lot to offer. It was quite poor by comparison to other places we'd been. But the beach was enough to keep us there for 3 nights. At the beach we were able to hire boards so it was fun to catch some waves there.

Then on Wednesday, four of the girls and myself headed up to Kumasi. We stayed there two nights and got plenty of shopping done at the Central Markets (the biggest markets in West Africa) and the Cultural Centre. The weather was beginning to feel much hotter and dryer though so we'd stay indoors as much as we could. One of the girls, Maddy got quite sick so her and Georgina stayed in Kumasi while Ally, Bec and myself traveled up to Tamale. Loads of people told us to visit Tamale but from the short time we were there we found there was very little to do. We stayed one night there in a place that reminded us of a slaughter house. Really dim flickering lights, stains on the walls, dirty beds..... So we were fairly quick to get out of there the next morning. We took a Tro Tro up to Bolgatanga which is all the way at the top of Ghana. The landscape up north was so different to down south. It was typical Africa, savannah grasslands, boabab trees, cattle on the sides of the road and red dirt and long dry grass. It was really dry up north as well and we went three nights without running water (probably the dirtiest few days we had in Ghana).

On our second day there we took a taxi up to Paga which is known for it's sacred crocodile ponds. Apparently the crocs are friendly and have an agreement with the humans that they won't eat them if the humans don't harm them. So we arrived and it was just a giant pond on the side of the road but the guides gave us a chicken to tempt the crocs out of the water, only one came out, about two and a half metres long and we were able to hold it's tail as it sat there placidly. After it ate the chicken the guides told us that if we paid one of the local boys would swim in the pond (home to 300 crocs). We figured we'd like to see it so we gae him the money and he was doing flips in the water with crocs no more than ten metres away from him. They told us we could swim as well, so Ally and I had a swim in our underwear (wasn't planned) with crocs swimming close by. It was pretty exciting and we figured this would probably be the only time in our lives we'd ever swim with crocodiles so why not!

Later that day, back in Bolgatanga we hired some bikes ad went riding around the town. It was our favourite place in all of Ghana. The people were so much more relaxed than back down south, tehy didn't pester you and it just had a really relaxed, calm atmosphere. After our bike ride we made friends with some locals who had motor bikes so they took us for a ride up to a lake which lay between Ghana and Burkina Faso. It was really beautiful and on the way we saw ostriches, donkeys and a crazy naked lady walking down the street. My driver, Moses, asked if we had people like that in Sydney, it just made me laugh. On the way back we rode through a village, typical African mud huts and the sun was setting over the horizon, it looked like a typical scene from the Lion King, but not a cartoon oviously! That night we went to a night spot, had a few drinks, didn't realise that it was midnight then went to bed hungry!

The next day we took a tro tro back down to Tamale where we met up with Maddy and Georgina again and hopped straight on a bus to Mole National Park. We arrived at night so we didn't realise that we were situaed on a cliff overlooking the game park, however there were warthogs lying outside our room so we knew we'd be seeing some interesting things here. The next morning we woke up and ate breakfast overlooking the reserve, watching elephants drinking and swimming in a waterhole with all types of deer and monkeys running around. We spent the day swimming, it was so good to swim in a pool as it was super hot and dry still. Then we did the afternoon safari where we walked down into the reserve, got about fifteen metres away from one of the four elephants we saw. Also saw kob, springboks, deer, antelope, monkeys, baboons, crocodiles, lots of different birds and butterflies.

After the safari we were pretty tired so had an early night then woke early the next morning and hired bikes where we rode to the nearest town, Larabanga. There wasn't a lot in this town but it was home to hana's oldest Mosque, built in 1421 so we checked it out, walked around for a bit then rode back to Mole. Spent the rest of the day by the pool then had another early night because we had to be up at 3:30am to catch the 4:00am bus back to Tamale. From Tamale we decided to get the bus straight back to Accra rather than stopping and staying another night in Kumasi. After the twelve hour bus ride it took us another hour or so to find available accommodation. We ended up taking a single room, which had a king single bed, three slept on that and two on the floor but we were desperate for a room!

The next morning we all went to breakfast where I met up with Jani again who had stayed down south, in Cape Coast, Takoradi and at some hotel she was able to stay at for free because she made friends with the ladies who owned it. I was so glad to see her again, it had been the longest I'd been separated from her the whole time we'd been overseas, plus she had malaria, so she was in a bit of a bad way! We stayed that night in Accra then the next day we headed to Kokrobite to say goodbye to the friends we'd made there. We stayed there for two nights then on the Monday morning we had to say goodbye to the Australian girls we were with, but know we'll be seeing them back in Sydney so it wasn't too hard to part with them.

On our way back to Swedru, we were standing on the main road waiting for a Swedru tro tro when we heard yelling coming from a car. We looked up and see our host mother, father and brother in a car heading towards Accra. All we could do was wave and look a bit confused. When we arrived home though our host cousin/brother told us they'd gone to Accra to get medicine cause our little brother was sick.

When our family finally did arrive home they were so happy to see us, and us to them as well. We had a big hug from our mum and we told them all about our travels.

The next morning we went to visit our school one last time. A few of the teachers made some speeches, then we did the same. We said goodbye to the kids and they gave us some presents so to remember them. It was all really sad saying goodbye to them, knowing that even if we do go back to Ghana agian, it's unlikely we'll see them.

We then went back home where Colin, the Australian who runs Antipodeans was. He had come to visit the Aussies and it was nice to see a familiar face. We told him what we'd been up to and then it was time to say our goodbyes because Seth, the in country agent, had arrived to take us back to Accra. It was a fairly emotional fairwell, even our little brother who was shy gave us a cuddle. We took some final photos, said our thank you's, exchanged addresses and emails and were on our way. Sitting in Seth's car driving back to Accra was fairly quiet until his tyre popped, fortunately we had about 12 hours till our flight so we were in no rush! Once arriving in Accra we said our thank yous and goodbyes to Seth then visited a few of our friends in Accra, most of whom were really angry cause they didn't realise we were leaving that day. They all collected a few of their bits and bobs they sell and gave us some things to remember them by. Ali Baba asked for my phone, but didn't seem too upset that I couldn't give it to him. Had our last meal in Ghana then set off for the airport.

Getting to London was hassle free. We wanted to make the most of our 15 hours at Heathrow and considered going to visit Buckingham Palace, or just getting out into London town, but one step outside the airport and we knew we'd freeze, with only our Africa clothes on our back. So we slept for hours on the uncomfortable airport lounges. After checking in for our flight to Bangkok we felt really strange being surrounded with expensive shops and all these white people.

Our plane trip was long and uncomfortable but eventually we made it to Bangkok where we suddenly felt overwhelmed at being in a big city. We obviously felt very unfamiliar with our surroundings and started to miss Africa madly. After settling into our guest house we felt more at ease but still definitely have a soft spot for Ghana.

And now we're traveling Thailand, arrived by train in Koh Phangan yesterday, went to the Half Moon Festival last night, was so good to dance to familiar music again, it had been too long! Just been relaxing on the beach, our bungalow (which is filled with cockroaches and spiders) is directly on the beach, white sand and blue water. Very much paradise!

Meeting up with Jo, Thea, Liza and Mitch in Phuket in a few days, will be very very excited to see them! Can't wait!

And that is it up until now, will keep you posted on Thailand although pretty sure it wont be as interesting as our Africa reports!

Hope all is well with everyone and be in touch soon!

Monika in Ghana #2 (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

Time for another time consuming email...

Well two Saturdays ago we arrived at our host families. Jani and I were pretty nervous but were pleasantly surprised by the condition of our house. Of course it's nothing flash but we are comfortable there.....and we have a flushing toilet....which is important to us!

In our family there is our mother, father, a 6 year old boy called Emmeal, a 10 year old girl called Sylvia, a 13 year old girl called Patricia and an older son who's name i have no idea of as we've only met him once cause he lives elsewhere to go to uni. There is also their 17 year old cousin living there for a while to help put before he goes on to senior school. We asked when we first met him if he was the older brother to which he said yes (they call all their relations their brothers or sisters) so we gave him one of the presents we bought for the family, only to realise that the actual brother doesn't live with them.

The meals we've been given so far have been pretty good, the family has had volunteers before so they know what sort of foods us westeners eat....although we have had some traditional Ghanaian foods, most of which have been pretty good. Although after telling our mother (Mumma Saqueena) that Jani doesn't eat fish, we had fish for 5 consecutive days in a row! But it's ok, Jani and I have a system, when there is fish and veggies, I eat the fish and Jani takes the veggies. Or when there is meat that Jani doesn't like the look of, I eat it while she takes the rice or pasta. Fortunately rice comes with most meals, so when all else fails we can somehow fill our bellies. For lunch though we get a plate of pineapple to share....not the most filling considering the only meals aside from lunch we have are breakfast and dinner. All the other gappers have been telling us that their families won't stop feeding them......a little jealous of that. We'll survive.....hopefully! And we try to eat with our hands as this is how thay eat and encourage us to do the same, but we're looked at strangely when we use our left hands - toilet hand! All meals aren't supposed to be social, we are given our food to eat alone at the table, but our brother and sisters still come and sit with us and watch with amazement!

Last week at school we sat in different classes each day of the week to decide which we would like to take. Our first reaction to the schooling was how poor the standard of teaching is. The teachers take hours to teach the most basic lessons. However, after seeing the standards of the students it is more understandable. It was sometimes hard to sit there and watch as the teachers slowly took the lessons, sometimes being incorrect themselves. And the kids are so rowdy. They could shout all day if you let them. If you yell at them it means nothing, that's why the teachers are so fond of the cane. Jani and I at first were shocked by how they could just whack the kids so easily and so hard, and everywhere; on their backs, legs, arms, shoulders and even heads.....(and none of them have hair). Some of the kids will put their heads on the table after being caned and you can just see tears dropping onto the ground. Others smile cheekily and some look scared and know now to behave.

During the school day (8:00am - 1:30p.m) there are two fifteen minute breaks, although if you don't go back into the classrooms they could go on for hours - the teachers are as unwilling as some of the students.

During breaks Jani and I could sit down and within seconds we are surrounded by smiling faces. All the kids just want to get a look at us. Then they'll start asking us the same questions, day in day out, such as 'What is your name? How old are you? What is your father's name? What is your mother's name? Where do you live? Can you buy me a ball? Take me to Australia with you and the most common question is Oburoni how are you?' To which you answer 'fine' because if you say 'good' or 'well' or 'great' they have no idea what you mean. It seems as though the Englsh they learn is al in set phrases. If you say similar words they don't understand the meaning. Then they'll start shaking your hand, that then turns into just wanting to touch your skin. Soon people will literally be in fights, punching and kicking each other just to get a glimpse of us or to touch us. To break it up all we can do is walk away. Yelling at them has no effect. One of the days they all got their pen and paper out and wrote us notes saying 'Janika and Monika I love you', it was really cute. Some of them just want to know how we spell our names.......and our mother's name......and our father's name.....

One lunch time Jani and I asked to use the toilets so a whole crowd of them took us to the bathrooms then waited outsied. Jani and I walked in only to find the entire place covered with faeces. On the floor, the pit toilet seats, even on the doors somehow. It smelled so so awful we bailed straight away. We couldn't believe people used them. But we then discovered that they don't. Sitting in the classrooms we look out the window and there are kids peeing a few metres from the classroom, boys and girls, and of all ages. So the hygeine is pretty bad as they don't wash their hands and half of them have no shoes to wear to school. Everyone here also openly picks their nose....teachers included, as they're teaching the class. It's hard not to be put off by this! They eat traditional foods for recess and lunch, there are always ladies preparing the food during classes. And the water here comes in bag, not bottles. Jani and I have had to get used to the taste. Everything here that is sold in plastic tastes like plastic, it's pretty horrible but again it's something we've gotten used to.

To get home, or to the Twi lessons we had the irst week in the afternoon we catch taxis. It costs 25 peswas per person one way, that's equivalent to 25 cents......not too bad hey! Although the first taxi we got in we were ripped off massively, paying the equivalent of 4 US dollars. It doesn't sound too much but to get to Accra or Cape Coast costs the same, and that from Swedru (where we are) is a one and a half hour drive. So we now know to just give the taxi driver the amount and then get out.

Church and religion here is huge. Our family spends hours on Sunday doing all things Churchy. I've never been to Church accept for weddings or funerals but here I'd be looked down upon massively so I was advised by the in-country agents to say I attend Church as it will save a lot of explaining. So so far that is what I have done but have tried to keep those conversations brief. And this Sunday we'll be attending a 3 hour service all spoken in Twi. Should be interesting!

And now to the weekend. Well last Friday straight after school, Jani, Bec, Ally, Maddy, Georgina, Will and I all met in town and caught a Tro Tro (mini-bus) to Accra. There we got money out, did some supermarket shopping and wanderend around the streets. I decided to go and see Ali Baba and his Rasta friend Mark. We chilled with them for a while then went to see more of our friends in town. We then lugged all our bags to our accomodation - The Salvation Army Hostel, 5 dollars per night, not bad!

We all then went out to dinner, we found a pizza joint and were all so so happy to be eating familiar food. We all ended up having a few too many drinks for a quiet night.....but was a good night. We were in bed by 11, the sun goes down early here and it seemed a lot later. Besides we had to be up by 7 the next morning to get a Tro Tro to Cape Coast.

The trip took around 2 hours and along a bumpy road, squashed with no leg room it was a pretty uncomfortable trip. When we got there we got into a pretty heated fight with the taxi drivers who dropped us at our accomodation. They even came inside the hostel and grabbed Ally as she gave them the money we were prepared to pay them. From then on we've decided to all take the same taxi as it's cheaper and the taxi driver won't fight against 7 of us. And this is 7 of us in a hatchback. You see heaps of people in the small taxis, although I'm pretty sure we hold the record of fitting the most in!

We went to a resort on Saturday arvo till Saturday night where we swam and sunbaked and then at night time there was a club upstairs. It was all outside though, very tropical. Again at night time it's mostly the Rastas, all smoking constantly and barely any women. They're all friendly though. I met one Rasta called Kenya who was involved in that documentary shown in Australia last year about the boy who lives in Australia but is Ghanaian and went back to visit his homeland. A lot of the locals in Cape Coast have interesting names, I met a guy called X-Men, and one called Mr Fantastic. Obviously they're not their real names, but you tend to ask them a couple of times what their names are cause you have no idea what they're talking about when you say 'my name's Mon or Jani, what's yours' and they say 'X-Men'!

All of Sunday we were at that beach again sunbaking.....(and burning...ooops), eating their good food and playing with the kids. Not many Ghanaians, especially girls, are allowed to swim, so it's nice to see that some still do. We raced a lot of the kids into the water. They get such a thrill just from that!

We arrived home Sunday evening to a big hug from Mumma Saqueena and smiles from our siblings. They wanted to know all about our weekend as they don't travel too often.

Then Monday we had our first classes. I decided to take class 5 and Jani class 6. Although the teacher for class 3 was away so I had to take that class. Unfortunately class 3 is the most disobedient in the school. I had no syllabus so I had to just think up things to teach them. When they actually do pay attention they seem to understand although marking their work you can see that most of them have no idea what your talking about. At one stage I went to ask the teacher next door to quieten down the class. She came in and caned each individual student 3 times each. I stood there feeling so helpless, some of them who had been good were getting whacked for no reason. All I wanted was some shhhhh. I went to recess feeling so guilty.

Last night I sat with our brother and he read some of the books we brought. He is 6 years old and smarter than some of the kids in class 5, although he goes to a school on a scholarship. But none the less we were impressed at his willingness to learn.

Then today I took class 5 for the first proper full day of teaching. As awful as it sounds, today Jani and I appreciated the cane. There is not a chance in the world that we could ever use it, but with the mentality of the kids, there is no other effective way of disciplining them. You can yell all you want but they don't learn that way.

My teacher kept making excuses as to why he had to quickly leave the room but I found teaching easier and more effective when I was alone. We'll definitely be planning our lessons from now on as they're not too interesting if they're read straight from the textbook.

Alright I'm sure we've bored you all enough with our recount of events up until now. Besides, we came here straight from school and are starving! So until next time!

Monika in Ghana #1 (2007 Year Out Volunteer)

Hey all, from Ghana!

So I arrived here on the 9th in the evening where me and a few others were picked up from the airport and taken to this Hostel we're staying at. We were all pretty tired so we went straight to bed. The next day we went and met our In-Country_agent who calls herself our big black Mumma and she just gave us a bit of a run down on what we'd be doing this week. Then we spent the rest of the day at the beach. I wasn't sure if Accra (the capital city) had beaches that you could swim in but the waves were massive, but still not as good as Sydney beaches. As soon as we got to the beach swarms of locals came up to us trying to sell their goods. They each have their own stories about how they need to go to school tomorrow so we should just purchase one necklace or painting, or how the money is not an issue for them, and what they really want is for our mother to have a necklace as a gift. It's all lighthearted though, the Ghanaian people are so friendly and even if you don't buy anything they give you a special handshake and call you their sister and tell you that despite colour we're all one. It's really nice to be a part of! We ate lunch on the beach as well, I wasn't game to try traditional Ghanaian food straight away so I had a pizza but the food takes about an hour to be served here so by the time it had arrived I'd already eaten other people's food, besides the chicken on the pizza seemed a little suss. So with half a pizza on my plate a local man asked if he could have a piece, I said he could have as much as he wanted so he did, and then a kid cme up and would keep returning to take the remaining scraps off my plate....for some reason it made me really happy. Obviously I didn't care and it was like a real life scenario of when people in Australia don't finish their meals and someone says 'but there are starving kids in Africa' and yes there are and they will take whatever they can get.

After the beach we came back to the hostel and I waited a while for Jani to arrive. I went downstairs at about 10 and she was standing in the lobby, was so happy to see her! We had an early night again and then the next day we had a lesson with Tina (the in country agent) and she taught us all about the families we'll be staying with and what to expect etc then we went into town for a while to get money and look around. I made a friend in town who the previous day had come up to the window of the bus and started talking to me. He told me his name was Ali Baba but his real name was Stefan. He sells necklaces for a living but he didn't try sell to me, he just wanted to chat which was nice, and he told me that already we are borther and sister. So back to where I was before, looking around in town I went and found him and talked to him and he gave me a bit of a lesson on Ghanaian culture etc. Later that day (Tuesday) we went back to the organisation house headquarters place where we learned traditional Ghanaian dance and how to play the drums. The dancing was so much fun but yes we looked pretty stupid doing it! Then yesterday (Wednesday) we had a tour of Accra, we went to see the Presidents memorial and learned about Ghana gaining independence etc, it was interesting but there was so much walking around so it was pretty hot and tiring. The next stop was the Ghanaian markets. They were food markets, don't think I've ever smelled anything worse. There were giant snails, raw pigs feet just cut straight off, dead bats and bush rats, they had just been killed and were still in the position of running away, with their mouths open and teeth showing, a cows head, layers of dried fish, live crabs walking over tables and cow skins. There was much more but they were the worst. It was so interesting though, and all the people there would yell out at us "oberuni" which means white person and 'welcome welcome' everyone seems so happy to see you. And the little babies strapped in materials to their mothers back are so so cute. They could sleep through anything! Later that day we went to the other markets that sell clothes and jewelry. I bought a couple of pairs of 'happy pants' (Ing you've started a trend!) Later went back into town to meet Ali Baba as he had to go into hospital to get his eye treated. Anyway I promised I'd buy some necklaces off him at some stage but he gave me an anklet for free and told me it came from his heart (gag hahaha) nah he's really cool, and Jani bought some painting from his friend. I described a paining I'd seen and asked if he could paint one for me so I'll be picking it up on Saturday.

Anyway then last night we went to a beach party. WOW have never been to somethong more awesome ever! It was all reggae music and the locals dancing reggae style. They had some Nigerian dancers there performing, they were actually amazing. They were doing all sorts of acrobatics, one of them standing with one foot on the other one's head. So so good, have never wished I'd brought my camera somewhere so badly than I did last night. Then there was some token white guy who was definitely on something who kept walking in on the performance which was on the sand around a bonfire and trying to breakdance, looking so out of it......made us want our cameras even more, it was so so funny! Anyway Jani's painting man was there so him and a few of his mates tried to teach us how to dance Reggae style......was a lot harder than it looked! The place was covered with Rastafarians all so friendly and explaining to us that it's ok to smoke dope and that they're people who are accepting of every culture etc....was pretty funny to listen to......all of them high off their nuts! One man told me that he seriosuly seriously loves me and if I marry him I will be his everything and it will all be ok because I'll be able to get him a job in Australia and set him up for he pretty much had me convinced!!!

Woke up this morning and we headed back to the organisation office to learn more from Mumma Tina about where the good places to travel are, what prices are acceptable and then we had a language lesson. After that was done we went into town again to see our painting man and to see if Ali Baba was back from the hospital....which he wasn't. We bought lunch, a few more pairs of happy pants and met a kid who made some arm bands for us, which then lead to us buying some bangles and other assortments. But the kid escorted us around town and helped us bargain and told us reasonable prices and even taught us some more Twi (the language they speak).

May go out tonight although we're feeling pretty tired. So far have been having the most amazing time though. The food will still take some getting used to but absolutely no complaints. Can't wait to go to our families on Saturday.....itching to meet them!