Monday, 30 June 2008

Tapping into Thailand

Written by Sarah Bennell - Thailand 2008 UniBreak Volunteer

The people in Surin are very nice and welcoming and find us farang (foreigners) very interesting, with the kids always waving at us.

Yesterday was our first full day here. We found the tesco's in the morning and then went to see the clinic in the early afternoon. Staying with us is another volunteer called Caroline, who is here for teaching, and has already been here for 2 weeks and here for another 4 like us. We visited the school she is teaching in and also the school next to the clinic (which is said to be for the poor children of the village). Kae (in-country agent) took us for a visit of the city on our bikes. The roads are quite scary but everyone just moves around you, so it's ok. Last night was very interesting. Jon, Caroline, and I went to dinner at a place that had no English menus and no one spoke any English. Jon's dish never came, we guess that they didn't understand what we were trying to say in Thai, but it was good food and cheap.
We don't start at the clinic till Monday, so we're trying to figure out what to do this weekend. We've agreed on a weekend to go to Cambodia, and certain things we want to visit, such as the silk village, elephant village, and some of the ruins.
The accommodation is very basic. No hot water (but in this heat we don't need it), no flushing toilets, but everything is liveable.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Arrived safe and sound

Written by Townsville Grammar School

Hi everyone,

We have arrived in China, after spending tireless hours travelling and wait in a lot of airports. Everyone is healthy and happy.

We have spent last night in Lijiang and finally have an excellent meal after 30 hours of areoplane meals. Today we are site seeing and shopping in Lijiang.Tomorrow we start our first trek up Tiger Leaping Gorge. Some of us are a bit hesitate about the hike, i.e. Ashleigh. However, we will get her up the hill even if we must use a donkey. We will be out of email contact for atleast two days. If you wish to sent us an email and we will check them next time we have access.

Have a great time in Australia as we are in China.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Letter from Lake Titicaca

Written By Hannah Reid - Peru 2008 Year Out Volunteer

On Friday 30th May (jumping back in time…) we spent ten hours on a bus to Lake Titicaca. We spent the night in Puno, at a very very nice hotel, where we had our first HOT showers since Australia and relaxed in the luxurious baths, which are unheard of in Urubamba.

On the Saturday, we went on the boat to the floating island where we met the locals and learned about how on earth they make the islands! It’s crazy, they are living on island which are about 50m across and are constructed by using the reeds which grow on the lake. Every few months they put on a new layer of reeds as the previous hundreds of layers slowly sink to the bottom.

We kept going, stopping at Isla Amantani (higher altitude that Cusco) where we stayed with a local family for the night. This was interesting considering the local language was Quecha, not Spanish. We fell in love with our family’s three little girls even though we could hardly communicate with them. Before dinner we walked to the top of the island to watch the sunset- beautiful but the walk almost killed us. Then after lunch our families dressed us up in their traditional dress and we gringos went and danced with the locals. Lots of fun, although exhausting again due to the altitude.

In the morning we said goodbye to our new family and spent the day on the lake exploring other islands. We went back to our luxurious hotels for another hot shower or two before our ten hour overnight bus ride back to Cusco. Yay for long buses…..

My New Indian Home

Written by Georgia King - India 2008 Year Out Volunteer

Namaste sat et saab!

For want of a better cliché, time is flying here. After a somewhat complacent period late in the middle month, the days are passing by all too quickly. Sleep is coming to us later and later as we try to fit in more last minute errand runs. My placement with Channel Youth finishes in 2 weeks today! My headspace is changing (dare I say 'changed') to the European mindset. I'm finding myself daydreaming more and more about skipping through fields of tulips in Holland... In clogs. This is probably due to the odd hour I'm spending on the computer daily to make sure that I'm not left alone in the middle of Bosnia.

You would think that we would be prepared for everything that the kids throw at us by now (often, literally throw at us too). Well, anything is apparently possible in India.

Note to self: any craft activity that involves both pipe cleaners AND water bottles was always doomed. Always.

Never has a day gone so badly since that fateful second day of school – that one where they stoned me. Remember? Why did I think that putting the 2 things that whip the children into a frenzy into one ultra-activity would be a smart idea?? I take full responsibility for my suggestion at the craft activity – it was well intentioned, I swear!

But it failed. Badly. By the end of the activity, the kids were running around whacking us over the heads with bottles; ripping the pipe cleaners off other kid's bodies because they liked the colours better; proceeding to prod me with said pipe cleaners until I sticky taped them on as arms to the bottle they were previously bashing me with; then the sticky tape would fall off due to the insane humidity, resulting in them asking for more pipe cleaners; and when there were none left they would rip the pipe cleaners off someone else again, starting in another chain; then they thought that there might be more in our bags; so they would tip or bags upside down and spread the contents through the room until they realized there were none; but they WOULD find stickers and stamps, which they would then adorn their faces and clothes with; we would get angry, and take their bottles off them; then they would steal someone else's bottle and the cycle would continue…

Rinse and repeat until you are sitting in the tuktuk and hour later hyperventilating with the 8 other teachers.

Taz and I are seriously discussing what whiskey and chai would taste like. Personally, I think that valium would be just as effective, without taking away from the faint cinnamon and aniseed undertones…

Naturally, I've decided that I'm not cut out for teaching! But I will miss making matchstick drawings with crayons and crepe at midnight. This is often the time during these late night cut&paste sessions that the funniest conversations and quotes come out. We tried to recite the entire of Marry Poppins last Thursday, and I wrote all of my kids' names out in Japanese last night for an example! But I will miss my kids. I'm trying to think of a smart way to describe how much I will miss them, but I simply just can't. It's too painful to think about.

I feel as if I'm only just really starting to form a relationship with them. I know all of their little quirks - what type of grey lead they like to write with best, who will want pink paper and who will want yellow, little things like that that make you feel just that little bit closer. I even identify with some of them! Jagdish, Hansa and I are all complete control freaks! Jagdish is a little extreme though… He refuses to defer even the slightest from the example that I make everyday for craft. He will trace the pattern, ask me which glue I used, and refuses to colour-in in anything that isn't the exact colour that I use. If I give him the wrong purple, he will first test it out next to mine to check that it's perfect. And if it isn't, he throws it away! His twin, Hansa, is the same. She won't draw anything herself – she always gets me to draw for her. And I'm a hopeless drawer!!

We're also learning more about their home lives. I went on my second community visit yesterday, and it was a lot more informative than the first! It was threatening to monsoon (more about this [mon]SOON… heh…) so a lot of the parents had been sent back from the fields to get undercover – meaning that we could talk to them through Gaurav's translations! I found out a have 2 sets of twins in my class!! And I didn't even know!!!

And I also found out that a lot of them are missing parents. About half of the kids don't have mother's or fathers, and 3 brothers/sisters have died in the 3 months I've been teaching. It makes you feel a little guilty when you're teaching family members. I don't feel right teaching 'I have 1 father' if 5 of the kids don't…

On a more positive note, we've also just begun an eye testing program with some of the money that a few girls raised before they came here. We figure that out of 80 odd kids, at last SOME of them are actually going to need glasses! So we're beginning the long process of testing all of their eyes – so far, my kids are luckily all okay!

Further on our extra-humanitarian work, we've just endeavored to start evening schools with the local rural community. They DO have a school, but the teacher very rarely comes because he is drunk. There is a large drinking problem in the community, and most of the men don't work because of it, leaving the women and children to labour in the fields to support the family. So we're starting 2 classes – one for the children in the late afternoon, and one for the women in the late evening. For now, we are just running the kid's one. This is because the tribe is not very trusting or foreigners yet, so we're taking it slowly. The idea is to get the level of English up in the kids and women so that they can aim for high paying jobs, as well as empower the women. Ultimately, we want to address the issue of alcoholism, but that's at least a decade off!

But perhaps the most EXCITING time is upon us! Monsoon has come early!!! I'm experiencing a true, Indian monsoon!! One of the things we've all realized about India is that it lives up to its stereotypes. Not once when I came here did I actually EXPECT it to be like in the movies and books. I thought that they would have been exaggerated. But you really DO dodge cows and goats and donkeys on the roads, flying down the streets in bits of 3 wheeled metal scraps. The women actually do wear all of those crazy ear, lip, nose and neck adornments and drift through the mud is vibrant coloured saris, balancing 3 round pots and a bundle of sticks on their heads. Everyone really does break into dance at the sound of the latest Bollywood hit emitting from a preppy's mobile phone. They DO wiggle their heads constantly – and I've started doing it too (much to the amusement of the house, and the delight of the locals)!

Monsoon is the same. It was predicted to come a little early this year. (what the locals called 'premonsoonal showers, we called the apocalypse. The power would cut 6 times in a day sometimes! I swear that I could hear The Doors' 'Riders on the Storm' in the background most days. I even swear that I saw an emancipated turbaned man on the roadside with a sign saying 'The End is Nigh' . But I may have imagined that… Well it came A LOT early. In fact, we were so confident monsoon wouldn't hit that last Sunday, Taz and I decided to go horse riding.

Can you see where this is going…?

I vaguely remember saying to Taz 'wow, those clouds like ominous…'. Then BAM!! Monsoon!! It came on so fast that you didn't have enough time to register what was happening. It just STARTED. And it was so hard and so cold that it HURT! And the sound… We were only 5 or 6 metres from each other, but we were screaming at the top of our lungs to be heard! So here we are, 45 minutes from the closest town, stuck on 2 bucking horses that neither of us have ridden for nearly a decade, in the middle of monsoonal rain. And we couldn't stop laughing!! It was SO bizarre that all we could do was laugh to the point that we couldn't get off the horses. We eventually we helped off by an assistant who was riding behind us, and we huddled together for body heat under a metre tall wall – futile really!

We ended up hitching a motorbike ride back to the ranch. But the rain was coming so hard ad at such an angle that you couldn't open your eyes – it was a wonder that we didn't crash! You couldn't see 50metres in front of yourself, so I guess the lack of eyesight didn't make much difference either way… The bike kept on stop because the tank was getting waterlogged. It eventually conked out, and Taz and I ran the last 500 metres back!

We were so saturated that the purple dye of my pants turned my knickers purple. Now THAT is an accomplishment! Unfortunately, you know you're in trouble when you take the battery out of your camera, and a little pool of water comes out with it… RIP camera…

BUT, all in all, monsoon is rad!! I love the weather, I love the spontaneity, I love the rain, I love the lightening shows, I love the quips, I love the comfort chai… I love it all!

Even though I complain, I would never be ready to go home in 2 weeks. If I went home now, I wouldn't be satisfied! I wouldn't feel as if I've spent enough time away. Whilst I can still remember the details of home, I won't be ready to return. Because I think that I need to forget home to be able to come back and appreciate what I have, and WHO I have! Home will always be there. You can change where you are, but you can't change where you come from.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

P.E. Class in Peru!

Written by Jessica Morton - Peru 2008 Year Out Volunteer

First off I would like to say sorry for how bad I´ve been with the emails, I never seem to get around to sending them often.

I can´t remember where I last left off so sorry if I end up repeating myself. The last few weeks have been great with the group officially starting our weekend trips last Thursday night. We all went into Cusco Thursday night for a great Thai dinner before going to bed early to be ready for the 10hour bus ride to Puno. The bus trip was long and not very comfortable but interesting to say the least. We had a few stops on the way to Puno which were amazing, we stopped at some ancient Inca ruins which still to this day stand tall and look as they did hundreds of years ago. Once we arrived in Puno the altitude sickness started to set in for both Izzie and I, we were at around 4100m above sea level and there seemed to be a distinct lack of oxygen! It´s funny to see the effect it has on all of us, easy tasks such as carrying your bag into your hotel room leaves you gasping for air by the second floor!

Saturday was the highlight for all of us I think, we went to the floating islands in Lake Titicaca. It was unbelievable to see how these people lived, they actually live on islands made out of reeds. They some how manage to anchor the base of the island to the bottom of the lake so they don´t float away and put layer after layer of reeds on top until you can safely walk on the top without falling through. Although having said that I swear there were a few weak spots we tried to avoid while on the island. The people were lovely and dressed us up in traditional clothes and showed us all of their handicrafts - needless to say there was a substantial amount of money spent!

Saturday night we spent on an island with a host family which was an experience not to be forgotten. Izzie and I were put with a family we believe lived the furtherest up the massive hill on the island, it took us about 45mins to walk to their house thanks to our altitude sickness. The families had a party organised for us at around 8pm which was great. We all dressed up in the local clothes and spent the night dancing to traditional music being played by a live band. It was heaps of fun but once again we had to sit down between dances as we were all finding ourselves out of breath!

Sunday we went to another island that is fully self contained with no police needed as the last crime was committed in the 1880´s. It was interesting to see how these people lived on the island with various different codes of conduct if you will to ensure life on the island was peaceful. Sunday night was not so nice however, we left Puno at 9pm on a night ride bus and didn´t arrive in Cusco until 4am. We then had to catch another bus back to Urubamba and arrived in the main square at 6, as you can imagine we were all home in bed for the rest of the day.

I´m not back in Urubamba for long because on Friday Izzie, Sair and I head off to Choquequirao (the Last Inca Refuge). We´ve been told it´s one of the hardest treks you can do in Peru so naturally we´re all a little bit apprehensive. Still as Izzie pointed out it will be a real achievement when we get to the top (let´s just hope we have enough energy to enjoy it once we get there)!

Teaching has been going well so far, the elder kids are really starting to remember the stuff we´re teaching them which is a great feeling. The younger years however are difficult, I think the novelty of having us here is starting to wear off and it makes it close to impossible to keep there attention for more than 5mins in any class. The other day I found myself running after three kids that decided our P.E class wasn´t as fun as running away from the teacher, the most frustrating thing was I couldn´t form Spanish words in my mind to tell them off! Still that was a one off and things have been sorted out since then. The construction work has come to a bit of a hault though due to the weather which has been a little frustrating but the weather is looking up and I think we are going to really get into it over the next few weeks. We´re painting the poles that support the fence with rust proof paint and organising the wire to be attached soon, after that´s all done we can really start to focus on the health program for the kids.

Time is flying by over here, this coming saturday marks the half way point until I arrive home after the placement. The group has bonded really well; I think we´re all glad that it´s a small group unlike last year when they had 30 or so, it´s given us all a chance to get to know one another and has really helped us work well together as a group. We have two groups for teaching which has worked out well with the timetable and with people being sick throughout the placement.

Anyway I´m a little concerned the computer may crash before I send this off so I´ll stop now.

Hope all is well with everyone back at home and I´ll be sure to send through more updates.

African Teaching Adventures

Written by Ashleigh Whittaker - Ghana 2008 Year Out Volunteer

Hey All!

First off, i hope that this makes it to you ok, and that is legible(it has taken 15minsto load thepage,and asyou can see, the space bar is being rather tempermental!) Sorry it has taken so longto get this secondemail going, I tried to send one last week, but the computers were all down due to rain(all electricity is rendered entirely redundant when there is the slightest precipitation around here!!!)

I am have a fantastic time, and credit goes to antipodeans (we have been talking to other volunteers through SYTO, and no one is as prepared, or has a great back-up system like we do. I think we have the best volunteer situation by far.)

Also, I'd just like to let you know that Seth (our local co-ordinator) is amazing. He has been a huge help to all of our projects, and continually checks on everyone's progress and always involved in ensuring that we have a fantastic time. Basically everything with antips has gone swimmingly!!!!

So, how is Africa??? Still incredible,amazing, surreal and all that jazz! But for the details of the past couple ofweeks:

The school i am teaching in is a continual challenge,but also continually rewarding. There is only one other teacher that comesregularly,and on a goodday, he manages to stay for a whole 4 hours! It took a week before the principal 'dropped in' for 10 mins to say hi(this is despite the fact she is meant to teach the 40 odd kids in the kindergarten class.) When the other teachers do make a random appearance, they never seem to make it into their actual classrooms. Whether their doing each other's hair, looking after their own toddlers or sleep under the shade, their teaching servicesare scarce. Therefore, between running our own class, we skip into the other classes to set them work- otherwise the kids will come and sit in an empty classroomallday everyday!
BUT- desipe allthat it sounds, i love it. Everyday i'm learning something new about the dynamics of human relationships, and the way different people respond todifferentlearning methods.

(Alsoforgot to mention the caning: corporeal punishment is stillat large here,and it is devastating to see kids whipped... often for a habit that they have learnt off the teacher themself-i.e. if a teacher does not arriveuntil 12pm, and one of her studentsarrives at 12:05, the child is whipped for being late. The absence of logic doesn't cease to astound us.)

On another note: last weekend we had a pretty incredibletime in a jungle 'somewhere is africa'.
We lunched at a restaurant on a lake that wassurrounded by dozens of crocs from the nile. Some managed to make their way onto land and up near the tables. Upon asking one Ghanaian if they were friendly, a friend and I approached one that was on land with its babies. With adrenaline pumping crazily, we touched its tail. NOT A SMART IDEA! It snapped and ran(in the opposite diretion)but i didn't know that, for as soon as i saw it twich i wasoff and running/ screaming until i had madeit to'higher ground!!'

That weekend, we also hiked in the jungle(where we cut down a cocoa shelland ate it raw-YUM-) to a 3 story, vertical rockshrine. To make it to the top, we had to climp up the verticalrock face with nothing more than the vines hanging from the trees and all of the arm strength we could muster(which, mind you, was none). After reaching the top (which gave a breathtaking view of the jungle), we had to use the same vines to absail back down (nothing like OHS around here).
We then canoed down a very gentle but unbelieveably beautiful white waterriver. When we made it back to the village, i witnessed one of the most inspiring events: The kids in this village were very malnourished and all had potbellies as a result. I gavemy rice to one 5 yr old boy, and instead of eating it himself, he broke it off into pieces for his 4 younger brithers, keeping only a mouthful for himself. It made me realise how well off our kids in aus are, and how much we don't appreciate the little things that make up our day!

The next day, we went on a tree top walk over rope bridges that were 40m high, suspended between tree trunks. I can't even justify the view withwords. That night, we slept under fly nets, in the jungle in secluded little two-man alcoves. I didn't get any sleep after a woke toa mice in our net going through our food bags! That morning, we dragged our groggy selves out of bed at 4:30 for another 'game spotting hike'. We clearly weren't quite enough, and so didn't get so see any large animals, however we all cowered when our guide pointed out the moo(thats right, a moo) of a leopard that was (apparently) right behind us.

This past weekend, four of us tavelled out to a stunning, secluded little palm lined beach in the atlantic ocean. It was a heavenly break, soaking up the sun on hammocks, and just chilling by the sea. A local hippy jamacian had us over for a traditional dinner and fire on saturday. He made a coconut cake from fresh coconuts- a taste that was to die for. On the way home ( a 6 hour trip in 3 different tro tro's), we had to wait almost three hours forthe tro tro to fill up... but hey, thats africa! (A tro tro is any van/tarago looking vehicle that is missing doors, tire's or any other nesecary funtinos. They don't have scheduled leaving points, but leave when they are full. You can get one at atrotro station, or by 'hitch-hiking' forone on the road side. IT generally costs about 70cents for an hour's drive.)

The orphange (which we still visit at least once a week) is as heartwarming and heartbreaking as ever. It soo much fun dancing with them, looking afterthe babies and todlers(which last week had all soiled themselves and were crying in a room 100m away from any adult by the timewe had arrives.... alot of these kids are only months old- its terrible). The orphange house is now finished and painted, so teh kids have somewhere sheltered to sleep. However, so many of themare still sick from drinking the river water that runs behind the house. One thing that breaks my heartis that they neve have food. Often, when we arrive at 4pm with crackers, they haven't eaten. THe madame who runs the orphanage sold her livelyhjood to look after them, but has nothing left to sell for the 60odd kids to eat.After living through these things, i don;t think i could ever look at life the sameway. Its so clear now, how my priorities wereso misjudged.

About three weeks ago, it was our aunty macy's 70th brithday (our nextdoor neighbour), anhd our other neighbour, Jimmy's wedding. So we partiedthe night away ( at jimmy's house)- jimmy managed to get so over excited that he was feeding the vodka to his puppies(i'm hoping it is cultural)!

I am now an expert at washing cloths in a procession of4 buckets (which takes an 1hr30mins before school), and cooking traditional Ghanaian food. OUr older brother cam home from uni the otehr weekend,and taught me how to pound a substance called fufu. He used a tree trunk to pound, whilst i flipped the fufu between bangs (after afew bruised fingers, i learnt to be quicker).

One thing i love here is meeting other tourists/volunteers. There are people from allover the world that we have met on our travels(asthey all congregate in the sameplaceson the week end). We've travelled with people from the peace corp, people working at liberian refugeecamps,and have met a number of english women who met ghanaian'sand arenow married and living here. Wednesday afternoons arethe best. Wehave obruni (white) meetings, where we meet other voluntters and chat about life in ghana. All the peiople here are like minded, and so chilled... i haven't met one person that wasn't willing to have a chat, hang out, or travel after meeting foronly a couple of minutes.

Last week,we lost power*(again) anmd this time ouir water as well. This gave usthe primeopportunity to learn the art of bucket showers( fill a bucket of water, add a truck load ofdetol and throw it over your head!) A quick-drying process now that my hair is braided from head to toe! ALthough somedays, the dirt gets so bad that i cant tell the difference between dirt and a tan!

The other day, our AUnt macy was weeding her garden(which grows pineapples, casvava and contomery). Even though she is 70, the woman is a litlle pocket rocket. But i still felt bad when i saw her,and so ignorantly volunteeredto help. Well it turns out that im no good with a machette. I blistered my finger,and barely made a dent in the weeding work. But it gave them good laugh(me a really sore back haha!) THat night, kwame(our little brother) showed us how to kill oneof Aunty Macy's chickes....and no-they don't run around after their head comesoff - a shocking discoverty... buthey,you learn something new everyday!

So i think that takes us up totoday(orthere abouts). This week we are getting started on the painting ofour school(theplastering finally finished, sotheir shell-like school now somewhat resembles a proper structure). I hope you enjoyed this thesis. Im now going to go back our into that searing heat so we can buy the paint and hopfully find someone selling coconuts from their heads(i'm dying of thirst, and those little luxuries make all the difference!)

Miss you all.
Take Care

Tanzania Update - Year Out 2008

Written by Amelia Mitchell - Tanzania 2008 Year Out Volunteer

We said goodbye to Annie who was the first of the english to go, then on thursday we worked again, but there weren't alot of us there so we finished the moram in the morning which is like this purply rock that we put ontop of all the other rocks we layed so we don't have to mix so much cement, then in the afternoon instead of the main project we did the teachers kitchen which was alright, its just a little room and is going up very fast.

Other exciting news is that on Monday six of us are going to Arusha to St. Judes which is a school set up by an Australian women, we are spending the night there and also hoping to visit the courts where the hearings for all the Rwandan Genocide were held, which would be very interesting.
I think that's all i have to report for now.
Hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves.

Tanzania Wrap-Up

Written by Sally Flemming - Tanzania 2008 Detours Volunteer

Yes, the final week has arrived...and far too quickly! I feel as though I have only just arrived yet we have been so so busy and have done and seen so many exciting and breath taking things.

I know that there have been a few moments on this placement that have not really gone as smoothly for all of us, but on my behalf, i have had an absolutely amazing experience both in the Village and in Town.

I have met some amazing people, people that I don't think i would have clicked with at home however being here we have formed a friendship that I will cherish always.

The children, well what can you say really? It has given me a greater appreciation of all the things we take for granted back at home, it makes me look at my work with children in a new light and it really makes me appreciate my own family and the upbringing I have had, and I think that being able to realise the importance of my family in my life has been the most amazing thing for me overall!

I am so keen to meet you when I get back home to share all the experiences I have had since being here. I will be home early July so I will make contact with you soon...But maybe send me an email reminder at some point just in case I get caught up and busy.... :)

Thanks for all of your help, with everything!!!