Wednesday, 28 January 2009

James et al UniBreak in Nepal

Namaste mero saathiharu!

After being sick all day Saturday and waking up without a single throb resonating from my head, I knew
Sunday was going to be a great day. Early in the morning, I said tata to Nadav and headed on my own back to Nirmal Pokhari to continue work at the school. The roof top bus ride was as enjoyable as always especially with the random pieces of steel work bumping around.

Once I had arrived at the school, I then jumped off being greeted by many many students and staff. I then witnessed their assembly, which is an actual assembly: assemble everyone then send them to their rooms. First off I taught year 9 maths but was a bit out of it from my headache the day before and made a couple of errors which the kids quickly picked up on luckily enough. However, teaching ended with that for the day. Everyone was organised into lines in the yard and given banners and signs advertising the school's upcoming Golden Jubilee celebrations which everyone is super excited about. So Anna, Lauren and I marched west with half the school chanting slogans in Nepali, whilst pumping their fists, which we didn't understand that well. They were mostly about the celebrations and getting people to come see their school. Althought I don't know how effective the advertisement methods were since we only saw about 40 people as we walked for maybe 3-4 hours up and down hill. It was a great way to see the complete area that Nirmal Pokhari encompasses, but carrying my pack all day was not so good idea as sweat poured off me and my shoulders still hurt last night.

Volleyball on the way back was also exciting as the kids wanted me to block for them since they couldn't even touch the top of the net. They could actually time their jumping really well and connected impressively with their spikes, but the net was a foot too high for them. I did however dump the ball on some of the older kids which is always fun. I seriously don't understand their love of volleyball though if they are so small and can't jump. I saw them play soccer today and they were alright, but they don't seem to prefer it.

As we headed closer to the school we also chatted with Imu (pronounced ee-moo), a nice teacher who invited us into his home. We accepted and were privileged to drink a cup of his own chiyaa (tea) and home made coffee mixed together, which surprisingly tasted really really nice. After surviving the whole walk home, it was great collapsing on the bench and greeting Laxman and Seetha again. I then settled on the porch and read a book as Pramila and the others came home, walking by and calling out "Hello Ram/James". It seriously does feel like home now, which is very cool.

However, a few random things did happen whilst I was sitting on my own reading. Firstly grandma dropped the largest burp I have ever heard. I don't know if it was because I was so close or because I was deep in thought reading. But seriously, it was huge. I wasn't even mad, I was impressed. Also, flies just started dropping dead around my feet and I started getting a bit worried. When I say flies, I mean like 10 dead flies all around me. Then I realised it wasn't my stinky feet, it was the poison they had just laid down.

I did library in the arvo as well, mostly teaching Sabin maths and acting as crowd control for Ash. Sabin and I also played connect four for a while, which I think is beneficial, maybe. But I also talked more to Sabin about Charlie his dog who he says is naughty, showing me bite marks on his leg. His mum doesn't even feed poor Charlie much and so he gets his friend to feed him. Since I passed on my rabies shots, I'm avoiding Charlie. It was also Ash's last library session so we took some photos and played some games.

Night time was great as well yesterday as we played cards till late with Laxman, Pramila, Srijana (who had just returned from Pokhara, she is Laxman's daughter), Jeevan and Pradip. We played cheat ofcourse, which is Lauren's favourite. She claims she wins all the time, but I won twice last night. So Lauren, maph garnus. Laxman is classic though when he plays. I was watching and not playing the first few games and just watching him was hilarious. If he cannot drop a card, he just says bullshit and ends up picking up more cards. Then even when he had half the deck, including all the 9s and all the 10s, he let two people drop 9s and 10s without saying anything. I explained this to him and he stood up and erupted into an "Oh my god" rant. I ended the night playing cards with just the four of the kids, Srijana, Pramila, Pradip and Jeevan. They loved playing carribean poker, but obviously did not call it this. It was simply three handed poker, over and over again. I learned some new Nepali too, such as "don't be angry = nerri sha" and try again. I also taught them some blind mans bluff and had quite a few good laughs. I don't think they use maph garnus (i am sorry) in the way I used it when I saw pramila's bad hand and said maph garnus. But it was funny nonetheless.

Monday 26 Jan:

Happy Australia Day everybody! I woke up, put on my wallabies jersey and listend to some powderfinger. Then hopefully tonight, we'll get some aussie food and beer into us so it feels like home. I taught some maths this morning to year 6 and 7. And funnily enough, it was EXACTLY THE SAME maths. The books were different, so the chapter was different. But the questions were all identical. It was inequalities and number lines, which the year 6's managed much better strangely enough. The year 7s just want to talk to me too much I think so they can't concentrate on maths. It is really cool talking to them though, easily my favourite class.

After class, we then sung and danced with the kids as they demanded us too. We're not entertainers or juke boxes, but you can't say no to some of them. So we broke out our dance moves to black and gold, sam sparro. Then in the spirit of Australia Day sung We are Australian, Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and danced along too. It was great playing around with them, I even kicked the soccer ball for a bit. It's a pity we're missing out a week due to holidays, but I guess we'll have an awesome time in Chitwan.

Finally, the bus ride back here was ridiculously bumpy on the roof. Then we got into an even smaller bus once we got to Pokhara and couldn't even stand up on the inside. So I don't know what is better really. But here I am now, my second home in Nepal. Should be great to catch up with the others tonight to celebrate Australia Day and probably our last night altogether as some start their journey home.

Hope everyone has a great Australia Day and avoids Manly.

- Ram

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Sally UniBreak in Kenya!

Kenya, Kenya, Kenya

Hey guys, just taken a trip into town and managed to get on the net... is very slow so i thought id just post a note to my own page.... im well and happy and absoluely loving it here! missing friends / fam very very much! ive been thinking about you lots, and apparently dreaming of people... apparently im a good sleep-talker....
so im staying at a place called muhaka near diani beach (a tourist place) in kenya... staying at a camp which is very cool. sleep in mad made huts called bandas. the camp is pretty cool. monkeys running around everywhere. were getting fed good. theyre working us hard... construction (making cement / laying bricks).. water pumping... looking after tree nurseries... hoeing and leveling out the ground to make a vege patch... we get to spend time at the beach on weekends which is really cool. were temporarily at another camp (for 19 days) were in the sticks.... it reminds me of the lion king.. everywhere you look its red dirt, bush, dead trees with thorns.. but.. there are very cool animals to be seen. yesterday our truck got chased by a elephant! at this camp weve been game driving and surveying for animals... and... drumrole... hacking down trees with machetes!!! haha. in a week we go on safari and then we spend a week at an elephant sanctuary! ah i have to much to say!oh oh, i climed palm tree! got quite high! nobody else could i felt pretty good.. ummm... ive learned how to open beer like a man definitely bringing that skill back home with me... hrmm.. well a picture says a thousand words so hopefully get some photos up on here soon (not untill back at main camp so not for a few weeks but..)
so i guess its time for goodbye eh... love and miss xxxx

Nirmal Pokhari - what a place!!! UniBreak through James's eyes...

This week has been absolutely AMAZING!

After electricity nearly cut out on me last weekend, I headed back to Nirmal Pokhari on the roof of the bus as usual with the girls. We were welcomed back home as the sun was setting with a spectacular end to the day as you can see.

Then Sunday eased me back into the working week as school was off for the day due to exams. So I only did the library in the morning then chilled out on the hillside reading with Anna. After that we then explored the way to the boarding school donated by Japan. There were REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEdiculous views and we took some nice happy snaps as the sky was nearly the clearest it has been since we have been here.
I also met the enw dutch volunteer, Jack who is replacing Nadav and staying with us at Laxman's. He's a really nice guy, a bit older, but should be fun having around nonetheless. Towards the end of the day Anna was also feeling rather energetic as usual and I tagged along with her for a run. However, I cannot do half marathons and only lasted half the way really before having a break and letting her break loose. The uphill warm up didn't help me one bit either. Maybe by the end I can keep up with her. Maybe... It was then "washing" time at the natural tap as I cleaned myself down. And fortunately not as big a crowd this time to stare, laugh and make comments about god knows what in Nepali.

Monday was then my first day of school. I taught year 8 twice in the morning teaching them Maths for 1.5 hours straight. Luckily I was on the ball and stayed well ahead of them and could answer all the questions despite not seeing their maths before. I mostly teach algebra as well so if I put all the steps, the kids can follow without needing too much verbal explanation. It was a great feeling them learning from me as I did a question slowly on the board then made them do one and most of them got it correct. I also tackled year 9 optional maths on my first day which I had to warm up to because it was complicated trigonometric proofs using sec, cosec, cot and tan rules. However, it didn't take long to get back in form and teach them a trick or two. Seriously though, their maths is much harder than I expected. Finally I taught year 9 maths general which had our neighbour, Pramila, in it. Funny story just quickly, we didn't know her name because we didn't ask early on and we had become so familiar that it would be strange to ask. But I was teaching them to write cursive and got her to spell her name, BINGO. During tiffin time I also played volleyball a bit which is always cool and helps form a relationship with the kids other than being their instructor.

Tuesday went even better as I got to know the year 8's more and year 9. In fact, the year 8's may be sick of me as I taught them 3 periods that day, all maths. But they beg you to stay because their teacher may be away and you just can't say no. We basically continued from the previous day and it was especially cool seeing their improvement on the questions we were tackling. Once again I also did library in the morning but also in the arvo because Lauren was feeling sick and headed back to Pokhara with Ash. But this was great as I was spending even more time with the kids, getting to know them really well. We played alphabet games which I have become a big fan of as they satisfy the older kids with brainstorming and problem solving challenges as well as the younger kids who are just learning to spell. Another awesome highlight was naming Sabin's dog. He just randomnly asked me to name his dog so I said sure, but I told him I have to see it to get an idea. I saw it, it was pitch black and immediately Darkness came to my mind. But that's not a great name for a dog, so I named it Charlie as in CHARLIE MURPHY!

Wednesday was different at school as the year 8's and 9's who I had only taught were away. But the Year 7's and 6's were back so I taugh them maths once again. They were great fun but they had enough of maths in the morning. So in the afternoon I taught English to the year 7's. Although Anna had warned me that they were a challenge, I had an absolute blast with them. Their book was bizarre and talked about the origin of some languages and their relationships, ie latin to french, italian and spanish. So instead I revised their book and corrected some mistakes as in dating things 2000 years ago instead of 7000. My lesson was titled the origin of modern languages. I explained to them why english is spoken all over the world because the british explored and colonised different countries, likewise with Spanish and French which they were really interested in. I also showed them similarities between languages due to their origin like counting 1 to 3 in Spanish and French or Japanese and Mandarin. They are a fantastic class and are awesome to teach. Afterwards I stayed for one more lesson since their teacher was absent. So continuing on countries, I taught them countries of the world, their capital cities, their national language and a famous animal because I don't know all the national animals. In the end i walked all the way home smiling. The awesome day was capped off teaching the kids a bit of engineering in the arvo whilst making paper Jets. I also keep sneaking in ëngineer" in job bingo which Ash appreciates.

Yesterday was equally as awesome as Wednesday as I walked to school early on my own, smiling all the way and being greeted and returning the greeting to everyone I saw. I started with year 7 maths again followed by year 6 maths just like the previous day. It's still so cool seeing their improvement and seeing bright kids shine as well as slower kids step up. Sapana, a really friendly girl in the class, dropped a huge compliment on the way home as she explained to me that it is heaps easier to learn maths from me rather than their teacher and that they really enjoy it. I think I like the year 7's the most because they're not too cool for school yet, can speak enough english to communicate really well with some of them and they're super attentive to anything I say. After period 2 and 3, I then attacked a year 3 class which was vacant as they begged me to teach them whilst I passed by. I firstly tried to teach them a tricky part of their book then threw it out the window as blank faces appeared around the room and played food alphabet, nearling doing every letter. They had much more fun and hopefully learned how to spell some food words and think off the top of their heads. In the afternoon I then taught year 7 english again and followed the book for a bit teaching them time and question structure but throwing in much better examples. I have realised it's fantastic that room to read donated the school, but they just left it on it's own afterwards and it needs to be better maintained. I also stayed after english was over because their teacher was absent and told them to put their books away after a quick break. I then used this free lesson to teach them something rare in school. I wrote on the board, "Dreams and Aspirations". They only knew the meaning of an actual dream when you sleep. But I explained and discussed the concept of dreaming and wanting something. I explained dream jobs and asked them who wants to be a doctor, nurse, prime minister, athlete, singer, dancer, engineer. Or who wants to go to university, or just who wants to travel the world. They started understanding and got really excited as I explained to them the notion that it is important to having a dream and aim towards that goal. I explained tio them my dreams when I was a little kid of being an astronaut, then how my dreams changed and how I reached my goal of being an engineer last year. More importantly, I explained to them my aspiration to help people like them and create opportunities for those who don't have any. For homework they had to think over the weekend and write down their own dream. But some girls did it in class and followed the theme I had set saying they wanted to help cure all the sick people. Just amazing the vibe they sent with words like that, undescribable for someone like me. So I'm super excited about Monday. I also spent the last ten minutes explaining the idea of volunteering, giving up time and money to help others less fortunate usually. I told them that it is great that volunteers like myself come, but it would be even better if they followed suit and helped Nepal or their communite. But I said it can start at something small, so I asked them to give up some time and do something for someone else. Hopefully they have something to share when we next meet. Overall year 7 are amazing and I'm having a blast teaching them and spending time with them, especially walking home with an army of kids. The last big highlight of Thusrday occurred later at night when I was playing with Jeevan, Pradip and Pramila. We were playing volleyball and it was really dark when all of a sudden they yell at me and dive for the side of the road. I turn around and jumped in the bushes as a bull came storming down the road and nearly took me out. Funnily enough, it nearly happened early this arvo as we walked down. Seriously, that could have been the end of me, or the end of an intact behind at least.

Today was also pretty cool as I did the library on my own and closed the doors after a certain time. They're starting to be a lot more disciplined and our games are much more targeted to their level which is much more effective rather than just playing hangman with everyone. I then went to the school and taught year 4 english which was fun as we learned about the days of the year, months, calendars and other cool things. Then I sat in on the year 9 english class and helped out the nepali teacher. It was just fascinating watching their teaching method, I was quite impressed actually. He is a very good teacher. Then Lauren and I walked down through the valley to catch the bus here.

A few more highlights of this week that fit in randomly. I played with Jeevan and Pradip heaps, teaching them Judo other forms of fighting and exercises. Likewise they gave me their slingshots that they made and we practiced shooting things with them. Pretty violent, they mainly use them to scare monkeys or birds. We also discovered this record book which has daily entries by volunteers since 06. Seriously, it is the magna carta for us and it would have been heaps useful when we started. And that's all for now I think.

Next entry should be even cooler because I'm going parahawking tomorrow morninig. Details will come later. Also, I'm going to Chitwan next week which is a national park down south full of elephants, rhinos and other cool things.

Hope everyone is well and enjoying my notes.

Take Care mero saathiharu.


Ben Charlton's update of his UniBreak placement in Saigon

The coming of TET in Saigon

Hope all is well. This coming week is Tet which is the Vietnamese NEWYEARs. It lasts all week and most stalls shut for the duration. Already there has been a huge influx of both tourists & locals although i'm told they all disapear after monday to take the rest of the week off. It's also "FLOWERing" season which has also seen the local park converted to a markeshift flower market (i would garden if i could produce flowers like they do)

Last week as i said, we were heading to the mekong (which is a fantastic river system packed full of floating markets and Vietnamese Tradition - something that has almost disappeared within Ho Chi Minh C). Unfortunately Sarah got a tad sick and we were forced to postpone until after Tet. With Sarah sick, Julia and I hit up Ben Tanh (the markets) much to my disgust as lately all we have been doing is shopping and i'm sick to death of the ridiculous amounts and smells of mass produce, i.e. fake polos & fake rabans...etc! Our new saying is, "No rabans, No massage, No Boom Boom!!!"

This week wasnt much different to the last at the orphanage although with every new day comes something new. We have the daily routine pretty well sorted which has allowed us to attempt some exercises with the kids in hope to improve motor skills and with some of them their english. There is one kid who today we found out understands english but as he cant talk hasnt been able to let us know. Weve now organised a communication board for him which will hopefully help him communicate with us, the nurses and other volunteers.

We ventured to the zoo both yesterday and today. I fed an elephant and walked an orangatang (held its hand) down a path on his way to the health clinic. The kids enjoyed it thorougly especially when one of the other volunteers whilst patting a lion almost had his hand chomped off. Things are obviously pretty layed back to say the least.

With Tet arriving so quickly we are celebrating Australia Day a day early so we can fit in more drinking, a visit to CUCHI tunnels and more drinking (something we have yet to do - dont worry mum (:P))... ahhh freedom.

anywhooo, in the famous words of Napolean - "it's a liger; sought of like a cross between a tiger and a lion with supernatural features"

p.s. (because i like forgetting to put things in) - me and the orangatang had a moment walking down that path.

More from UniBreak Sarah Gordon in Saigon!

Orphanage kids in Saigon

I am writing to you from a very hot and sweaty Vietnam! It's the end of my third week here, and I can't believe I have only one more to go. It's a bit like being in Townsville - time has gone so quickly, but then it's hard to imagine being at home again after living so tightly in this wonderful culture. So much has happened since I last emailed, but to be honest it's hard to remember things day to day! Life is so fast-paced here (or maybe that's just the swarming traffic that makes things seem faster than they really are!). Something to mention before I forget - as Ben has pointed out, we are no longer "nourists" - new tourists - which are easy to spot here in Saigon, they are the ones standing on the side of the road with their jaws on the ground and we float through the traffic like pro's.

Unfortunately, we had to postpone our trip to Mekong Delta until our final weekend, but Ben and Julia were happy to wait until I could go too. This week has been great, as have all my weeks. This week felt somewaht like a 'milestone' at the orphange, where we are almost like one of te nurses - we know the routines, the names of the children, what they eat, what they need, what they are trying to say etc. It is a big orphanage with children of all ages but we have focused our attentions on one-two nurseries of children on the upper level - from littlies to about 10 years old. As you know, my "little monkey" was one of my favourites when I arrived at the orphanage - her name is Ngoc but I call her "Gocky". She has cerebral palsy and she's about two years old, from what I can tell. I have been working very closely with her and as of the last few days, she knows me. She follows me around the room with her eyes, cries when I put her down, and snuggles into me when I carry her around. I will have to pull back a bit next week to make leaving easier for her. I adore all of the children - we have such a fantastic time together and I can absolutely say that they are different kids to when we arrived - they have a spark in their eyes and they are more outgoing. The orphanage is a harsh environment, and very restrictive, and very understaffed, so even though the staff do their best to make things good for the children, I can see the importance of having visitors to liven up the days of the children and attend to the smaller details, like playing, hugs, and kisses.

Not that the work is easy, because it's not. It was at first quite stomach-turning - the children eat the most awful food - I call it "Shrekking solution" - it's different for all ages but most of the time it's this green, thick stew. The smell of it is something in itself. The rooms smell, as you would expect, when children are involved! Most children drool, so there is always that to deal with, all over us usually. Most of them have difficulty swallowing their food (speech pathology radar has gone up, believe me!) and they cough before you can get the towel up and it goes everywhere, including in our mouths if we are talking! And of course, there's the nappies! They are cloth and very basic - not like the towelling cloths we have, so they are soiled very easily. Today I handed Ben a bubby to hold because I was trying to get up off the floor, and when he put her down we realised we were both covered in you-know-what (the worse one). Lovely!

Yesterday we took the children on a day trip to the zoo - it was so much fun! I was responsible for Gocky - she hated the stinking buffalos! They had ice-cream and a nap in the park, and we were absolutely exhausted when we got back. There is a group of Aussie guys here as well and we have been working more closely with them since they got back from the tea farms (the orphanage has tea farms that older orphans work at to support themselves). I am in the process of making a communication board for a smart little boy with cerebral palsy. He is non-verbal, but can point, so I have put my speech pathologist hat on and am working with a guy called Pat to get the board underway. He will be able to use it to point to his feelings, what he wants (food, sleep, play, toilet etc.). I am really excited, because at the moment, he has no way of communicating, and if you didn't know how smart he is, you would probably ignore him if you were a visitor to the orphanage. One of our little bubs died this week from an infection - the day before she had a temp through the roof. That's what it's like here - their lives are more fragile than you would first think.

Phat is one of my absolute favourite children - he is about 7 and has a deformed cerebellum, which means he has difficulty with balance and motor coordination. He also has deficient language skills. He uses short words and breaks them into syllables when he speaks. We have taught him to say "YUKKY" and 'YUMMY" - which has proven very funny. He is a fantastic character, so friendly, and has become very attached to Ben, Julia, and I. Bau Loc is a little boy who is able-bodied and is waiting to be adopted to his new family in Italy - he is in the terrible TERRIBLE twos at the moment - thinks he's the boss of the nursery. Hien and Bau Minh are the cheeky troublemakers (Nick and Sam, anyone!) - they make an absolute mess when they eat and throw toys everywhere! There are too many more to add here, but I can't wait to show you some of the gorgeous pics we have taken!

A bit of drama too - out taxi driver one morning hit two motorcyclists - one carrying two people. The noise was sickening, just a "crunch", and they were all three lying on the road while other cyclists tried to dodge them. Two were okay, but one woman cut her foot open (thongs) and had to go to hospital. I have been extra cautious in the traffic since then.

One last thing - this weekend it is the celebration of Tet - the lunar New Year in Vietnam! It is bigger than Christmas, I can tell you! Yellow and red are the official colours, and it's celebrated with flowers (THOUSANDS), fireworks and dragon dances! I've taken some great lead up photos, can't wait to add more to my collection this weekend!

We are visiting Cu Chi Tunnels tomorrow for a half-day trip - these are the tunnels the Viet Kong used to travel underground from the North to the South of Vietnam. I am excited, but not sure what to expect. I've heard the tunnels are very tiny, but, go figure, have in some places have had to be widened to accomodate westerners! Should be a great, if not entirely claustrophobic, experience.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Vietnam on UniBreak

Xin Chao from UniBreakers in Saigon!

Sorry it's taken so long for me to write you an email but it's been a
hectic 2 weeks since we arrived. I cant believe we are half way
through the placement already. The tours in the first week were
fantastic seeing the war musuem, the history musuem and the
reunification palace. We have had lots of Cyclo rides, visited Ben
Tanh markets, been ripped off at Ben Tanh Markets, and then perfected
our bartering skills at Ben Tanh Markets.

The work at the Orphanage has been great - working with the children
makes us more light hearted than i thought it would. I had expected
that the work would be very difficult and very sad, and while there
has been lots of sadness, like a little baby dying the other day, it
has been great to see we are having such a positive impact on the
children. The lunches are good - Thankyou for fixing the situation
with Lan - We all read the email you sent to Julia. We were worried
our budgets may blow out a bit and so its great to have lunch covered

Last weekend we visited Mui Ne and stayed at a beautiful resort on the
beach. The facilities were excellent but the staff gave us quite a
laugh - They didn't understand , English which made communicating
quite interesting hence we came up with the saying, "good morning
Vietnam" to represent such situations so often experienced.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Nepal UniBreak from Lauren Ross

Fun in Nirmal Pokhari....

Well arriving in Kathmandu was hectic, never experienced anything like it! It was so overwhelming! I hopped in a taxi with one of the guys from the organisation and we bumped, swerved and beeped our way through the masses of people, animals and dirt that packed the narrow streets until we reached Thamel where I met up with all the other volutneers and had curry and naan and a cafe that was to ebcome our local haunt in kathmandu caled Thamel Brasserie. After eating I was suddenly i was thrust into language lessons and then me and another girl plus one of the guys from the organisation squeezed into a cab (whose driver became our regular driver known as 'the crazy bad man' but really he just had a big personality and loved to tell us all the local gossip and blast hindi music). Up the hill we went until we reached the monkey temple (which was beautiful but i was worried about rabies the whole time!) we went at sunset and looked ovr kathmadu and then had tea in this tent on the side of the road while we waited for our taxi to come back. All this was packed into my first day in this full on country (after two days of airport travel) so by dinner i was like feeling a bit ill (i didnt eat), oevrwhelmed and exhausted but I started to feel a whole lot better when we went to this great bar called the funky buddha and I got to know some fo the volunteers better over a few Everest beers. After this we continued the party on the roof of our hotel which became known as the 'rangi changi bar' (Rangi Changi is a contradictary Nepalese term which can mean anythign from happy, sad, crazy, drunk etc etc). In the narrow city streets (which are clogged with dust and pollution at night it looks like its snowing!) everyne beeps their horns and dont stick to their side of the streets and there are no footpaths so u walk on the side of the road, dodging vehicles and people. It is liberating and some how it all works and its so much fun!!the smells are just amazing (spices, cow u name it, it all wafts past u!). The next day I had more language lessons after breakfast and then went to another hge temple in the older part of Kathmandu (which was beautiful with all the prayer flags and we spun the prayer wheels). We then went to the holy river where they cremate the dead. This we an eerie and surreal experience as this ceremony takes place in such a public forum (it is like a crumbling stadium where monkeys parade amongst the people who sit in the stands and watch the burning take place below, and sadhu's (holy men) lie half naked and out of it on the temple steps, asking foriengers for their money). It was a bizaare thign to witness. On our last night in Kathmandu we went to this really cool reggae bar with these two south african guys I met in the hotel and it had this live band (all 4 who went into one toilet cubile on their break to do god knows what) and there was this older local who was dancing by himself in the middle of this bar, he looked like a spinning top he was twisting and turning so fast (almost like a russian cossack!) but it was so good to watch because he was so joyful. The same day we went to Dermer Square and we got to see where the living Goddess lived (a five year old girl chosen from certain criteria by either the president or king and then she must live away from her family for 5 years, her feet must not touch the ground and then after the 5 years she can never marry. It was a bizzare experience like stepping back in time) I also got a funny pick up line from a local in kathmandu, he said 'you come with me and we make laugh together' (I thoughts thats one Ive never heard before!) So after an exhausting 3 days in Kathmandu, all the volunteers (like 10 of us) got on a bus early i the morning headed for Pokhara. We were all so out of it that most of us were able to sleep despite the bumping and swerving road and the cold air that ran under the windows. We finally made it to Pokhara where we would stay for one night in a nice hotel room with a hot shower (luxury!!) Pokhara is beautiful compared to Kathmandu especially lakeside where we stayed. Along the streets are trees painted at their base red white and blue and strung from them across the streets are flags of metallic strips which look great in the sinlight. This is nothing compared to the lake which stretches across to steep lush mountains and has boats rowing across it. From our hotel balcony we could see the Anapurna range (the fish tail) which we saw at both sunset and sunrise with all the pinks and oranges reflecting off it!!

The first day we arrived in Nirmal Pokhari (the village) (after a really steep and rocky climb in a 4wd up the mountain) we trekked to the top peak of the village and sat and looked out over Pokhara with the collossal himalyas rising above it clear as anything!! BREATHTAKING!! Our host family is lovely and compared to other families they are quite wealthy but still the living conditions seemed quite basic at first! They have two brick farm houses with a courtyard that the chickens run wild through. Anna and I share a room which is bare brick with cracks to the outside (similar to a barn) but it is comfortable enough. Outside our door lives the buffalo and the goats (and the bloody rooster crows at 5.30 am right outside every morning!! Its a running joke that one of us will eventually snap and ring its neck!!) Anyway that night after eating dhaal bhaat with our hands (which am now thoroughly sick of and if I ever see a legume again I will happily shoot myself!) anna and I were gettign ready for bed and as I was about to hop in I saw this massive spider at the head of my bed (like as big as a saucer!)Both of us nearly dropped dead and niether of us wanted to chase it around the room to kill it so we called on one of the Dutch boys livign upstairs to come down and help. So down Sjurat came in little short shorts (so funny) with a bucket and then proceeded to tickle this spider so that ti ran away and we couldn't find it! So Anna and I had to sleep with this massive thing in our room thinking all night it would end up on one of our faces! The next night when the spider reappeared, Laxman (our host) ran into our room and promptly smacked the spider with his bare hand and then chased us with it (we later joked that he'd 'high-fived' it!)
Where we live is on the side of a steep hill so walking up and down has been getting us pretty fit because we do it so many times a day.Down below us is a natural tap. The first time I went to it Ashley came with me and we washed our hair and clothes with the local women who laughed at me when I got soap in my eye and ahsley struggled to help me by splashing water in my face! The second time I went down with James who is Fillipino background and gets mistaken for a Nepali. So when he proceeded to take is shirt off and rub soap all over him in front of me and this group of nepalese women there was not much I could do to keep out of the local gossip circle as that loosed moraled western volunteer who spends her time with half naked men! (Very funny) At night we have been playing cards and last night we danced with our host family (the house has been packed because there has been a festival) and we showed them western dances (macarina and spice girls) and they showed us some hindi and nepalese dances (we all looked like gyrating worms it was ridiculous!) For the festival we walked all the way down th mountain and had noodles with himalyan sauce and watched the local karate competition and listened to a singing competition. We then missed the bus so we had to walk back up the mountain in the afternoon (and when I say mountain I'm talking aout the Himalayan foothills so it was a 2 hour steep climb upwards!) After that I was absolutely exhausted but exhilarated and we went back to the house where we had a small ceremony in which Sita (our host 'mum') placed tikkas on our foreheads (red paste with rice) and flowers in our hair. All of this ceremony, plus weaving baskets, cooking, carrying water, flattening millet, is all part of their daily lives that we have been a part of (on our first day half the village turned out to dig a channel for water and us volunteers got stuck in and did some digging!)

On top of all this I have been working in the resource centre and at the secondary school. At the resource centre (A tiny room under someones house that is forever dusty no matter how many times the kids sweep it) we do drawing, reading and games with the kids (I have done the hokey pokey so many times I now do it in my sleep). The kids are so affectionate and climb all over us, some of them are really bright for there age and know english really well! We taught them the lion king song (in the jungle...) which they loved and we put music to it and we are going to get rice to put in our empty water bottles so that they can have musical shakers. Every day we walked 20 minutes to the secondary school (which is both primary and highschool up until year 10). It is a basic 2 storey building and the kids stay in their one class room all day. It has been both challenging and rewarding, challenging because the teachers don't turn up soemtimes or they let you take classes that they're meant to be taking without you knowing. Instead they sit around in the teachers room and read newspapers. Its very frustrating because its such a selfish attitude when there are children just sitting int hese classrooms without a teacher. Despite this I have been having a ball with the kids (especially some of the older years). It has been difficult the first week because I had to wing it in terms of what to teach them, but I figured if at least they're entertained and engaged then they will look forward to coming, so for example yesterday I promised my year 8 class I would dance for them at the end of class which I ended up doing (john travolta moves and all) and I ahd them all clapping a beat for me (whether they were laughing with me or at me I dont know but we al seemed to have fun!!) We've now sat down and created a syllabus for teaching which will hopefully gives us more structure in the future.

So thats basically what I've been up to so far, its been both challenging and amazing and I've been having some great laughs along the way. I am missing some of the comforts of home (like salad!) but its amazing how quickly you get used to the Nepalese people and their way of life (although a lot of our human traits are universal so despite the language barrier we can relate to each other in many ways). I'm plannign to do a trek now instead of going to India! Anyway I'll try to do another email at some point. Hope you are all good and I would love to hear what you are up to!

Lauren (or Laxme, the Goddess of Wealth, which I was dubbed on my first day here!)

Deakin Michaela in India

Last week reflection

Week 7 came around much quicker than I would have expected back in
week one. Where in week six I was very much looking forward to coming
home, week seven was the total opposite. It made me realise that even
though I didn?t always enjoy my time in India, it was going to be sad
going home and getting back into the swing of normal life.

Monday started like any normal day with a whole lot of teaching in
front of us. With the usual teachers back, Steph and Emma were left to
teach the intermediates together and I had the juniors all day. When
the other teachers finished at lunch time, Steph continued with the
intermediates and Emma went on to the seniors. Luckily, with the days
of painting and other days we had missed out on, Steph and I still had
work sheets remaining. This was a huge positive as the boys were going
through the worksheets fairly quickly. They were doing a very good job
concentrating on learning English for four hours each day. After
lunch, we had a discussion with Mr Ali about sponsorship as well as
general life philosophy which was quite a surprise for Steph and I as
we had never before had a proper conversation with him. This was a
side of Mr Ali that Steph and I had not yet witnessed.

Tuesday was very much the same as Monday, including another discussion
with Mr Ali. This was our last whole day of teaching, which was
another odd feeling. Even though we knew it was one of our last days
there, it was hard not to get frustrated at the boys who seemed to be
particularly restless.

Wednesday was one of the best days in India. After some original
confusion about what we would be doing on our last day and when our
last day would be, Wednesday turned out to be half teaching, half fun
and games. Also before lunch, we finished finding out the necessary
information needed for writing profiles on all of the boys, which we
had begun on Tuesday afternoon. After lunch, we played games with the
boys. This was left until after all our teaching duties had finished,
as we would have lost the respect of the boys according to Mr Ali.
Playing cricket with the boys and teaching them new games was an
absolutely amazing experience and so much fun. It was great to be able
to show the boys that although there are times when we have to be
serious, there are also times when we can have fun.

Thursday we went to school pretty much to just say goodbye. Steph and
I put together our photo board on Wednesday night and transported it
(with difficultly) to Kamshet. We didn?t really do that much with the
boys, just hung around with them outside. We also had another
discussion with Mr Ali, where we were able to find out more personal
details about the boys for their profiles. That evening we were
invited to Amanda?s school as a farewell for us all. Although it was
very nice to be invited, the night went much longer than we were
originally told and not knowing the children personally and already
being very tired made the night drag.

Friday was pretty much just spent packing. Mr Ali came over in the
morning with his daughter and with gifts for us, which was very kind
indeed. We had a good chat and once again, saw a different side to
him. Jayshree also came over to say goodbye, which was very nice of
her considering the journey she had to take (in the dark and also
pregnant). That night we ended up having a number of guests around so
we had a big dinner.

All in all, India was a tiring but great experience. I would be lying
if I said I woke up every morning wanting to get to our placement as
quick as possible, because that is far from the truth. And with the
days being long and challenging, I probably didn?t appreciate them as
much as I do now looking back on them. I am very glad I went to India
and would love to go back again one day.

Julia Frank - UniBreak in Kenya


Hope you are all well and enjoying whatever/wherever you are over the summer. This is just a quick update on my first week in Kenya.

The journey started with a 2 day delay in Johannesburg due to a stomach bug (quite ironic since I have not been sick in Kenya yet at all). When the day finally came to depart, my flight to Kenya was delayed and I ended up arriving at the camp site at 1am. Everyone was asleep, so I awoke in the morning to a room full of strangers. To say the least it was bizarre! I met all the other volunteers over breakfast and by now we are all great friends. The people are cool, even though it is quite intense being on top of each other 24/7, we all get on really well. The majority is British, and unavoidably, my accent has adopted a slight English twang. The managers and staff at the camp are unreal and cater to every whim we have.

Our day at Camp Kenya, which is in a tiny village called Muhaka, begins with work from 9-12. Most days I have been teaching at the local school, while others do projects such as building more classrooms. Another girl, Lily, and I have covered subjects as diverse at the different types of teeth in the human body to English plurals and subtraction. Everything is taught in English and the children are surprisingly good. We try to make the lessons as fun as possible, teaching them songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and having them teach us Swahili songs like Jambo Jambo. The little children in the village are so friendly. Everyday they run up to us and we carry them on our hips while we are walking. They love playing with my glasses and touching my skin - I think they find white people fascinating. In the afternoon, we usually work from 2-4 on a project in the village. At the moment, we are planting a vegetable patch in the school so that the children will be able to learn how to grow fresh foods and be self-sufficient. So far, I have been hoeing soil to flatten out the land. The work is grueling, especially in the African sun. To be honest, I am constantly filthy, covered in a mixture of sunscreen, insect repellent and soil. The showers are only cold water, which sometimes runs out when the electricity goes, and even after showering, I still have to walk back to the rooms through dusty sand. My feet are never ever clean!

One afternoon, we did a cultural tour of Muhaka. We visited a bush doctor and he performed an exorcism on a psycho lady. It was one of the strangest things I have ever witnessed. We also tasted coconut wine, which is produced by the village. A 60 year-old man, nicknamed 'Monkey man' climbs all the way to the top of a coconut tree with a jar and cut the branches to release the sap, which is the wine. We all had a taste, and it is severely repulsive!

Evenings and nights involve playing cards, poker, pool (on a dilapidated table which is balanced on books), reading, dinner and major gossip sessions about our lives at home. The whole environment feels very much like school camp. The bedrooms are dark, filled with cobwebs and sleep eight people. My mattress and pillow are like rocks and I am cocooned in a mosquito net. There are no couches or cushions or seating with backs anywhere in the camp site. I suppose it adds to the whole experience, and is making me appreciate my creature comforts at home! We all help washing the dishes and wash our own clothes in buckets. The food is actually very good, but by now the meals are rotating and I know I will be craving sushi soon!

It's the weekend now and I am going snorkeling today which should be beautiful. We go to beach on Saturdays and Sundays, tanning on the whitest sands I have ever seen, swimming in the warmest waters and chilling at the tourist bar, Forty Thieves, which is the pinnacle of kitsch. I still love it though! Tonight I will be going to the only nightclub in the area, Shakatak, which reputedly is the funniest place on earth. I cannot wait : )

Coming up I will be going on safari, visiting an elephant sanctuary, having my birthday and working at an orphanage. I can only access internet on the weekends at the beach so look out for my update next weekend and please send me messages about where you are and what you are doing.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Moreton Bay College - Update

Moreton Bay College have enjoyed a successful trek and are now working hard at their project.

After their project the team will be heading south to Chitwan for their Safari. They shall then head back to enjoy the sights of Kathmandu.

Venturers Vietnam - Update

After a successful project the team enjoyed their time trekking in Sapa.

The team is now traveling down the coast to HCMC. On their way they have enjoyed time in Hue and a spot of shopping in Hoi An!

Loreto Normanhurst - Update

All good with Loreto!

Loreto have left the project today and are very happy. The fence was completed and they had no rain during the days - Inca Gods must have been smiling down on them.
The group have a slightly altered plan now and will visit Machu Picchu tomorrow 14th Jan, 15th Cuzco, 16th go to Puno, 17th on Lake Titicaca, 18th go to Arequipa, 19th Arequipa, 20th Arequipa in morning, afternoon fly Lan Peru to Lima.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Midwifery in Ghana! UniBreak placement

Shelley delivering babies in Ghana

HI All, finally managed to get away to Cape Coast for the weekend and find a great deal here at the internet cafe. Been a while and so much has happened but I'll try and update each group for you and give you some highlights and if time permits add some photos.

Hospital stuff: Well for my midwifery colleages and others interested the hospital work was pretty full on. The first day I started I saw a breech birth, met a mother who delivered triplets spontaneously, delivered a baby, did a number of VE (I think I now have the hang of it, and cared for a woman who had placental abruption who later passed away. Other things I've seen since include the piercing of all girl babies ears with just studs, the midwives helping push the baby out by pressing hard on the uterus (I hate this and wish I could tell them to stop- cringe) and in C/S they remove the uterus from the body to stitch it back up before replacing it- this looks very odd. I got to deliver quite a few babies including one with compound presentation (hand beside the face). Some days there were no deliveries so I folded gauze swabs and cotton wool for 5-6hrs (very boring) but the busy days made up for it. I also got heaps of practice at palpation and hearing the FH with the pinnards as we had to check every pregnant woman every shift.

Family: I'm not completely animal deprived as our dogs Whiskey and Cougar are very fun and the cat occasonally warms up to you. My Ghanian family has been great and I met all the siblings last weekend as we had a special thanksgiving celebration for our departure from our current home in Akwatia as the mother is be transferred to another hospital to work about 1 1/2 hrs away.
We'll be moving by the end of this week but I might be away for the actual shift as I'm spending a week in the north as of Thursday and visiting Mole National Park with some volunteer friends. I decided as we're moving that I would finish up with the hospital work and spend the last 3 weeks off travelling and spending time with the family.

Church people: I've been attending the pentecostal church my family go to and it's quite different. The service goes for 3 hours but no one turns up for the first hour (Ghana time) and people wander in whenever they get there. Everyone wears traditional Ghana dress, including me since I had some clothes made by the seamstress. The sing and dance a lot, waving hankies, and the whole service is spoken in Twi (the native language) including the bible reading so can be quite boring for me. The thing I think is weirdest though and still don't understand is their offering system. They bring out this offering box and everyone gets up and puts money in then 10mins later they do it again and sometimes 3-4 times. I aksed my sister what it's for; one for thanksgiving, one your offertry and one your tithe. Don't ask me the difference but I learnt after the first Sunday not to put to much in the first one or you end up paying out a lot :)

Other notable points are that I finally got sick the weekend before last (throwing up) and you wouldn't believe the story. An international nurse friend from the hospital invited me back to her place for lunch and on the way we discussed food and what we'd tried. I said I had avoided salad even though I'd been craving fresh healthy stuff because of their preparation with their water. My friend, Jenni, said she had eaten it and been fine so didn't worry anymore. Well her host mother served lunch with a pile of salad and after discussing it with Jenni decided to go ahead and hog in but hey was I sorry the next morning. I slept all day with my mother forcing rehydrating salts down me and was fine.
Another story was the night I spent in the mountains because the driver misinterpreted my home town of Akwatia for another place called Nkwatia (easy mistake even after I asked numerous times whether they were taking me to Akwatia with nods every time). Oh well had an adventure and stayed overnight in a cheap hotel then took the trip back the next day along a 4WD track in a packed trotro. Speaking of trotros I rode in one yesterday with 19 people in a 15 seater was quite fun and at least very cheap.
Also had an interesting visit to the Compassion Child Sponsorship project out of Accra and visited 2 of the childrens families which was eye opening but the project was very well organised and I was surprised at the individual care provided to each child including areas; spiritual, educational, physical and social aspects. Was a great trip all round.

Verity and Terri - UniBreak in Ghana

Fallen in love with the kids

I can't tell you how many times we have tried contacting you, so I just
really hope that this email works! I thought at least two other emails had
sent (one from Terri and one from me) but perhaps not. That is just Ghana
for you! We definately have not had the bet internet luck with it
craashing on us numerous times, but I think now we have a system going!

Where to begin, I mean our time is seriously nearly over!!! We leave in
about 9 days, I can't believe it is approaching this quickly (nor that I
haven't been able to contact you since we left - sorry). In fact, what I
tried updating about you last time was about things to bring for the
incoming volunteers, but they just arrived today! we met nicole and cara
at the orphanage today - you'll be glad to know that they have arrived
safely, in one piece. It feels quite bizarre actually being the ones who
know the ropes around the place, when it feels like we were newbies just
yesterday. Well, it was still only recently.

Ok so I'm just going to write down things in dot points, and whatever comes
* "Oburoni"! We are called oburonis everyday, all the time, basically
non-stop. Even in our street, the people we see everyday, they still call
us Oburoni! On many occassions it has become very frustrating, especially
after a long day, but I guess you just have to treat it with a sense of
humour. It is bizarre however to reverse the situation - we would never
ever do the same back home. It has really highlighted us as the minority
actually - something that neither Terri or I had really given much
thou7ght about before we arrived. White people really are few and far
between, and sometimes it is weird seeing them! We say to one another,
Look there's an Oburoni. Now though, there are quite a few popping up in
Swedru, and quite a few at the orphanage - this week there will be about
* Orphanage. Fiona, we have abslutely fallen in love with the children.
Perhaps a bit predictable, but we definately have a few in mind abut who
we would like to adopt :) But honestly, the kids are amazing - at many
times they have just been so inspirational, with such a positive energy
that has been really contagious. Their smiles are just magical and just
make my heart melt. It will be really sad saying goodbye, but at least
that is still a week away.
We have actualy had a really good run at the orphanage. Our first week was
pretty tough - i think we were experiencing a bit of culture shock, and
the orphanage was just so chaotic. But soon the kids were on school
holidays, so we really got to spend some quality time with the kids,
getting to know them (more than just their names!). It really has been a
joy learning about the kids, and figuring out their different characters.
Something that we have really noticed about the orphanage is that it is
totally dependent on volunteers and their work/ fundraising there.
Everything from the house that they sleep in to the food, is all funded by
volunteers. Actually, in our first week, Madame had this medicine there but
no means of paying for it, but turned to us kind of with expecting eyes. We
did in the end pay for the medicince but one does have to be careful not to
let Madame know if you have money to spend. The system is a bit corrupt and
often money just disappears.
* travelling on weekends - well this has been a bit of a swing and a miss
for us... The first weekend we went to cape coast and elmina which was
fine. Was an easy first weekend not too far, got to grab some western food
which was exciting, but lots of oburonis go there so the taxi drivers are
really pesty and people just generally expect that they can get a lot of
money out of you. For the next weekend we were meant to go to Kumasi, but
because of the elections (a whole other epic story!) we were stuck in a 4
hour traffic jam so headed for Kokrobrite Beach. The next Saturday we took
the kids to the beach which was a lot of fun - stressful, but well worth
it, so didn't technically travel (we actually went back to Kokrobrite).
Then finally, the last weekend that passed, I was really sick so was
unable to travel. For the final weekend though we are planning to go to
the Volta Region with actually quite a big group of volunteers, which I'm
really looking forward to. We did have plans to take the last week off to
travel up north and go to the national park etc but with our time being so
limited we really thought about why we came to Ghana in the first place,
and whther or not taking that time off would really detract from the trip.
Basically we just didn't want to leave the kids!
* Host family: Our host family has been extremely extremely accommodating.
Our food sizes are still massive, but they are very good. Communication is
really good too. SOmetimes though it is just nice, just doing our own thing
, and escaping a bit. I must admit, the food situation has been somewhat
interesting. Neither Terri and I have fallen in loven with Ghanaian food,
but the breakfasts are usually good, so we stock up then. And the
pineapple is amazing so sweet! We have at least one ice cream a day.
* It is hot hot hot!! But we are so used to the sweatiness. We are just
always sweaty - we just laugh about it now, or just don't even notice!
* Sickness - I haven't had the best luck, sickness wise. I've had quite a
bit of everytyhing unforunately but there was a good patch in the middle
for about 2 weeks when i was sickness free. Terri has been a bit sick too,
but together ok. Although last friday i had to go to hospital - as it
turned out I had a boil on my arm. It was the most excruciating thing when
the nurse had to deal with it, i felt like my arm was going to fall off,
but it is finally healing now. I think the foreign environment also didn't
help the trauma of it all. I slept for 2 days afterwards!

Anyway, I better leave it at that for now. It might not even send. Oh no.
Terri says a big hello as well, she is right next to me.
We'll talk before we leave.
Hope Sydney is well, and you are enjoying the New Year.

Verity and Terri xx

Monday, 12 January 2009

Thailand UniBreak medical placement

Fun in Surin!

Just a quick email to let you know that everything is going well with us over here. We have really enjoyed our placement and finish up here at the end of next week.

The hospital placement was really great, where we got to scrub in and watch some amazing operations (very different to Australia), and the clinic has been very hand on too with lots of wound care and taking of blood pressure.

Thanks for all of your help.
Hope you had a lovely Christmas and new year.

More from James in Nepal - UniBreak

Namaste mero saathiharu! Pokhara away....

So I've been in Nepal for just over a week now, but unfortunately I've been sick most of the last few days. In fact after we ate at this expensive restaurant in Kathmandu on our last night there, I had my first power chunder in Nepal. But I was okay by morning and caught a bus to Pokhara. The bus ride was fantastic, the views were great as it followed a river most the way through valleys and then over mountains. But sitting next to the window and banging my already sore head against didn't help ease my illness. Nonetheless, it was great seeing much more of the country side and remote parts of Nepal. In fact, we read in the lonely planet after doing the kathmandu to pokhara route in a day, that you should take 3 days at least and explore the sights on the way. But its okay, we had to get to Pokhara anyways.

Pokhara is simply stunning. As we journeyed closer on the bus, you could see the Himalayas in all their grandeur sticking up over the clouds. From Pokhara itself you can see the entire Annapurna range with the Fishtail peak in the middle which is always mesmerizing. We met some staff here and then met Asim for dinner at night. All the places were closed because of some strike, so we ate in the volunteer house which is just up the hill near lakeside. Pokhara is famous for its views of the Annapurnas and of its lake, Phewa Tal which I can see out the window as I type. The food was very similar to Dhal Baat which to be honest is getting old real fast, but it's part of the experience. There's also another reason it's getting old which I'll get to in a second. Anyways, we hung out by the volunteer house that night then said bye to the other volunteers as I would be heading out with Anna, Ash and Lauren to Nirmal Pokhari (our remote village) in the morning.

As I woke up on the 8th, not freezing for a change, I could see glimpses of the Annapurna Ranges through the window. So I jumped up and saw clearly how amazing they just were since they were covered mostly by cloud when we came in to Pokhara. Then we had a quick breakfast and loaded the jeep up and went along with Asim's family up to Nirmal Pokhari. It was a bumpy ride. Bumpy, but not as bad as Mongolia and it only took about an hour. Then we were greeted by Laxman who is my host father for my stay here and he has hosted many volunteers over the last 3 years. Laxman's place was what I had expected from all the stories, a typical Nepali brick mud house with the "toilet" outside. In fact it's kinda like the workshops on the farms. I'm staying with Ash in this tiny room at the moment that you can't stand up straight in because of the tarp protecting you from the roof falling apart. But that's at least better than Anna and Lauren who had a GIANT spider living in their room. Pretty much the size of my whole hand but he is now dead because Laxman high fived him bare handed last night. Very cool. The first day was great though, we walked up to the hillside for some even more amazing views. I gotta take my camera up soon and get some shots when its clear, but we got plenty of time. We also saw the day care centre and the 'library' which is just a small room. Afterwards we also went and saw the 'natural tap' which is just a tap at the end of a stream where everyone in the village washes. For some reason, I think I won't be using it that much even though they say the water is fine. Also, Laxman shared some of his awesome fruit with us. Did I mention right next door to my room is two buffalos, heaps of chickens, a couple of goats and fantastic fruit trees. Mandarins were basically all I ate yesterday. But there are bananas, papayas, coffee beans and some other exotic fruits too. Oh yeah, and the staircase to get from laxman's place to the library is extremely tiring not to mention guarded by monkeys. I'm thinking not getting my rabies shot may have been a bad idea.

Anyways, time is running short and so much more to say so I'll get to the point on why I'm here in Pokhara only after being in nirmal pokhari for 2 days. Basically I already got sick in kathmandu but recovered well, then the first morning in nirmal pokhari i threw up and had to squat on the toilet for a while after being hit with nasty you know what. It's sorta feeling better today after hitting it with imodium and gastrolyte keeping me hydrated. But eating dhaal bat with my hands will probably not happen again. And yeah, i was super missing a sandwich, clean underwear and a toilet with a seat so i came back here. Oh and we took the bus down from the village but rode on the top. We heard it was dangerous, but all the volunteers and the 2 dutch guys staying with us highly recommended it. And now so do i.

But even with a bloated stomach i did explore the village yseterday which was great. i'm really excited about teachin gin the secondary school. even for such a simple government school, their maths is pretty advanced. i'm guessing because its similar to india. but yeah, seems like they want me to teach maths more being an engineer and i think the other girls will teach english which should be great fun. I also went to the library in the arvo and played with the kids there. actually i spent most of my time with the older kids taking turns at reading whilst the sun set and light disappeared.

That's pretty much all that has happened over the last few days, the little stories will have to wait for another day as I gotta get back to the bus stop soon. Hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather, I'm definitely enjoying the warmer weather here in Pokhara. But not quite warm enough to dry my clothes unfortunately. And hopefully the next time I write I won't have vomited 5 times and had explosive stomach and stool problems.


UniBreak Laos update from Emma

Sabai Dee from Luang Prabang

All is well. I love Big Brother Mouse! I'm writing a Laos version of a well known Aussie fav Who sank the boat? with one of the kids. It's alot of fun. I only really have internet time on the weekend and its very slow so i might pass on nwes through rosie who has it at work. We're off to explore Wats today and to the waterfall tomorrow. I've been sick with a bad cold/flu but a bowl of hot noodle soup and i've been better ever since!
Henry's been great, got us Laos sim cards and bikes and introduced us to other Aussie's here. Last week we went to the birthday party of one of the BBM girls in her village across the river. Oh and Monday morn i got to go to a book party-amazing!
Sok dee

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Siem Reap UniBreak Adventures

Happy new year to you in Australia!

Siem Reap is going very well so far. Thomas and Jo gave us a great
orientation, and Jemma and Emily have been very helpful sharing all their
knowledge with us.

We had our first day of teaching on Tuesday and it was far less terrifying
than I expected, and actually really fun! Yesterday was a national holiday
so we visited the floating villages and went swimming in the Baray. This
weekend my friend is coming to visit and we plan to go out to the temples.

Jasmine Lodge is great, and Kunn has been very helpful.

Free Time in Northern Thailand

A Weekend Away

Had my first free weekend to travel around and spread my wings. Four of us volunteers decided to make the trip up to Mai Salong in far northern Thailand on the Burmese border. To make the trip we needed to catch a bus from Chiang Rai so we spent Friday night in town in order to leave Saturday morning. Aftert an hour on the bus and another on the song taew (like a ute with built in seats in the back, used as a taxi) we made it up to Mai Salong. And I mean up. The hills were steep and plentiful.

The guest house we stayed in was lovely, Shinsane, and is possibly the best value for money I have ever seen - only 50 baht each per night (about $2.50). The food there was also good. The village itself (village not town, only very small) is built on a hill in a style reminiscent to the coast line of Greece (or so I thought) in that all the houses are white and cascade down the hill, only the result of their decline is not a crystal blue ocean but the the soggy reality of rice patties and the straight rows of tea crops. It is very beautiful, surrounded by mamoth mountains and glistening golden Buddhist temples. The region is famous for its tea and I managed to get a good deal on some Gin Sing tea and some White tea - both vacuum sealed to appease customs.

After lunch we decided to head up to the temple towering over us on the top of the hill. There are precisely 718 stairs leading up and I know that my legs felt every single one of them. Once reaching the summit the views were good, but not amazing and some wise guy (one of the other volunteers, we love him, but this was not one of his more popular ideas) decided we should walk the loop road out instead of going back down the stairs. As we asked the local tour guides for confirmation of our plan, they looked at us as though we were mad, but told us the road lead where we expected. So off we went. I soon understood their sentiments. As they all slowly passed us in vans full of tourists, we slowly climbed the hill, which turned into a long mountain. The climb was truly nasty.

Linda and I had fallen behind, but as we were nearing the rise, Ashley sprinting back towards us, yelling something. He wanted my camera, grabbed it and then, running off, told us to come and see. And come and see we did, the view was amazing. We could see out over the misty hills of Burma and all around was green and golden from the slowing sun. Magic. The photos are amazing. We continued to walk the mountain ridge road, silenced and excited by the surrounds.

We then reached a little side path, which according to our map led to a Chinese cemetary. Again a fabulous bunch of photos.

Further down the road I could hear the distinct sound of pigs, and, sure enough there was a little set of pig pens. It looked as though there was someone down there feeding them, so we went down to investigate. Loraine, one of the groups speaks fluent Mandarin (many of of the hills tribes in this region are of Chinese descent, so Mandarin is more commonly spoken than Thai). After she translated for us we were given permission to take a look around and snap some photos. Most people in the villages are very relaxed about that sort of thing, but sometimes cameras and photos can cause problems. Many of the older people believe the the photo steals part of you soul, so the don't like people taking photos. It is quite spooking to see their point of view - a bunch of foreigners wandering around with soul-stealing devices. The pigs were grubby, but beautilful and look amazing in black and white photos. On the way down the hill we had also seen an oval with some kids playing soccer, so we asked the pig feeder about it and he pointed us in the direction of the village.

Well, upon arrival we were nearly flocked by kids. The were fascinated by the camera and my favourite pics of the trip have come from this group. The just adore performing for the camera and love to see what they look like o film. They even love taking photos of me instead! One kid wanted my attention, so he started pulling faces - with his brother's face! So I have these stunnning pictures of this little kids pulling out his borther's ears, I couldn't help but laugh, they looked just like my brothers!

After that it was getting late, so we headed back to the guest house. All in all our little adventure had taken 5 hours of walking. But it was worth it. This morning we did another 4 in the opposite direction, so that successfuly circumnavigated the village.This was a shorter, but much more cruel walk. Very steep hills in close succession. But we made it and had a hot shower to celebrate.

Thai Food!

Food Food FOOD

If chili, rice and coconut ain't your thing, you may want to consider your Thai travel plans!

One of my favourite parts about travelling is getting to try all sorts of new foods, and so far my time in Thailand has been no exception. Among the more unusual I have eaten crickets, worms and pigs stomach, but by far my most indulgent delights have been the deep dried fare. Deep fried bananas, chicken, spring rolls, banana spring rolls, pancakes with condensed milk, quails eggs and pork. Coconut too features heavily on the menu, with coconut milk being an excellent addition to sticky rice with mango and also a desert in its own right, as fresh coconuts are hollowed out, the flesh mixed with icecream, put back into the shell and topped with coconut cream. Amazing.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the cooking of this food as well. For New Years Mirror hosted a party for 300 of the locals. In order to prepare, all of the volunteers got up at 4m to peel, chop and dice. We got through kilos of garlic, mountains of cucumbers, piles of chillis and mounds of onions. One of the strangest expereinces of my life has been trying to peel a cucumber with a meat cleaver! But the food was delicious, taking as long to eat as it did to prepare!

I have found myself craving home food though, and in particular, bread. Of all things, I am loving sandwiches on the weekend. My favourite is nutella and strawberry jam, a really strange reminiscent mix, but just what the belly loved!

Rebekah in Chiang Rai - UniBreak teaching

Teaching in Thailand

Teaching in Thailand

I love working with kids and helping them learn, so the teaching element of this placement is one of my favourite parts. I have some amazing students, and they are all so varied. Of a morning I teach a class with the ICT staff here at the organisation. Their English is patchy conversation wise, but their vocab is great (if that makes sense - they're not good at sentences). They are just so curious and our lessons are basically one big exploration of the world and how to examine and describe it, which is great! Our lessons range from global warming and the greenhouse effect to discussions of the periodic table, ecosystems and English grammar.

I then have a school class or two in the afternoons (we do a different class each day of the week) who have a standard that is probably comparable to our primary school LOTE skills. They are lots of fun and are sooooo cheeky. The custom here is to take off your shoes before you enter a room, so last lesson the kids took great delight in me searching after the lesson for my hidden shoes! The biggest challenge is to keep some continuity between our lessons, especially when there are so many of us teaching and often school gets cancelled without warning. We have been using some resources prepared by an ESL team back in Australia and they have been great for ideas and the kids just love the colour and professionalism of the resources.

In the afternoon I am taking an English extension class for some kids from the local schools called Top Kids. These lessons are great fun because the smaller group allows you to have a bit more flexibility and creativity in the lesson. Becuase the kids are coming to class on their own time and after a full day of school lessons the classes are fun and largely focused on games.

And finally after dinner I take a two hour class for two of the Japanese students here. They have a very high standard of English, so we are focusing on the finer points of grammar so that they can structure and organise their speech and writing better. This is probably my favourite class of the day, simply becuase they are always asking questions. It is a constant reminder to me of how I should be approaching my Thai lessons, with an open mind and an open mouth!

And then once every couple of weeks we travel out take a whole day class at the local special school for mentally and physically impaired children. THese kids are so affectionate and often so creative it is a truly wonderful day. I walked away from the class feeling as though I had taken as much as I had given.

So it is full on and the preparation is crazy, particularly for me without a background in this kind of thing! But I am loving it and everyday I learn something new about myself and the the locals :)

Angus in Ecuador

Gday compadres

Its been a while since I last emailed but Ive been doing stuff so get off my back.

Since my last email weve had Christmas, new years and been to the amazon.

We also had a Mariachi band play for Dans birthday which was pretty awesome.

For Christmas we went to the beach. We had a 12 hour bus ride to Montanita which was ok for me because I slept pretty much the whole way but the others didnt enjoy it too much.
We spent the few days sleeping to midday then going to the beach for the rest of the day before going out. It was a really relaxed town with nothing but surf shops and bars. Christmas day was weird because we didnt do anything Christmassy but it was still cool. My spanish was put to shame one night when I thought I was buying something for 3 dollars but when Hannah gave him a 10 dollar note he didnt give her change and Hannah was like yeah he said dies and wont let me live it down. We were going to hire a surfboard the last day but the swell was too flat for us hardcore big wave riders so we didnt bother. On the bus ride home it was a two tour shorter bus ride than it should have been due to some crazy driving which Kara still wont shut up about cos shes a nervous wreck even with normal ecuadorian driving.

New Years was really good here because they have all these crazy traditions. During the day we had to make an effigy from clothes and newspaper and then at 12 we poured petrol all over it, set it alight and then jumped over it for good luck. You also had to eat 12 grapes on the 12 minnutes before the new year and make wishes and do this thing where you run around with bags so you will travel in the next year. Rositas daughter Priscilla was very insistent on this one tradition with underwear. You have to get changed in to two pairs of underwear 10 minutes before midnight so the girls when shopping for underwear they came back with some decent enough red ones but the yellow ones looked like they were lasses and were way way to tight. They also had loads of fireworks going off which were cool as and there were fire Works going off all around us cos they are legal here.

After new years we went to the Amazon which was cool as. On the 12 hour bus ride there I was busting for a slash (just for Cilicia and Jasmine) so I went to the toilet on the bus. I tried to lock the door but evidently wasnt very successful as we hit a bump and I hit the door it flew open and I was thrown into the aisle which was quite exciting and caused a bito f a laugh. After catching a few different buses we got to a river where had a three hour boat ride down to where we were staying. It was a pretty nice place with wooden huts and no electricity. There were 6 of us Dan, Hannah, Kara, two americans, Alice (another Australian) and a lad from Hong Kong but who studies in Sydney whose named Jeremy but me and Goose immediately changed his name to Jezza. Jezza and Kara were terrible at night because they freaked at the wildlif in our rooms such as cockroaches, spiders and frogs. I also walked in to the wrong hut one night and the incides look exactly the same. I was searching for my torch for ages when I heard movement in one of the beds and I was like, ‘you in bed already Jez?’ and the response was a sheepish ‘üm I think youre in the wrong hut’. I met them the next day they were some nice enough Dutch girls.

On hikes and boat rides we saw Sloths, monkeys, river dolphins, and stacks of other animals. The watching stuff was all well and good but i preferid doing stuff which Goose couldnt understand. The boat got stuck in mud in the river with Caimans (like crocs) in it and I got out to help the guide push the boat without even thinking. The Guide was a legend named Diego he taught us how to make traps which was really cool and he climbed a tree just using this root he cut off a tree tied around his legs. I had a crack at it and jumped up and could hola onto the tree but couldnt move any higher.

We went swimming in the river which was really good fun but the next day we went Piraña fishing right next to where we went swimming the day befote and caught loads which was pretty funny. Goose caught loads of Piranas whereas I didnt catch any I didnt let him no it was only because as a master fisherman I felt smalltime fishing was below me. On the last night the staff at the lodge and Diego lit a fire just using pieces of wood from the Jungla. Me Dan and Alice attempted to Light it after them. Dan and Alice were dead wood and I was clearly carrying the team. Even with my talents after half an hour we had blisters and smoke but that was it.

I really loved it but I think the others were glad to get back to showers and animal free rooms.

Weve also been working now and then which has been alright but there hasnt been too many kids at the orphanage so it hasnt been as good.

Yesterday I bought some more Ray Bans as patty G wanted some. As the pairs I was buying were ultra deluxe authentic Ray Bans the guy was asking for 10 bucks a pair. I told him he was dreaming and got him down to two for 8 dollars. (I had to let you know how good I really am at bargaining after my tres/deis tragedy).

My spanish is slowly improving and I can have small conversations with barman (who turn out to speak English but only once the girls came in) and on nights out but are then laughed at the next day when Goose recalls my shocking Spanish to the local lasses to the others.

I thought I was leaving this Sunday with the others but after just checking my iteniary it turns out Im here until next Thursday so I wont be in LA with Kara anymore but Ill now be in LA at the same time as Pete which should be good.

Adios amigos,

Mav ‘the Caiman hunter’ Smith

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Wanniassa School - In HCMC

The last week has been really busy.

In Hue, we visited some Imperial Tombs and a Pagoda. The 3 tombs were really fascinating, and all of them had really unique features about them. One of the group's favourite's was filled with relics and the walls were decorated with mosaics that looked like flowerpots and vines. Also, we went to the Citadel, which was really beautiful, and it was a lot of fun walking around and reading lots of information. We learnt about which rooms were used for what purpose, and about different rituals and customs of the emperors. The Pagoda was beautiful as well.

Next, we spent 2 days in Hoi An. We all visited different tailors around the city and got some clothes made, like dresses, jackets, suits and shoes. We also went to see the Japanese Friendship Bridge, and it was really pretty.

We all really enjoyed going to the Red Bridge cooking school! We split up into groups of 6 and 8, and we all travelled by boat to the cooking school further down the river. Each group got a seperate outdoor area and chef, and we learnt how to make Fresh Spring Rolls, Hoi An Vietnamese Pancakes, and Traditional Eggplant Soup/Curry.

At the moment, we're all a bit tired from the early flight to Ho Chi Minh city this morning, and we spent today looking around the city and visiting the
War Remnants Museum. It was really graphic but also very interesting, and we all really enjoyed learning about the Vietnam War.

The Wanniassa Team

Monday, 5 January 2009

Dom's UniBreak experiences in Lonavala - the stories continue....

Last week in India by Dom

We are reaching week seven and I feel a little more relaxed as the projects that we set out to achieve have finally been put into place. These include:
painting the school
Setting up Child sponsorship with the Lions Club in Australia to be chanelled to India (thanks for advice safeena)
Completing the greeting card project to raise money for the school
Conducting interviews with Shatish Moon (school Co-ordinator) to play on Australian radio and further fund raise for the school
Establishing networks in Oz to assist with the posible formation of NGO
Doing an overview of the school to assist in fundraising
Completing a funding submission for school etc.

I have found this to be most rewarding, and as previously stated, I have found working with 'Little Buddah Natural School' to be the highlight of the trip; and much more interesting, exciting and wonderful than even seeing ancient monuments such as the Taj Mahal; This may be because of the fact that the school is in the 'present' in a sens and not historical ... altho who is to define such things ...

I Have enjoyed the placement immensely... when leaving the school on friday I realised that I will miss these kids significantly when I finally go, and I will also miss the freindly faces at Lonavala market place and the students I am currently working with... I truly believe I could not have came with a nicer group of people ...

I found visiting Delhi a little sad as many people live on a very small wage, while others sleep on the streets, etc and I find this kind of oppression saddening to see ... esp in relation to the effect it has on families ... people that work often can not return home but just send back their money and see their family rarely while others can not afford to support their children, and partners, This I find very sad ... however a fighting overcoming spirit is shared by many people in India which I hope to intergrate in my life when returning to the West.

My friend Emma spent two nights in hospital and I was quite worried about her, but she seems ok now; she unfortunately missed new years eve at the hotel which was a memorable event, I hope to remain in contact with the school and hopefully safeena as I would like to come back one day, maybe next year.

It is possible to set up free blankets for the school children over here with a contact back in Oz; and I would like to talk to Safeena about this further, and maybe antipodeans, as I have had favourable reception within the school re this possibility.

Overall India has been a great experience, and has shaped my perspective in relation to what is important in my life; I recommend coming here to anyone interested in a change of pace and perspective;

Deakin University in India

An update from our in-country agent....

The group has been split as follows:
- Dominic, Amanda and Singgih: at the Natural Buddha School. It is a residential school for orphans, and street children who are brought in from railway stations, street corners etc. Because the children have been on the streets most of their lives or have not had any schooling the emphasis is more on art, playing, learning through games etc and then adding literacy as they get ready for more formal education. The volunteers have been doing really well at this facility. Dominic takes his guitar with him and the kids love him! Amanda and Singgih are good at pretending to be animals making sounds to help them learn about nature. They do a lot of singing and dancing and work there from 10:30 to 4:00 every day. Dominic has also started to help them make sponsorship profiles for all the kids so that they can get donors to sponsor individual kids. Amanda and Singgih have been making greeting cards that we have been distributing to our list for New Years. We spent about Rs5000 on materials and the orphanage produced 500 cards that were sold for Rs 25,000! Plus they have raised donations from the card distribution and raised almost Rs 40,000 that will go towards making toilets for the children. Dominic is very interested in staying involved with the project even when he gets back and help them with fundraising. He wants to set up an organization in Australia to be able to do this.

- Emma, Stephanie and Micheala are at Kamshet Orphange: They are teaching there. The kids are all ages and the orphanage has about 50 boys from the Kashmir border area. These kids have been orphaned due to Militancy and terrorism in the area. The school is one of the poorest in the area. Emma and the girls really see the need here. The organization does not have funds to hire an English teacher and rely completely on volunteers to teach English to the kids. They have two teachers for all the other subjects for the rest of the school. The volunteers have had some adjustment issues here initially as it is a Muslim school and they are strict regarding making sure everyone covers up. No sleeveless shirts, shorts etc. But they realize how much the children need them and how they are of real value to the project! Stephanie and Michaela have worked really hard and painted three classrooms in this school.

- Rohini and Kelly: Takwe Government School: They are at a typical government school in a small village! It is probably representative of 90% of Indian schools as they are in rural areas. It is a small school with 2-3 teachers. The volunteers were thrown in to teach as soon as they arrived! They found their feet pretty fast. Like all government schools the teachers are not really interested in teaching and most of the time one or two are absent. So the volunteers have quite a lot of responsibility on them. They are fully in charge of their classrooms and the kids. They teach and play a lot of games with the children. They are a huge hit with the village and have probably been invited into every home for tea, food in the area!

During the Christmas week all the volunteers decided to do a joint project. They decided to paint the classrooms in the Kamshet orphanage and the entire school at Natural Buddha school. The whole group collected money for paint and supplies and they washed, cleaned the rooms and painted for that entire week. While they painted it was decided that Angela and Erin would teach in their classrooms so that the teaching could still go on. It was a huge success!

UniBreak in Nepal!



So I'm here living in Kathmandu now experiencing Nepali culture first hand. In fact I've learned to say much more than just Namaste. The organisation who are looking after us over here are pretty awesome and teaching us a lot about being Nepali before we head off to the remote village (Nirmal Pokhari) on the 7th of Jan.

It was pretty amazing flying in and getting a glimpse of the Himalayas above the clouds. They aren't visible from Kathmandu, but apparently they'll be amazing views in Nirmal Pokhari. Once Anna and I arrived in Kathmandu we were greeted by Asim and his wife and a few of the other volunteers from Aus who I'm getting to know pretty well. It really is a good bunch of people, with most of us being complete strangers only a few days ago. We've even recruited 2 poms too.

As for my first impression of Kathmandu, it's a pretty different place to anywhere else in the world. Traffic in Mongolia or Bangkok don't even compare. The streets, if yo ucan call them that, are busy with little tiny suzuki swift style cars, bikes, trucks, buses, pedestrians, stray dogs and huge potholes. So it's been an adventure just getting around, especially squeezin in 4 big boys into the back seat of these miniature cars. But walking around without being hit is even better. The place is pretty damn dusty and polluted, but it gives it its character and has given me an annoying persistent cough every afternoon so far. Oh and did I mention that it is quite chilly, with some nights being absolutely freezing. And yeah, only one hot shower so far, this morning was freezing cold water. But the guest house we are staying in is alright.

We've done a couple of cool things so far, basically our first few days have consisted of language classes, lunch with a new type of Nepali food, a bit more class then sightseeing. We visited the monkey temple yesterday which was just a temple with great views over the city and heaps of monkeys. Then today we visited another large temple on the other side of the city and also a place where the Hindus cremate bodies. However, the sight of a dead body wasn't the best thing to see. It was an experience, I give it that.

Night time has been pretty cool too actually. It was Anna's 21st yesterday so we had dinner at Asim's house which is 5 stories and pretty damn nice. Then we wandered the streets in search of a bar called the Funky Buddha. Eventually we found out and drank a few nepali cocktails with 3 shots in them for about $4 AUD, not bad at all. The dance floor then called and we tore it up as we welcomed random Nepalis into our circle and took up the whole area. Great times. Tonight we're gonna hit it up again actually, should be good.

Lastly a few weird things. They're customs are still a bit bizarre and we're picking them up slowly. Like eating food with your RIGHT hand and not being Jhuto by contaminating other foods. Also, no hot water is gonna be real tricky and its not great when its already freezing in the morning. Squat toilets. Electricity dropping out at scheduled and other random times. The incredibly noisy streets from all the honking. The random hippy foreigners around. Being offered weed 4 times last night in such a short time span. And just learning to forget about your watch and not follow the time. I'm sure I'll be used to it soon, but it's only been 3 days.

Hope everyone is well back home. Keep enjoying the summer whilst I'm freezing over here and eating Dhal Bat.


Ram (my new nepali name)