Monday, 16 February 2009

Orphanage work in Vietnam - Julie Fielke

Life in Hanoi

Have been sitting on the floor lots with the children. They are good little eaters as they have brunch and afternon tea as well. Mainly this consists of rice porridge and soup. Im surpriseed at just how much they do eat.
The weathers staring to heat up even if its winter.  I only have 1 antipodean tee shirt and the rest are long sleeve for winter. Went to the night markets and there were many many people. Its amazing as it goes for 3-4 blocks. You certainly can buy anything and every thing in Vietnam of course quality is questionable at times.
Phuong has been great and taken me under her wing. She acompanied me shopping and that was helpful as she helped with bargaining some thing im not good at. I was also asked to her home for lunch on Sat as nether of us have Valentines to worry about.!! That was most enjoyable.
I spend 1 more week at Morning Star. Its been good as the children are warm and enjoy touch. The teachers in that class are very patient and supportive of each other.
As i expected im just starting to get used to the place and its time to go. Ive caught a bus ridden on motor bikes caught taxis and bargained.Ive tried Vietnamese food and lived on not a lot. Its amazing what one can do.
The accommodation is basic but staff are eager to please. I had my washing done every few days for 1.50. Rather cheap dont you think.

Here comes another update about my adventures in Kenya…

It will happen in Kenya time....

Week 4
The week began with strange sensations of dizziness and nausea and I was forced to visit the doctor at the hospital. Turns out I had tonsillitis which had spread into my left sinus and caused an ear infection. Surprisingly, I didn’t even have a sore throat but the ear infection explained the light-headedness. After a course of antibiotics I now feel much better but am still baffled as to how I am immune to the rampant Kenyan stomach bug (especially with three more volunteers being admitted to hospital this week!)
The project work at Muhaka this week involved constructing sports courts for the school children to play soccer, netball and volleyball. Basically, this entailed drawing lines in the sand with wet chalk which was washed away by a light shower 15 minutes later! Adjusting to a life with neither resources nor professionals at hand can be extremely frustrating. We all keep on saying ‘It will happen in Kenya time’. The underlying reason for the need to build sports courts in the first place is to encourage the school children to be active. Apparently, the number of girls aged 14-18 falling pregnant in the community is skyrocketing because they have nothing to do in the afternoon when school ends and one thing leads to another. Being a Muslim community, it is taboo to be educated about sex and therefore they feel the need to keep the students preoccupied by playing sports.
On Friday we said an emotional farewell to two volunteers, one of which had become a very good friend of mine and I didn’t want to say goodbye to! It was a rollercoaster of a day, with 10 new volunteers from the UK arriving minutes later and being welcomed by us all teary-eyed and miserable. Our spirits lifted quickly as we befriended the ‘newbies’ and found ourselves amoung an awesome group of people!

Week 5
I can honestly say that this week was the most rewarding and stimulating week so far. Along with 6 other volunteers (5 new, 1 old) I spent the week helping out at an orphanage. Our 5 days there were a mixture of hard physical labour (clearing a forest to allow foundations to be laid for a new classroom), playing Kenyan games with the orphans, learning to cook African food and teaching the children the alphabet and subtraction. The orphans live with their grandparents but attend the orphanage for free during the day. Most of their grandparents cannot afford to give them any food until dinner, which even then is not always guaranteed. They range in age from 2 to 12 and are all taught in the same classroom, by the same teacher. They absolutely adored us ‘mzungus’ (white people) and bombarded us all day, every day. It was wonderful to be able to help them expand the orphanage, while falling in love with the children and being exposed to African culture. We cooked ugali, which is a way of preparing maize meal, chapattis and beans, chai tea, coffee, roasted cashew nuts and coconut milk. Everything was made as if we were living off the land by the traditional recipes, and it tasted phenomenal too! Mama Uji, the lady who runs the show, paid for all the ingredients out of her own pocket so that she could teach us how to cook like the African women. I was enthusiastic to go there every morning and saddened to leave each afternoon!
On Friday night I also had to say goodbye indefinitely to 6 more of the original volunteers as 3 are climbing Mt. Kenya and 3 are climbing Kilimanjaro. It’s surreal to think that I will have left Kenya by the time they reach the summit.
Tonight there is a massive party at one of the beach bars in celebration of Valentine’s Day, which will hopefully be an awesome way to spend my last weekend in Kenya.
I know I leave for Johannesburg on Wednesday but I just cannot imagine being anywhere else but Muhaka. I feel as though this is life as it always has been and always will be!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

UniBreak in Peru - back home and missing it

A Cusquenan Fairytale by Josephine Gardiner

Every weekend I work as a fairy at children’s parties in my home town Sydney. Girls dressed as princesses, fairy bread, balloons, music and piles of presents are the usual surroundings I associate with playing with children. My passion for working with children was my motivation for coming to Peru. In volunteering to work in a third world country, I had conjured up images of empty classes, children in threadbare clothes, much crying and very little opportunity for education.  

When I arrived at Punamarca I was astounded by the standard and beauty of the school which the organisation had developed over the past five years. Colourful murals dance across the walls, flowers blossom everywhere, the classrooms have desks, chairs and whiteboards and more importantly there are sounds of laughter from the Peruvian children all day. I was further impressed when greeted and introduced in English by the children. It was a complete contrast to my stereotypical expectations.  

Over the past two months, I have enjoyed participating in their English lessons with my focus on emotions, parts of the body and household objects. However, I soon realised that a bored child’s attention span is a universal dilemma. So I decided to bring my skills as a fairy to the children of Punamarca.  Memorable moments include making balloon animals, face painting and making wands in craft. The joy of the children naturally led to a sense of satisfaction but also sadness at the inequity in the world: that these events were such a rare treat for these children when for children in developed countries it is a mere expectation at any birthday party.  

I was fortunate enough to visit Kiowatta, another developing local community in which the organisation is making early progress on another school. Closer to my preconceived images of Peru, there was a single classroom with children aimlessly walking about against a mountainous backdrop. It was a stark contrast to Punamarca and it was only then that I fully realised the full picture of the efforts of Peru’s Challenge: how the beginning must have been, how far they have come and succeeded.  

During my time at Punamarca I have come to a greater understanding about the life of a child. Although these children did not wear fairy wings, stuff their faces with cake or knock down a piñata, they were still just as excited, enthusiastic and smiley as any of the kids at a fairy party. Even better, they were truly appreciative. Every recess and every lesson seemed like another party but with the same guests attending and the same level of excitement. Importantly, I learned that elaborate decorations, music and cake are not pre-requisites for the happiness of a child. Rather, simple affection with close attention and genuine interest in them and their education are what counts and may act as a seed for a magical transformation in that child’s life.

Jess on her nursing placement in Thailand - UniBreak Group Griffith Uni

This is the life...

Hello again from Surin,

The weekend just gone on Koh Samet island was amazing, just gorgeous.
We went on one of those banana boat things down there and it was hilariously funny, all of us trying to clamber back on it after everytime we fell off!! At one stage i was even riding it backwards facing one of the other girls. All i could think of while i was on it was 'this is the BEST prac i have ever been on and nursing abroad is the coolest!'. The half an hour of laughs was well worth the $10 we payed for it! That afternoon i had my hair braided into 66 plats on the beach which covers my hair styles for the next two weeks which i am sure will also be well worth the money! That night we hit the beach for the night life and saw an amazing fire show. There were about 6 guys throwing fire sticks way up in the air and catching them. Pretty cool to watch. We stayed at that pub for a little while and had a few drinks. They sell their spirits by the bucket there, in a bucket like one that you would play with in the sand, preferably after you had drunk out of it though!! Myself and one of the other girls went home early, at about 12:30, i think i must be getting old, cant hack it anymore!!

We are back in Surin now, bit depressing compared to the beautiful island as its very dry and dusty here. On Monday i went and rode elephants bare back through rice paddies. It was the most amazing thing, they took us to this house, where the elephants were just hanging out in their front yard eating some sugar cane!! We got on them and you literally just sit on a mat that they put on their backs and tie a rope around it to hold onto and off you go. We went down to the river and the other elepants all rolled over so the other girls fell off into the water, mine just decided to do a poo the size of a small child and all i could think was 'dont you dare roll into that now!!". She didnt thank goodness cause i would have been covered in it! We then rode through the villages farm area and it was so green and lush, then we hit the rice paddies and i was just in awe, the most gorgeous shade of green for as far as your eyes could see. It was such a priveledge to be taken there as they dont advertise it, its not a tourist destination (even though the only tourist here are old men looking for thai brides... oh and us!!). It was just amazing to think that i will be one of the few westerners that got to see this beautiful untouched piece of thailand, oh and the rest of you when you look at the pics!!

We are back at work doing nursing stuff now! The other day at the clinic we went out into the local village and people came from everywhere while we checked blood pressures and blood sugar levels and then the patients saw the nurse. It was like a big production line but they all thought it was pretty exciting having a few 'farang' as we are called checking up on their health! We also went and saw the most gorgeous little boy who had spinabifita, he was so happy, blowing us all kisses and laughing with us and letting us take pics of him. Its amazing to see so many people over here with literally nothing but the roof over their heads and they are so happy. It really is the simple things in life that make them happy.

There is a silk village near Surin where they hand make and sell thai silk. It was all very beautiful and i bought heaps of stuff!! I went for a wander into the building where they make it. They probably thought i was a weirdo standing there watching them but i was just fasinated by how they did it and now i know why its so expensive!!

Today we learnt traditional thai medicine and massage off a doctor that practices it. He told us what element we all were from our birthdays. I am water which means i am extreamly caring and generous apparently, so dont ask me for anything unreasonable cause i might not be able to say no!!!

After all of us trying to massage each other we had to go and have yet another massage this afternoon. They are amazing, an hour and a half for $9!! I am seriously thinking about putting one of the massage ladies in my luggage and bringing her home with me, just have to work out a plan of how to get her through customs!!

Anyways i must go and pick up my washing from the washing machine thats strapped to the wall of the general store... weird really!!

Going over to cambodia this weekend so i will email again next week with some more fasinating stories for you all : )

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Looking back on Laos - UniBreak student Emma

Laos - an incredible experience

I’ve just spent an incredible month doing volunteer work in Laos through Antipodeans Abroad. I was able to work with Big Brother Mouse and promote literacy in a country where few children own a book. I wrote for them and travelled to a village school where the kids were taught about the joys of reading and given a book. This all took place in the beautiful old capital Luang Prabang. The people were kind, generous and welcoming and the scenery was breathtaking. It was sad to leave after three weeks, however the Organic Farm in Vang Vien was just as beautiful. On the farm I taught elective English lessons in the evening and had the opportunity to do as little or as much farm work as I choose. I cleaned out and fed the goats! The students aged from 11-20 and were eager to learn and practice their English. The farm itself has an all organic restaurant and is right on the river. A great place to relax. I’ve been home only a few days and am itching to go back- I would highly recommend the experience to anyone interested.

Home safe and sound - Shelley's thoughts looking back on Ghana as a medical student

Ghana, Ghana, Ghana

Soo hard to sum up Ghana and the experience I had there in just a paragraph or two but I'll try and share some of the highlights. On arrival the capital city could easily feel not much different to home (Melbourne for me), except for the random clotheslines strung up everywhere and the rubbish freely tossed anywhere you feel the need. It was when we left Accra for our host families that you started to see some of the real Ghana and even more so later when I headed North. Ghana is noisy in every way and they're not ashamed of doing things we would shy away from such as honking every couple of kms, proposing to you outright, being outspoken about religion and their faith, or even relieving themselves on roadsides or whereever it happened to be. Besides this though Ghanians are welcoming, friendly, helpful and fun loving people and I struggle to think of a time when they tried to rip me off.
My placement was in one of the biggest hospitals in our region and although well run and much more clean and organised than what I expected it also had some vast differences to the hospitals at home. They were more than happy to welcome me into the maternity ward where; 4 women delivered in one room, only divided by half walls or a curtain, next to no pain relief was offered, ladies and their babies spent just one day following delivery in the hospital shared rooms of 20+, girl babies had their ears pierced, husbands remained outside, twins and breech babies are born spontaneously and caesareans are performed by no more than 4 professionals. I had an amazing time and although had some days with nothing more to do but fold cotton wool and gauze the busy days made up for it.
My family was amazing giving up one of only 2 bedrooms for me and treating me like a guest the whole 2 months I was there no matter how much I tried to help. We washed clothes by hand, cooked on a coal pot, ate too much every meal, bathed out of a bucket of cold water, and only had electricity and running water for less than half a day and randomly at that. They took me as their daughter and sister and included me in all their activities including; church new year watch night, youth club, thanksgiving celebrations, visiting friends, excursions, shopping, house work and family decisions.
I was truly immersed in the culture and have found it more challenging than expected arriving back home even after longing for the cleanliness and structure of Australia the last week or two. I'll now have a second family in Ghana and memories of my adventures there forever and some day I may return.

An update from Volunteer Julie in Hanoi

Hanoi far

Have started my time at Morning Star. The children like all children are smiley friendly and mischevious. The staff are freindly and im able to have lunch at the centre for a small cost.
 The food is rather tasty. On the street to find some thing that appeals isnt difficult although its time consuming to work out what is what.. There are many restaurants to choose from. It appears that im the only foreigner in the area so its difficult to converse. I think i have the wrong color hair as i receive lots of looks.
The guest house is a little noisy but basic and clean. Ive been able to have my washing done so thats been helpful. The traffic is overwhelming and to cross the road is a learnt skill.
The centre has many resources that were given by other volunteers but to use them is at the teachers discretion.

The staff have been very supportive and i look forward to shopping with some one with local knowledge. My guide was great for orientation. He was very helpful and caring.
Its not as cold as i'd imagned. The days are warming up so it looks like i may need to buy a tshirt.
 I Spent last weekend cruising Halong Bay. That was nice. A 3- 4 hour bus trip first then on to the Junk. I call it organised chaos really. Thank god the tour operators!! They know what they're doing as there are people of all nationalities every where. The bay is very picturesques along with caves and the facility of shopping on water.. They served seafood daily on board. I was able to share the 2 days with other english speaking adults so that was most welcomed. There was 5 of us all together. A very friendly intimate group.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Katie's update on her nursing placement in Thailand - Griffith Uni

In love with Thailand

Well... i have been up to so much that i dont really know where to begin! I am definitely in love with Thailand, who would have thought, lol. Surin (where we are based) is amazing. It is a town that rarely gets ferangs (westerners) so when they see us its an absolute novelty & hilarious for us. They are all very kind and will do anything to help us. Some of them just want to touch us because of our skin and light hair... i had one lady come and give me a hug in the markets, very funny! we have been working in the clinics a little outside the main town. it has been a bit quite so we ent to one mans farm and drank coconuts by the water, of which he had to climb the tree to get them. so, we sat there drinking coconuts basically in the middle of nowhere and he thought it was the best thing in the world to look after a bunch of farangs. i thought it was pretty amazing as well as how often do you get to do that!

the food is amazing and im am gaining kilos by the day :o( we went to the floating markets in Bangkok & they were so good and i think they girls and i tries almost everything there. i have also, believe it or not, eaten a grasshopper!! not to be done in a hurry again i can assure you but it actually wasn't too bad, lol. we have found these mini donut type things in Surin that have sweet coconut or sweet yellow been in the middle... AMAZING! the food here costs 10-30 bart which is approximately $0.50-1.50 - BARGAIN... we have been living like absolute queens but my diet starts tomorrow or i will become a fatty! Nadja, i have been trying to do yoga or that what i remember. i have been teaching the girls as well and that definitely is a sight for sore eyes haha.

The weekend just gone Rachel and I went to Chaing Mai and i have decided that i want to move there, become a hippy and meditate with the monks hahaha... Honestly though, it is such an amazing town! i definitely noticed a difference with the Thai people though as because they see so many westerns its not a novelty and they a no where near as friendly and they are frustrating when you try to shop. We went to the Doi Suthep temple which was so beautiful and amazing. It is situated on top of the hill above Chaing Mai so they view. if you could see it through the fog, would be amazing. it is a huge temple with lots of flowers and embossed gold as well as jade statues. i got blessed by two monks and poured some oil or something into this pot thing... i'm not quite up to knowledge about the buddhist religion but i have some awesome photos. the temple holds meditations courses which i would like to do and there is a temple you can go to outside Chaing Mai which you can learn to be a monk... that would definitely be an experience.

On our second day we did an elephant trick which was lots of fun and they are such beautiful creatures. We then did a trek through the jungle, sat by a waterfall and visited a burmese tribe (very different to the Thai). After luch we went bamboo raft riding and that was a sight, lol. there were four of us standing up and the guide on the front steered as well as a person at the back. trying to stand up was a mission let alone keep balance all while going down small rapids. although hesitant at first it was actually a ball!

We met lots of lovely people in Chaing Mai and it was interesting to listen to their travels and what they enjoyed and where they have been. Oh and we found accommodation for $6 each/night, cant beat that LOL!

After our 14hr overnight bus ride home i was exhausted but i got 'conned' into going on another elephant ride which i am glad i did as it was so beautiful and we rode the elephants bareback this time. we watched an elephant show first which i got my bottom massaged bu an elephant haha (you have to see the photos). we then walked through the rice patties in virtually untouched Thailand, just amazing! makes you want to pack up and be a farmer, just beautiful. We are off to Ankar What in Cambodia next weekend and i will be in the hospital this week so there will be many more stories to be told... i dont really feel like i am on a university placement at all! and then the week after we do traditional Thai medicine which i am REALLY looking forward to!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Updater from Jess - Griffith UniBreak Nursing Group in Thailand

An emotional first week...

Sawatdeeka from Koh Samet this time!!!

Hello everyone, how are you all?? Thanks to everyone that replied to my email, i loved hearing from you all and getting the goss of whats happening at home.

I am at Koh Samet, its an island in the Gulf of Thailand, just living the life i spose!! Monday is a buddist public holiday over here and we get fridays off so its a good 4 day weekend for us so we have all travelled in different directions across this beautiful country, dont worry Mum, i am in a group of 6!! I think i needed this long weekend, Thailand is really affecting me and i have had a bit of an emotional week encountering their health system.

After the kids at the preschool we spent two days at a community health clinic in the same area, which is quiet a poor area. The nurses here, wow they are amazing! We thought we had to learn things out of our scope of practise!! The nurses in the clinic treat, prescribe, refer, you name it they do it!! The clinic is sort of a big open room with loads of filing cabinets where all the locals files live. So they rock up, find their file, put it in the pile and go outside and wait their turn. Privacy when being interviewed by the nurse is non existent. One girl was talking about very personal female issues with the nurse and there were other women just standing around listening. VERY different to when you go see the quack at home!! We saw quiet an array of medical issues from diagnosing kids with tonsillitus to bronchitis, dressings where a guy had pins in each finger from a motorbike accident (not suprising from the way they drive) to giving injections, pap smears and breast screening.

In the afternoons we load into the bus and go out on home visits in the community to those that cant make it to the clinic. On the first day we went to see an old man who had ciriosis of the liver and had a massive asceite that looked like he was 9 months pregnant with twins. It was so humbling to be invited into someones home. They put down grass mats for us all to sit on and bought us out water and let us take photos of them. He was talking to us through the interpreter and it was very very sad as he was crying and saying that all he wants to do before he dies is to see his son and daughter who have had to move to another province to work. He was crying, i was crying, our guide was crying.... very very emotional. We all gave him some money as he cannot afford health care other than the clinic which cannot provide the care that he needs anymore, they are mearly treating his pain and whatever they can. Very sad.

We caught the over night bus to a place called Rayong which had only about 8 rows of seat and they all folded down so you were almost flat which made it quiet easy to sleep. Then we caught a truck to the pier and caught the ferry over to the island which pretty much looks like an old fishing boat painted nice!! we eventually got accomodation here, you cant book so you just go from resort to resort, check out the rooms till you find something that your happy to pay for.

The water is AMAZING!! Its nice and warm and crystal clear and the beaches have the nicest white sand. alot of hawkers on the beach so we are getting good at pretending that we are asleep!!

I must love you all and leave you as a fire show is about to start on the beach. When i get back to Surin i will attempt to upload some photos so you can see what i am doing rather than just hearing about it!!

Griffith University in Surin

Having a blast! (And doing some work...)

Foods great, love the prices and still loosing weight as walking and
biking to night market and around the place. Had two days of
placements and they have been awesome. Nat went to maternity and
pediatrics. Ped's was great but it was like a conga line of infants
and bubs getting canulas put in. Compared to aus only saw gloves used
for this once when the nurse checked the child with a bottom swab
because she had diarrohea and vomiting. Maternity was great
yesterday. Saw a birth assisted by vaccum suction. Liz being a
midwife was able to explain heaps and the thai nurse new some english
so she was great too. also was able to do dressing and remove
catheters in the post natal gynocology ward under thai nurse
assistance. both of these nurses were awesome.

Leith went to the clinics and also had a great time. Amazed at the
poverty and conditions that they manage to survive in yet at the same
time they are so happy. Thailand really is the land of smiles.
Brings new aspect to western possetions and makes us think about how
much we don't need.

Some funny events. We took a tuk tuk and he got lost. He left us
stranded in the middle of a busy road while he left the motor running
and got out to ask directions. Men in thailand as willing to ask
directions a little more then oz men. Nat went to Big c and forgot to
take enough money and had to give some back at the register and go
home and get more money and then came back and bought the rest of the
items. Enjoying the thai food, visited the night markets heaps and
only had western food once (KFC last night, our tummys needed familar
food). None of us have been sick except Liz some diarrhoea but not
major and paula migraines a couple of day to recover but it is a
hereitary thing. Overall everyone having time of their lives. This
weekend two to chaing mai (buddist monanstry) and some to Ko Somet.
Rest to Elephant overnight stay some one day trip.

The staff are absolutely brilliant, could not have asked for
better people and they have been so great. Not enough words to
describe how great they have been.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Julie in Hanoi - UniBreak adventures

Good Morning Vietnam

My first few days with the children have been good. They like all kids are smiley, happy and seem pleased to see me. We are so lucky in Australia to have facilities  and resources to cater for special needs children .The staff are freindly and the odd vietnamese word works well. Its not as cold as first thought. Ive booked a tour to Halong Bay this weekend so that will be great. The hotel is basic and very clean. My guide has been great and very supportive.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

UniBreak Julie in Hanoi

Quick update from Hanoi

Thought id write a fwe lines before i go to the guest house tommorrow. Im ok. a little daunting trying to find your way around a busy crazy city. The hotel in Hanoi is basic but ok as i get breakfast!
Food is cheap but when you fork out 65,00 dong its shit how much is that!!! I try to work it in to Ausssie dollars but i dont do it very well.
Im of to learn vietnamese so thats my next challenge. half day lesson. Its winter but not too cold. Its overcast in the mornings and i manage to get a sweat up as i walk every where good exercise
 Ive done some sight seeing and went to the old vietnamese uni. I had to pat a turtles head that was carved in stone to make me knowledgeable and for goodluck when i study and god knows i need all the help i can get studying!! Also had a photo with confuscios so thats a bonus!!!
I have a bit of a giggle when every body who's driving toots there horn as you have to walk on the road. I dont go too far at night in case i get lost. Not sure when i'll get a chance to say hi but will at some point. Did some shopping DVD's but see if they work when i get home, but no shoes yet.
Its a four time difference so its 7.45 pm and home its midnight.

UniBreak Nursing Group Griffith University in Thailand!

Sawadeeka from Thailand!

Hello everyone,

Oh my goodness i am having THE best time over here, i think i could easily fall in love with this place. The people and the culture is absolutely amazing and very humbling.

We arrived in Bangkok on Saturday morning about 6am and pretty much as soon as you get off the plane, the smell that is instinctively Thailand hits you, a beautiful concoction of car fumes, beautiful food and lots of polution, but at the same time still bareable! Customs over here is a joke, very much a numbers game, our bags didnt even get as much as a scan, we all just got herded through these gates and anyone who looked sus had to put their bags through the xray machines.
We took a bus to the guesthouse, which was an eye opener as the slummy areas are on the sides of the road and if your going to get culture shock this is where we would have gotten it. We then spent the day in bangkok, we rode up the river in these long skinny boats that fly, to the floating markets which was up a sort of canal network that looked like a very poor area, houses with no windows and barely standing but all the locals sitting on the side of the river were all so happy, waving etc at us all. The floating markets were amazing, not so much floating though and the food... WOW!!! We grazed till the cows came home picking things from most stalls and tasting their delicasies, sipping on coconut milk straight from the coconut etc, oh what a life!!

Saturday night we caught the night train from bangkok to eastern thailand where we are based in a province called Surin. The train was an eye opener to alot of the girls, very basic with two bunks on either side of the train with a curtain that you pull across. I was on the top bunk and all that was holding me in were two small straps that you hung around a bar on the roof. If any of you know how i sleep, i was petrified that i was going to end up on the floor so needless to say i didnt get much sleep on the train!!!

We arrived in Surin at 4:30 am, got taken to our houses then enjoyed the morning adventuring around town. We rode the bikes around town and soon found out that the only road rules are that there are no rules!! Quiet daunting but you soon get over it!! We had breaky at a little road side stall, we dont know what we were eating but alot of locals were eating there so we figured it was safe!! We then spent the day getting shown around by the guides, all the important things like the good night spots etc!!

Monday and today we spent at a nursery out of town, its very much like a preschool but it is for very poor families. Monday we spent stripping all the paint off the building and giving it an undercoat and then today we painted it in bright colours and painted animals all over the walls. We did it all while the kids were inside having lessons and then sleeping so it was a fantastic suprise for them when they woke up and came outside. The look on their faces was just adorable, they were over the moon!! The kids are so well mannered and loved having us there, as we were leaving this afternoon one of the little boys yelled out in thai what we soon found out was "please come back". It was really emotional leaving cause we played ball with them all and taught them how to tickle each other, we couldnt believe that they didnt know what tickling was, it must not be something they do over here.

Last night my room mate Rachel and i went to do our washingso we could re use our dirty painting clothes. In our street there is a tiny little store and outside is a washign machine bolted to the wall, it costs 20 baht which is about $1 per load. When we got there, there were a group of young guys sitting outside the store drinking out of a bottle. So we thought we would talk to them, or at least try!! We ended up getting a beer each (cause they sell alcohol in the general stores and 7 elevens here!!) and sitting down with them. They offered us some of what they were drinking, about the size of a nip of alohol, in the plastic cup they were passing around. We had some and soon found out it was thai whiskey, which has to be the most disgusting form of alcohol i have ever had!! We had a great time trying to communicate with them, a few could speak a little english but one of the guys, who happened to be quite drunk only knew the words "i love you" and repeated it for about an hour, funny at first but got old pretty quickly!!

The next couple of days we are actually doing nursing things believe it or not!! So i will fill you all in on that in a couple of days!!

Love to all and i will see you all in a couple more weeks unless i fall head over heels in love with this place and dont come home!! hehe joking, i will at least come home and get my stuff!!!

Monday, 2 February 2009

UniBreaker Alex Brennan in Argentina

6kg of meat for 6 men!

Although having actually finished now, the placement went fantastically. Upon arrival I had brushed up on a bit of Spanish but was hopeing for a fmaily which spoke at least some English - not at all haha!! This actually turned out to be great as it really forced to embrace the language and made the language barrier at the volunteer work much easier. My homestay family´s apartment is absolutly beautiful and in the perfect location of the city. Although it´s a very daunting experience, after my stay I would definetly reccommend the homestay to anyone travelling to BA. Every night I sampled a new taste of Argentina at the dinner table whilst attempting to make very slow but interesting conversation (my Spanish is still at the survival Spanish stage which makes it´s difficult, but that´s all part of the experience). I also feel like I have built a very close relationship wit the family. I am doing some independant travel for 2 weeks outside of BA now but when I return, they invited me back to stay before my departure!! Although I think that I may have been very lucky with the family I was placed with, I definetly has been the most memorabel part of the experience.

The one week of Spanish lessons were also ideal to get me on my feet in terms of the language and was also a great opportunity to meet other travellers and share tips. The school was very conviently located to Hayley and my homestays. I had a fantastic time there. My teacher and class in general were incredibly funny, with moments when all of us would litterally be speachless with laughter for minutes.

My placement saw me doing some home construction volunteer work through a company called Plan Techos (traslates to "project roof"). They basically set up teams of 5 families and provide them with micro-credit and materials for them to construct very basic homes for themselves. The areas are essentially semi-shanty towns with the families living in a lot of poverty. Things like electricity or a shower and working toilet are real luxuries. Most of the construction takes place in the area of San Miguel, in the "provinces" of BA city. The first few days were very interesting although not much work was done. Instead we met the organisers of the project and went around with them visiting fmailies who they work with and who we were going to be working with. A lot of maté was consumed (the national drink here which seems to transend class and is shared in a circle of friends) and it was great to meet everyone and practice my Castellano (the variant of Spanish which they speak here). The people were incredibly friendly and also very patient with my language skills - it was a absolute pleasure meeting some of them. Unfortunatly I have no photos of this!!! Altogether it was very interesting to see this other side of society after living in a upper-middle class area of Recoleta in the centre of Buenos Aires.

We didn´t actually end up doing any construction of the past 3 weeks as none is currently taking place which was a great shame. I got the impression that the global financial crisis had made it a lot more difficult to obtian credit loans which the construction relies upon. Compounding this was that it´s January here and everyone, literally halff the population of BA goes on holiday for the month haha. Bizarre but true. So instead we worked 3 days a week in their small factory (fabrica) assisting with making bricks to be used in the construction. We also did a few things to improve the efficiency and output of the fabrica. I really enjoyed it, despite the 2 hour commute each morning lol. An American called Nick was also voluntering and we became good friends with the guys at the factory, joking around, practicing our castellano as they practiced their english and also having the odd traditional argentian asado (6 kg of meat for 5 guys - afterwards I didn´t need to eat for a week!!).

Miss Saigon!

Tears and Goodbyes

This email sees me sitting in my little Internet cafe for the last time, writing my final tales from Vietnam! Today is hot, as always, but perhaps that's because Ben and I have been running between home and Ben Thanh markets, dropping off souvenirs at our rooms and checking customs websites for regulations on what we can bring home. You know me, I do love a good shop :)

My final week in Saigon has been amazing, as have all my weeks here. No more sickness to speak of, except for the occasional upset tummy from some dodgy ice cube or what not, but something I have become used to as a traveller now. Julia left for Thailand this morning, so it is just Ben and I for the next few days. I will go into the orphanage tomorrow to say goodbye to my children, though I think I will be very upset. When Julia was saying her goodbyes on Friday, I was nearly tearing up, so I can only imagine what it will be like tomorrow! Then I am spending the afternoon at my "local" beauty parlour, a place Julia and I have haunted so frequently that the staff actually run at us and take our hands when we walk in. It's quite funny, we have been here in Saigon for so long now, that we are well known in Bui Vien and around - every time we walk past our local, Go2, Thong, the barman, runs out to tell us that it's Happy Hour AGAIN - it's always Happy Hour here! And the staff in the local businesses - our corner store, my favourite souvenir shop - know us too. We still keep seeing "Nourists" of course - new tourists - but we consider ourselves to be "Lourists" now - like locals but tourists.

During the week at the orphanage we met a lady called Le My and her husband - he is a doctor and they have two young sons. She was so impressed with our volunteer work that she invited us to her house for dinner on Friday night - her house was amazing, designed by her architect friend, and we had a traditional Vietnamese meal - chicken, thick rice cakes etc. Afterwards she invited us to go to karaoke with her and her family - and we went there on motorbikes through the city! It was so much fun, I wish I'd ridden a motorbike sooner - it was safe, really!

Yesterday we went to the Mekong Delta for the day - an early start saw us floating down the river at 10:30am and then going to have lunch, with bicycle riding through the country and traditional river "rafting" in the afternoon. It was a fantastic day and the perfect end to our touring. Ben is staying on for another two weeks at the orphanage and he will be visiting Cambodia next weekend, which will be fantastic for him.

I have had the most amazing time on this trip. I feel like I have been here for a really long time, and I feel so comfortable living in Saigon and making this place my "home". Of course, I can't wait to come back to my "HOME" and see all of you. It will be hard to leave, but I have had the time of my life...

Much much to you all and see you soon,
Signing off,
Miss Saigon xoxoxo

The latest from UniBreak Julia in Kenya

In Love with her Kenyan village

Hope this finds you all well and enjoying the summer sun. It has been two weeks since I last had internet access so there is plenty to tell you. Firstly, today being my birthday has been extra special. My friends here have spoiled me with cards and gifts and all the staff have been wishing me a ‘Happy new year’ and ‘Happy party day’. Today being Sunday we are all chilling at the beach and then going back to the camp to celebrate tonight. Thank you for all the lovely facebook/email messages and especially to everyone who called (or tried to call – I’m sorry the reception is so dodgy). So, here is a summary of weeks 2 and 3 of my Kenyan adventure…

Week 2 was off to a rough start with intense sun burn after a day at the beach and a wild, hilarious Saturday night at the club Shakatak. I spent one morning handing out medication at the Muhaka Dispensary, a clinic funded by the government. I stood behind a counter counting tablets and filling bottles of drugs for TB, malaria and bronchitis patients. The conditions there are appalling compared to our standards and the management is horrific. A wealthy donor built a baby delivery room there but because the electricity cuts out unexpectedly, they cannot make any use of it and most babies are delivered at home in unsanitary conditions. The rest of the week involved pumping water from a well, watering the tree nursery, more hoeing and hacking, a farewell to two volunteers, celebrations for Obama’s inauguration and three of the girls being admitted to hospital for stomach infections! On Saturday we did a tour of Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya. To be honest, there was nothing to see besides a Hindu temple, a wildlife park, a sculpture of elephant tusks and life-threatening traffic – life in our tiny village is far more interesting.

In week 3, half of us left the camp at Muhaka to go to on safari and spend time at an elephant sanctuary. For two days we did game drives in Tsavo East National Park. The highlight was a lion, old and emaciated, creeping up beside our truck and staring us in the eyes. For me, having been lucky enough to do safari before, I enjoyed seeing the excitement of the others when they saw zebra, giraffe, elephant, ostrich etc in the wild for the first time. After safari, we went to another camp (which this time was literally a camp – tents and all) in the Mwalingange Elephant Sanctuary. Our tents were on a mountain top looking over a forest. The panorama was breathtaking. There was electricity only between 6.30pm and 9pm. There were no mirrors or sinks and only outdoor showers. Due to the scarcity of the water, our motto was ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’. During the day, we helped the locals make elephant dung paper, which is exactly what its name describes and toiled the soil at the local school tree nursery. In the evenings we went on game drives around the sanctuary, learning all about the nature and habitat of the elephants from our super keen guide, Steve. At Mwalingange we all felt very at one with nature, having encounters with millions of millipedes, a green mamba snake, parasite getting under the skin (literally), poisonous scorpions in our tents, spiders galore and hyenas roaming our camp site during the night.

Today we drove back to Muhaka, reunited with the other volunteers, gave a massive bear hug to our Muhaka leader, Eustice and honestly, it felt like coming home after a holiday. I have settled in to Kenyan village life and I love it. I love the way the Kenyan kids from school scream my name when I see them in the street, I love the diversity of the volunteers but that we all feel like brothers and sisters, I love my mosquito net, I love queuing at meal time, I love the fact that I laugh so much with my friends my stomach muscles are getting strong and I love not wearing any make-up at all!