Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A typical teaching day in Ecuador

Written by Benita Bruce - GapBreak Ecuador 2009

Though I would tell you about my placement at the school as I generally seem to focus mostly on the weekends.

Typical day goes a little something like this. Up at 6.30am and on the bus by 7.10. We (being Lucy and I, who are working together) have to catch 2 different buses to get to the school (Escuela de William Tell - William Tell School) which is pretty much on the edge of the city. Catching the bus is never a boring event. The second bus we catch is not at a bus stop, so we have to hail it from the side of the road. More often than not it doesnt completely stop, just slows down a bit so we have to jump on pretty quickly. The buses get really packed as well (I´ve seen a bus licensed to hold 100 people - 43 sitting and 57 standing!) so we don´t get a seat for at least 20 mins, and sometimes we end up standing on the steps of the bus, holding on for dear life, because it´s near impossible to get any further up!

We get to the school by 8.30, which is in a very poor area surrounded by dull, concrete houses. We have six half-hour classes each day - years 3, 2, 4, 5, recess, then 1 and kindy. Year 1 and kindy are very difficult as they can barely read or write in Spanish let alone English, but we had a bit of a victory with memory the other day (year 1 were actually reasonably quiet for the first time in 2 weeks!) so we might just be playing versions of that for the next 4 weeks. This placement is going so quickly! I can´t believe we have been here for 7 weeks already!

Year 4 and 5 are good as they can understand a fair bit. Have been teaching a few of the classes about clothing in English the last few days and yesterday we took in a pile of clothes and got them to find certain pieces and dress up in them (which was unbelievably hilarious when the boys had to put on the skirt!) That was great fun, we did this with 3 classes and they loved it and the year 4 teacher actually told us we had done really well! Which pretty much made my day. Our last class finishes at 12, and after a long bus ride I get home about 1.30pm, making for a pretty long day. We usually crash on the couch until after lunch because we are so tired!

Certain things at the school make me laugh. Two or three days a week, the year 1 teacher comes out into the playground with a bucket of water and a tube of toothpaste. The kids trail behind her, all holding a cup and a toothbrush. They proceed to fill their cups up from the bucket, get a squirt of toothpaste and then head to a corner of the yard where they all brush their teeth. Provides opportunity for water fights and the endless amusement of poking the new English teachers in the back and then running away. The kids are too cute to be angry at though!
That´s about all the news for now. Hopefully it keeps going ok!

Kindy classes, Volcanic craters and jumping the Equator

Written by Benita Bruce - GapBreak Ecuador 2009

Work has been going really well. Have actually changed schools, to one which takes more than an hour to get to in the morning (but I am getting excellent at hailing Ecuadorian buses!). I´m really enjoying the new school too! I am with another girl Lucy, and we have six half-hour classes each day. We are basically free to do whatever we want, which was not the case in the other school as they had a teacher with them the whole time. We are really enjoying planning the lessons for each class. I love teaching the kids and it feels great when you know they have actually learned something!

It is quite challenging though - we have a kindy and year one class who are extremely hard to teach as they can´t write or read in Spanish, let along English! So I am currently Googling games that may be useful because Lucy and I are quickly running out of ideas!
It´s not all work though. The weekend at Quilotoa was absolutely amazing. We stayed at a town called Chugchilan, which was basically one street and pretty dead for the whole weekend, but being so isolated has it's advantages as well. Pretty good food too. We got to Chugchilan Friday afternoon and just had a bit of a stroll round the hills, then to bed early for a 3.30 start the next morning to catch the bus to Laguna Quilotoa - a volcanic crater lake! But things are always late in Ecuador, and so we sat on the cold ground at 4 in the morning until about 4.30 waiting for the bus, which eventually came - complete with lone sheep tied to the roof. This place is a bit crazy sometimes.

By the time we got to the small town of Quilotoa about 6am we were all ready for a hot chocolate, so headed straight for a lil B&B which made a killing from our need for something warm! We then realised the Laguna was only about 20m away, so we braved the cold and headed up to the lip of the crater to watch the sunrise! Was incredible, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. After the hundreds of photos were taken and the sun finally began taking the chill out of the air, we started the trek down the side of the crater to the lake at the bottom. Many photos opportunities on the way down so it took us a while but it was definitely worth it!

It was great to get down so early too as we were the only people there, and by the time we came back up there were lots of tourists heading down! Following our sunrise experience, we hired a kayak to go paddling on the lake. It was a pretty amazing feeling, paddling on a volcanic crater! When we were finished lazing around on the sand we rode some horses back up to the top. Very good idea, it was rather steep although I felt sorry for my horse because it looked like it was going to kneel over and die on me a few times! Bit hair-raising at times, no saddle only a rug and me holding on for dear life when the horse looked like it wanted to go down instead of up! Very relaxing time for the rest of the weekend. Was nice to be out of the city for a while as well!
The next weekend we just stayed in Quito to do some of the touristy things round here. Friday we headed up the Teleferico. The most touristy thing I have seen in Ecaudor, it is cable cars built up the side of a mountain near Quito to get views of the city. I didn´t really think it was all it was hyped up to be. The views were nice but i´m not sure it was worth the time and money! Saturday we headed into Old Town and took a tour of a monastery, which was fairly interesting, then went to a church called La Compañia, which is said to be the most beautiful in South America and has more than 1 tonne of gold plating inside! Was very beautiful, but unfortunately we couldn´t take photos of the inside so have to make do with postcards! Sunday we went to the Equator (also very touristy but great fun!) There is a big monstrosity of a monument where they thought the equator was, but with current GPS technology they show that the equator is actually about 200 m away from the monument. They had a museum at the site of the actual equator, showing some indigenous traditions which was really interesting! Spent a while taking some photos and jumping from one hempishere to the other before heading back to Quito.
Got back from another weekend in Baños last night. Pete´s parents, came to visit Pete at the placement (and bought TIMTAMS!) and so we went back to Baños with them. Spent the time at the zoo, hot baths again and we also hired some four-wheel motorbikes to go and see the active volcano nearby! But it was too cloudy by the time we got up there, which was pretty disappointing. Apparently it´s been really active this week too!
Now back to work for the week. I hope all is going well in your various homes. Have attached some photos for you. Hope it works!

2. Claire and I on top of the Laguna
3. Laguna in full light and all it´s glory

Lots of love,
Benita xx

The beauty of Ghana

Written by Gabriella Barnett- GapBreak Ghana 2009

I can't believe we're in week 4 of our 3 month placement! That's almost a third of our placement done! It all suddenly seems so short, but we've experienced so SO much. It was strange seeing so many Africans around for the first couple weeks (I think white ppl only make up 5% of the pop? -very very little), but now it's a total norm -it's very exciting to see other 'obruni' ('white' people).

Last Friday, we had our last day at Nyamkye (na.meh.chi) Orphanage, although we were only able to see the kids for a short while as Madam Charity took us all to one of the orphan worker's villages who died last week. We thought we were going to pop over to the funeral for an hour or so, so we were all caught in total confusion when they made us girls move buckets of dirt from one place to another about 5m away, and Max and Harry dig up dirt. After about half an hour, we understood that we were evening the ground out, and the boys were helping build a marquee, which was all for preparing for the funeral that was to happen on Saturday. Afterwards, we sat with the elders of the village who thanked us and were really grateful and nice.

We arrived in Cape Coast Friday, late afternoon. It was a 2 hr tro-tro ride (the furthest trip so far). We stayed in the Oasis Beach Resort, set on the beach where the waves wash very close) and spent the night around a couple tables just chatting. The next day, I went out to buy something small very quickly, but took a little detour along the ocean front shops just to have a quick look to see if there was anything nice to buy. I played drums with a couple guys, then guitar with one other guy in the stall next door, and then bought a bag, 2 bracelets, a necklace, and a med-sized drum from Tas who taught me how to play later that day.

The Cape Coast Castle was an incredible experience. We felt so close to the African slave history -something you could never experience through reading books or looking at pictures. The tour guide made it very interesting and was very informative.

We got to have banana pancakes for breakfast, which was so exciting..

On Saturday night, we went to Charlotte's friend's b'day party that was at least 20 mins. away. We met some other volunteers but left early as it was bucketing down with rain. Poor Phoebe got locked in our tiny, wet bathroom for about 1/2hr! Cate managed to grab the security guard who hacked his way to the lock that he then took out. Brighid unfortunately got mugged while with Max and Sophie. It was a wake-up call for all of us and we'll definitely be more careful from now on. We cut the trip a bit short, then, and left on Sunday after midday. We gathered at the pool in Agona Swedru (a 5 min walk from Brigh., Clauds, and my home) before finally splitting off to go home. Our trip may have been cut short, but I felt like we'd spent 2 days in one that Saturday. We'll go back anyways because we want to do the canopy walk at Kakum National Park.

We're all so used to things in Ghana now, that when we're away on our weekend trips, we feel homesick! The thought of going back home scares me already! Brighid, Claudia, and I have our little routines at home that we love so much. For our meals that we eat at home around our little dinner table (we always sit in the same spots and don't intend on changing!), we spend at least an hour eating, talking, and digesting. Dinner is ready at 4pm and that's when we like to eat it.

As of last week, we've started waking up at 6am to sweep the back landing before doing anything else -we were a bit naughty this morning and slept in because we were so exhausted!

Almost everyone is friendly. You will always hear people shouting 'obruni!!!' when you walk around. Everyone wants to be your friend and have your phone number or e-mail. Your very likely to learn so much and have deep conversations with Ghanaian guys in cafes or shops or in a taxi. You can ask them anything about Ghana and you can learn so much about their culture that way (I learnt a bit about their tribes in Cape Coast).

There are noticeably more men than women around the main parts of town because of their very different lifestyles. We needed time to adjust to this at first -Emma, Biggie, and Amma stay at home almost all day,mostly cooking and cleaning.

You know you have left home when...

Written by Stephanie Rae - GapBreak Nepal 2009

1) you cant get to town to send an email for 2 weeks because the buses are on strike (cause there was a road accident and people wanted to kill the bus driver)
2) you think goats roaming around lke children is completely normal
3) you become pro at eating with one hand and swating flies with the other.
4) you get tea withdrawals sympotoms if you go a day without

5) you wear a dress type thing to swim.
6)whenever you think you are getting the hang of something i.e. washing your hair and/or clothes, someone else takes over cause you are doing it wrong.
7) you know that small blue eggs arent bplastic but rather real pigeon eggs and it is advisable not to squash them .
8) you respond to 3 names - isaph (how they \say steph), sita and didi (sister)
9) A brand new soccer ball losses colour, comes apart at the seem and gets a hole in it after less than a week.
10) you know that "small australian dog" means koala.

We've been in the village almost 3 weeks now and its pretty good, im loving it (besides the fact that i just had a bus ride from hell - bumpy road +hot day + stomach bug = unhappy chappies lol) but yeah its ok. ...

The mum of the family, Tim and Noirin were going to stay with is sick so they are staying with our *extended family* i.e. with our host dad's brother which means we are basically living toghether 'cause all 5 brothers live in connecting houses with this courtyard thing in the middle. I found out the other night that there are 52 members in the family! im only just starting to figure out who the 52 are. slowly. lol.
the kids are heaps cute and always follow you around -it was so cute on our second day when we walked to this big tree and and i sat down and the kids came and gave me rocks for about an hour saying toulo dunga, sano dunga, which is how i learnt big - toulo and small-sano in nepali.

The houses are really basic downstairs is cooking and eating eating with a little seat table thing, then upstairs are 3 bedrooms. Amanda and I have one with a big bed, which takes up the whole room, small room but we have an awesome window view of the hills + animals + toilet lol. when i wake up its sunrise and i open my eyes to see the sun coming over the hills its awesome.

Food. its okay i guess. when i got here I thought it was awesome, then it starting making me feel sick, then i started liking it again and now its like meh. its food I'll eat it.

School . taught in 2 schools already. boarding school (private) -- at the start for a week, was intense like 5 periods teaching a day, killed us . but then lower secondary school - the local school. pretty sweet taught 2 classes each - i did yr7 and 5. yr7 was weird cause i knew all kids from outside school but they were good and yr 5 heaps cute. they are heaps more well behaved than boarding school kids. more relaxed teaching now. tad scared going to the higher secondary tomorrow (school we are actually supposed to teach at) they seem heaps more organised and serious etc etc but im sure it'll be fine.
The computer teacher has left the lower secondary school which has given us the opportunity to teach the teachers how to use the computers so we can have a lasting positivie impact on the school.

Friday, 8 May 2009

All the way from Africa: Part 2

Written by Phoebe Copeland - GapBreak 2009 Ghana

The Sunday before last I attended my first Ghanaian church service.
Imagine... you are wearing two singlets, and a long skirt past your knees in 30 plus heat surrounded by 100 other ghanians (men on one side and women on the other) and your basically standing up- clapping, singing and dancing in a foreign language for 3 and a half hours..... Fun ? Well ill let you decide - It was certainly an experience.
Half way through the service my gorgeous host sister Rita wrote me a note saying " Prasie and give thanks to the lord and sit when you are tired" - in which georgie and i sat immediatly after reading. But on a serious note church was amazing and very entertaining.

Then on Monday (27/4) it was our first day at the Nyamekye (Namichi) orphange - which is a 20 min tro-tro ride from Swedru --- or 1 hour if a) there is a blown tyre, B) a misscommunication with the driver and you end up at the wrong orphange an hour away (that was akward) or c) engine complications in which the tro-tro cant get out of first gear and bunnyhops to the nearest 'mechanic' --- All of which we have experienced.

NOTE: Basically a tro-tro is a van type vehicle that looks like a piece of tin on wheels which rattles through every pothold and speedbump. Although the speedbumps are made of dirt so that the cars have worn down a tyre track in the bump that completely defeats the purpse of the speed detterent in the first place.

But dont get me wrong we get to our destination in one piece (almost) , generally ghana time ( an hour late) and have managed to pay a minimal fee - around 70 pesowas = 70 cents for 30 mins.

NOTE: Still not used to the cars driving on the opposite of the road - crossing the street is quite a challenge and gets me eveytime.

So.. the orphange was on a rather large piece of land where there is a wooden building for cooking next to a concrete dinning hall. Then there is the main dormitory separated into boys and girls of bunk beds and plastic matresses and the office of "Madam" and then a few classrooms built by past volenteers which they have painted and labelled their name and country.

For the first day we just played and cuddled the children but for the past two weeks we have been doing a range of daily jobs from washing clothes and dishes, cleaning dormitory's, sweeping, mopping and folding clothes, while the boys have been building a wall.
Despite this work it is often very disheartening to return an hour later or a day later to find much of your work is more or less the same as it were before the job.

Many of the children are sadly malnourished - they have thin legs, arms and necks but very swollen hard belly's. If you ever got a snack our of your bag or some water you would quickly find yourself mauled by the children.
Most to all the kids are not toilet trained. The older ones go and wee in the garden or on the ground (even though there are toilets) while the youngers one can not control themselves and go anywhere anytime. I have been weed on several times.
Also many of the clothes and beds smell like urine---- its situations such as these that come to make you feel truly blessed for the kind of lifelsyle you have lead.

At the end of each day at the orphange you feel completely and utterly drained - both emotionally and physically.
The Reward? when a child smiles, stops crying or falls asleep in your arms- as above all else, they just want love and affection.

So from monday to friday we worked at the orphanged and after had an hour of drumming lessons. Then on wednesday we had our first obruni meeting where all the while people in Swedru gather. There were around 10 other obrunis and ourselves. It is a good place to organise our weekend trips.

Then last friday we left the orphange and went straight to Winneba for our first weekend away. Winneba is a 30 min tro tro ride south of swedru on the coast. On the first weekend in May Winneba hosts the annual deer hunting festical - Aboakyir - in which there are four teams, red, yellow, white and blue who leave Winneba on Saturday morning around 5am to the bush and return only once one of the teams has caught an antelope. Then on sunday they sacrifce the antelope in the streets.
During this time the streets of winneba are alive with music, food and games. The festival is 300 years old and the biggest in all of Ghana. When it first began the men chased another human and sacrificed him, then it moved to a lion and now it is an antelope....
Despite going to Winneba for this prestigious festival we manage to miss both peaks as they infact caught the deer so fast they sarcficed it on saturday... much to our dissapointment. But we still had a fantastic time in Winneba- we went to a very nice hotel called Lagoon lodge- with a beautiful view of the mountains- where almost all the obrunis in winneba where staying.
The lodge had a fantastic restuarent which was also good. We strolled along the beach and enjoyed the festival by night where a few of us scored free t-shirts. However the beach at winneba was very dangerous and even us strong Aussie swimmers could not brave it. Althougth this coming weekend we plan to travel to Cape Coast the largest city in the central Region of Ghana and can hopefully swim there.

Next Tuesday we begin our teaching placement at our schoool. Luckily for Georgie and I we live at the school- i can jump from our back door step to the creviced of the school which is quite convenient.

My family are fantastic here and georgie and i love going home to them at the end of the day to play cards with our sisters and teach them songs.

I am healthy and happy- hope all is the same wherever this finds you.

All the way from Africa: Part 1

Written by Phoebe Copeland - GapBreak Ghana 2009

HELLOOOOOOO Oburni (white people) ...... Having the most amazing time over here in Ghana. The people are so beautiful. Have spent the first few nights in Accra- the city is sooooo busy. Cars everywhere which beep constantly. The streets are very crowed. There are heaps of stalls and stuff on the side of the roads and the people are always trying to sell their items. All the women are carrying water and buckets of food, fruit, and other such goods on there heads everywhere you go as well as there babies straped by cloth to there backs.

So we have been to the beach, which is covered in umbrellas and deck chairs. There were not many people swiming as lots of the locals can not swim. The beach and ocean was beautiful covered in plam trees and the like, but unfortunatley there was alot of rubbish on and in the beach.

We have been to the markets. Which are crazily busy. If not for our Antips tour guide Charles we would have been lost in the maze of food and fabric.

On Wednesday we had drumming and dancing lessons which were very fun. And for the next week we have one drumming lesson each day. Then we went to a Reggae Party on the beach with all the Rastiferians. Haha. It was very cool.

Yesterday we had a Ghanian Cooking lesson and then ate the food for lunch. I made Jollof Rice with Chicken. Some of the food its quite hot and VERY VERY oily. They use soo much oil in everything. There is also heaps of fresh fruit which is really good. We have had pineapple every day at the hostel. And oranges, watermelon etc. It must however be fruit you can peal. And we have eating heaps of cooked banana which is called Plantain. It is cooked in oil and tastes like sweet potato. mmmmmm. There is also a bit of western food here we have gone into many restaurants and discovered they only have burgers and chips etc. The water is not drinkable so we have been buying bags and bottled water.

Last night i met my family and moved to my new room. Our village is VERY different from the city. It is quite remote. I meet Aunty Mary who is quite old. And Sister Rita who is 22 yrs old. Then my 13 yr old brother Paquiasy. Then our father is in Cape coast at the moment so we haven't met him yet. However there are another 6 people who live in our house and usually many of the neighbours are over. There are children in the house everywhere and i have no idea who they belong to or who they are hahah. Georgie and I have decorated our room in Australian flags and maps of Ghana. We have a shower but the water is not working so last night i had my first cold bucket shower. It was beautiful as Ghana is SOOOOOOOO hot. It is around 28-33 degrees and 80-85% humidity. Your body is in a constant state of sweat, if that makes sense. We have a western toilet but we must fetch water to fill the the toilet so that it will flush and you can't put the toilet paper in the toilet..
We have two dogs and millions of chickens and many goats. Also have some kittens which i am avoiding. We eat alone in the family and they have prepared lovely meals for us.

I start working at the orphanage on Monday for two weeks and then i begin teaching at the school.
There is sooooo much more to say but the internet cafe just had a black out ( the 5th power failure i have experienced since Monday) so i will leave it here. Hope is finds everyone safe and happy.

Hello from Ghana

Written by Brighid Sammon - GapBreak Ghana 2009

I have been in Ghana for just over two weeks now and have experienced many things different to home including going to an antelope sacrifice festival {however much to our own stupidity we missed the actual sacrifice} and hundreds of other bizarre things. For our first week we stayed in the capital, Accra and just got to know Ghana.

The night of my birthday was spent at another volunteers birthday party where the local people put on a dance for her which was incredible, the way the people dance over here would put any Australian dancers to shame.

The heat here is probably the hardest thing that everyone has trouble dealing with as the humidity is at about 80% and you spend half the day drinking the water that you are constantly sweating out. The city of Accra was very much like Bali or Thailand or any developing country I imagine, it was good being there for the week. However, when we moved into our host families in Swedru, was when we began to see the real difference in our lifestyle.

Before we begin teaching we volunteer in the orphanage for two weeks which has been rewarding but very confronting and at times extremely hard to deal with; it is making us all question the way we live in Australia and the opportunities we have had and will continue to have. The children are absolutely beautiful and most of the time just want to be held, especially the babies, as they are missing that affection most of us get from our mum or dad. Our days usually consist of playing with the kids in the morning, then either washing the clothes, dishes or cleaning the beds. The most challenging thing above everything in the orphanage has been the hygiene. Most of us have been peed on by now, as the kids even the 3 or 4 year olds are not toilet trained meaning they will be sitting on your lap and just wee on you. Luckily no one has experienced a poopy accident yet but they do just go right in front of you. It is slightly concerning as we all are wondering at what age they will be toilet trained {although it is not uncommon to see people peeing on the side of the road} But however challenging, working in the orphanage has given me a very detailed insight into the poverty and the lack of opportunities the children have here. The family I am living with is more middle-class so the orphanage has defiantly been an eye-opener and so far something that I will probably never experience again.

The food here has been a slight disappointment however as I am writing this I just had the best dinner I have had so far which was this tomato fish thing with rice which was amazing. But everything is really fishy and apparently the fish is the equivalent to what
Australians use as bait so not really appetising but we are slowly getting used to it. However I must confess on out first weekend travels we spent most of it pigging out on western food and also sadly many of our conversations around the dinner table revolve around the food we eat at home.

I need to go and check the news as there is no way of knowing what is going on in world which at the start was slightly liberating and refreshing however I am now missing the newspaper and of course the football news. I have been trying to teach the boys that live out the back of my house to play AFL with a soccer ball very hard but i think i have found some very good recruits for Geelong!!