Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Updates and photos from the GapBreakers in Peru

Update and photos by our in-country agent in Peru

I had my weekly meeting with the volunteers again today. Everything is still going smoothly at the school and the general health of everyone seems to be good (no one in the clinic). They are travelling to Lake Titicaca this weekend.

Swedru; an eye-opening experience

Written by Caitlin Stamford - GapBreak Ghana, 2009

I have arrived in Agona Swedru, so just a quick recap on the rest of our orientation in Accra. We have now finished our orientation, which was really good. We had a day of African drumming and dancing (I failed at dancing, the teacher kept singling me out because I was so bad).

Then we talked to our in-country agent about cultural issues and what our host families will expect and what they will be like. There are lots of things to remember, like we can never, ever use our left hand for interacting with other people (shaking hands, passing things, hailing a taxi etc also eating) because this is their 'toilet hand' (they do not have toilet paper).

The next day we were in for our cooking lessons. We split into groups and together made a meal of Ghanain food. The amount of oil (almost always palm oil) is so ridiculous. My group made red-red which is a stew-thing made with tomatoes and fish and beans, and the only liquid in it apart from a tiny bit of water was oil. Eww...

After we ate our delicious meal (and washed off the puddles of oil on our plates) we headed off to Agona Swedru to meet all our families.

On the way there, we passed many tiny villages. This was when I really started to appreciate what poverty really means. It is so unfair and so crippling and impossible to fix without major, major social and technological changes. These people are just people, like everyone, but born into circumstances that are absolutely impossible to get out of. We are so lucky. I really appreciate that now.

We drove around Swedru and the areas just outside of it to see where everyone lived. Swedru is huge, its a major city, with all the things Accra had but noticeably more run-down. The smell isn't nearly as bad, though, which is nice. Everyone calls out 'Obruni! Obruni' all the time, and the children are so excited to see us. We all feel like celebrities here, just because of where we were born.

My family is really lovely. I am actually living on the compound of the school, so Julie and I just have to walk out of our house and up the steps to be in the classroom. Our host mother, Aunty Mary, is elderly and very accommodating. She has had lots of volunteers before. There are two older girls (20s) who are also really nice, and two younger girls (10) and a teenage guy (15). They mostly keep to themselves and leave us to ourselves unless we ask them a question. They are all busy all the time, so it is hard to make conversation. Our room is big, painted blue and the beds are lumpy and hard and smell odd but we are so tired it doesn't really matter. The shower works, except when the water is turned off, and the toilet flushes. The food is served in HUGE proportions, and they get worried and confused when we can't eat it all. Nobody eats together in Ghana, you are just left to eat alone. I haven't seen much of the house, there are many doors all of which are closed. It is a bit of a maze.

There are chickens (and roosters who start making sounds at 5 in the morning when everyone else gets up) and two very, very small cats. All the cats here are very small. It must be the breed.

Today we caught a taxi into Swedru (it takes about 10 mins) and then met up with Seth (our in-country agent here in Swedru) about an hour after he said he would come. He then took us to the orphanage. When we arrived, all of the kids (about 50) came running towards us and jumped all over us. They are so adorable. All of them have huge eyes and when they smile or sleep they are just so loveable. Their plight is horrendous. The orphanage does the best they can, but they do not have enough money for so many children. The oldest kid is 14 and the youngest is 6 weeks! There are many under the age of 4. All of the others look after the younger ones. There was an 8 year old girl who had taken a 1 year old under her wing. He was not related to her. The smaller ones are not toilet trained, so many of us left smelling like urine. They all just want to be touched, all the time. Even the 1 year olds grab your arms when you are carrying them and pull you even closer, like an instinct. There are different buildings opening out onto a main courtyard, where there is some dodgy playing equipment and dirt. Most of the buildings have the names of previous volunteers painted on them, because they donated the money and built them themselves. They have dormitories, a nursery, a small school and a church.

The people who work at the orphanage are all women. We helped them today while the kids were in school, carrying sleeping children and washing the beds with dettol and doing the laundry (of which there were huge piles) by hand. We are going back tomorrow and then all of next week. After that, we will probably go once a week.

A journey through a Ghanian market place

Written by Caitlin Stamford - GapBreak Ghana, 2009

We spent the day today in Accra, on our tour of the city. It is the most amazing place. There are many different districts that I won't go into detail here, but basically there is the rich part (which they actually call Rich) and the place where people live. I have never ever seen anything like the homes of these people.

No wonder disease is so rampant in the city. There are people everywhere, all the time. And their houses (shacks made of metal or whatever) are built together in long, rambling 'streets'. There are clothes laid out on roofs to dry and there are small children and older people asleep in the dirt. And they are all so friendly.

We went to the food markets today, another completely overwhelming experience. The shops are all about a metre wide; maybe 2 metres long and there are hundreds and hundreds of them all cramped together in a maze. They are covered by metal sheets, so its quite dark and the smell of fish (which were all covered in flies) and sweat and smoke and rotting vegetables made us all gag. The path is made of stones, and is treacherous for people carrying huge weights on their heads. I have never seen anything like it. The women (because they are all women selling the food) get paid about 1 cedi a day, which our tour guide thought was too much. 1 cedi can buy you 1 international postage stamp.

We also learnt a lot about the history of Ghana. We went on a guided tour of the memorial where the first president of Ghana (Kwame) announced the independence of Ghana and is now buried. Kwame (I cannot remember his last name) is a hero. Everyone quoted him today saying "the independence of Ghana is meaningless without the unity of all African nations'. He was a member (or founder?) of the African Union and wanted all of Africa to 'become like the United States' ie. one country. The memorial had a room housing a few odd things he owned when he was alive, like a Sheaffer pen and his old coffin (he was buried in Romania where he died of prostate cancer, then moved to his country town in Ghana and then finally moved to Accra) and his walking sticks. They are very proud of their tiny collection of odd bits and pieces. There was a statue of him outside which was missing his head and his left hand which had been vandalised during the coup in the 70's.

We went to the art and craft markets too. It was really, really fun. We were taught how to bargain by our tour guide and spent about an hour haggling with the store-holders. They always try to rip you off, in the expectation that you will bargain with them because they love it too. To give you an idea, if they say '25 cedi' you say '5 cedi' and they scream 'you are crazy!' and it goes from there. Some of the other obrunis ('white people' - all the locals call out obruni! obruni! whenever we walk past) are really tough and don't except anything above their first, really low offer but I had trouble with the thought that these people have absolutely nothing compared to me so I gave in a little. They try really hard to keep you looking at their things. Some people go to shake your hand, and then don't let go and pull you into their little shop. And because the shops are all so close together, and every one of them sold basically the same things, if you were looking at something, like a bracelet, you would be surrounded by other shop-keepers, all holding bracelets for you to look at and trying to get you into their store. It got easier to say no, and to leave to go to a different shop. Being rude is necessary. The store owners are all very close, borrowing change off each other and trying to help each other sell their things. It was nice. Our guide told us they are all there every day except Sunday.

There are goats and chickens EVERYWHERE. Our guide told us that they sleep at their family's house, roam the city during the day and promptly return to their house at dusk to be fed. You are not allowed to feed them, because otherwise they would not go back to their families. Apparently the chickens are just as clever as the goats, and return every night without fail. Unless they got stolen, or run over.

Monday, 14 September 2009

St Margaret's Arrived in South Africa

The St Margaret's expedition group has arrived safely in South Africa.

The team was met at the airport and taken straight through to their community project at St Anne's. The girls will be working hard for the next couple of days before leaving for their trek at the end of the week.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

India Internship Scholarship

Congratulations to Claire and Anna!

We are pleased to announce the lucky two interns who have received a scholarship to spend three months in Pali, Rajasthan from mid November this year. The decision was hard and all applications were strong however the two who came out on top were Claire Dodds-Eden from Sydney and Anna Spear from Armidale. Well done to the both of you!
Follow Claire and Anna on their experiences through their weekly blog - just click on the blog and save it to your bookmarks!

Applications are still open for the Thailand Development Scholarship - we have one place available for this amazing opportunity starting March 2010 in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand.
We also still have places on our Internship program in India, Argentina or Cambodia and on our UniBreak volunteer program so enquire today!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Chaotic class 3 and living Goddess - the Nepali experience

Written by Stephanie Payne - GapBreak 2009, Nepal

Well class 3 personify chaos. The boys are fighting, girls weeping, then begging for chalk. Whispers ascend to screaming once my attention is diverted. No stern word, no slap on the table, changing seats, confiscating bags, demerit points.. Nothing works. Discipline humours them actually and when I’m looking flustered they tug their hair and scream and then look up sweetly and say: “this is Miss?”

And as if all things are actually elastic anything confiscated ends up in their owners hand with a disruptive loud crack followed by batty giggles. Ah! And yet I love them dearly! Torture!

Things have been travelling at their respective times; the mornings follow the mellow after-sleep time of tidying myself up and having lunch. Then I descend into the tumultuous haze of school full of love and repulsion, time throws me around and spins me up the hill for a steady afternoon of village life with friends. In the village the world is changing, corn season is over and mothers, daughters and grandmothers have been pulling up the last of the corn and carting it up the mountain for the goats. Soon the cauliflower, eggplant and broccoli will go in. Now it means we have an uninterrupted view from any part of the village of the valley and the mountains with their heads wrapped in scarves of cloud. There is wind about and the prayer flags have begun jiggling about. The monsoon clouds have less of a threatening presence and skirt about erratically on the winds. The air is crisp and the mountains once hiding in the murky folds of the horizon are appearing in shy shades of lilac. With the strong sun rays and the lifting spirits of the valley, come the tourists. Thamel is becoming denser and denser and trips into the city are made more reluctantly each time. Tomorrow is a holy day; the living goddess in the old Buddhist city of Patan emerges and blesses the city. Kathmandu shuts down, people announce strikes, tourists begin bulging out of guesthouses — it means we’ll assign ourselves a three-day holiday. Little will be achieved, so let it go.

It is tempting to stay on in the village; yesterday we climbed to Bishnu Mati (Vishnu waterfall) for a wash. We past steep banks of stone trickling water, moss, ferns, fresh pine needles underfoot, asters and horse tail grass. The waterfall itself is an infinite rush of white brilliance. Seb and I found our way to the little cave behind the fall and sat there screaming for a while alongside the frantically nodding ferns. Yay! But at the same time, the lure of that beyond the valley has gotten me bad. Meanwhile I’m thinking of seeing Jomson (on the Annapurna), maybe Langtang just north of where I am, eastern Nepal or even Mustang for my 15 day holiday coming up.

Monday, 7 September 2009

An update from Peru

Written and photos provided by Brugh, In-Country Agent, Peru

Everyone seems to be happy both at school, and at home which is great. The GapBreakers have shown some initiative in terms of the budget of their fundraising money and have shown interest in exercising a bit more influence as to how it gets spent - again its great to see them really getting involved in what they are doing in all aspects.

Next weekend the volunteers are all going to the Amazon and the week after we are going to begin the house visits, which they have again shown interest in beginning. This will really give them a reality check in terms of how the kids they teach actually live at home and should be an eye opening experience for them.

The photos attached are from my visit to the school this morning.