Friday, 27 April 2012

Teaching begins and a visit to the San Telmo Markets

Kelly riding in the Palermo Parks, Argentina

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Anna Craven and Co

I looked at the date today and was surprised when I realized that 3 and a half weeks had already flown by! However, looking back on all that we've done, the people we've met and the things we have seen since arrival, I can see how we've lost track of time so easily.

Ready to throw ourselves into the city, we packed our first weekend with plenty of sightseeing, visiting Recoleta cemetary, La Boca and San Telmo markets. Recoleta cemetary is nothing less than beautiful. With over 4000 vaults packed into an area the size of 3 city blocks, it was easy to get lost in the maze of carvings, sculptures and tombs of the city's elite, including that of Eva Peron.

That Saturday, we navigated the (highly complex but ultimately convenient) bus system to the barrio of La Boca, which is where we spent a couple of hours wandering around 'The Caminito', which was packed with tourists all cramming to view the brightly painted shops and houses, the tango dancers and cafes that sprawl onto the footpath. The next day we visited San Telmo Markets that come alive on Sundays with hundreds of artisan stalls lining the main street of Defensa and the lively but jam-packed antique market which crams into the main plaza Dorrego.

We were all so overwhelmed with the array of stalls and shops that we forgot to adore the beauty of San Telmo itself. It looks like a suburb you might find within a remote village in europe, with cobblestone streets and intricate, ornate buildings- such a difference from the sights of La Boca, and different again from our suburb of Recoleta.

We also managed to visit our first Parilla! In pairs, we shared a 'bife de chorizo' (ordered jugoso/juicy, as the argentines are notorious for their overlooked beef). This dish not only came with a huge slab of beautifully cooked meat, but rice, mashed sweet potato, onion, egg, capsicum and bread! I thought my stomach wouldn't be able to eat after that, but my weakness for argentine medialunas filled with dulce de leche, along with the ever-popular empanadas, and the ice cream from the heladeria across the road, once again proved me wrong.

It's safe to say we won't be underfed here, despite our measly attempts in the roadhouse kitchen! Some of us went into the Microcentro, to 'Plaza de Mayo' to watch the weekly vigil held by 'Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo' on Thursdays. These women (some of them in their 80s and 90s) are human rights activists who have fought since the dirty war (36 years ago) for their wish to re-unite with their 'lost children' who were abducted, tortured and killed by argentine government agents. It was a sobering experience to watch their march of chants and songs around the plaza, all wearing the famous blue and white headscarves. This was followed by a trip to cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in BA, where we enjoyed churros, coffees and submarinos!

We began our volunteering with LIFE, in La Ciudad Oculta (also known as the hidden city) which is one of the larger villas in Buenos Aires (these are more commonly known as slums, shanty towns or Favellas in the rest of the world). The children we've been working with are mostly between the ages of 3-14, and our aim is to provide them with further educational assistance, positive social interaction and help them to create lasting memories. As there are a few centers run by LIFE within the villa, we've got to know different groups of kids within different centers.

The conditions within the villas are a complete eye-opener. Most locals look at you in shock and awe if you tell them, you're working in Ciudad Oculta, but this intricate maze of brick, wood and mud that makes up the semi-permanent development, surrounding a the haunting and surreal sight of the abandoned hospital is beyond anything I was expecting. Depending on which center we choose to go to on each day, there are between 15 and 40 kids, and each time we have different activities planned.

These include mathematics, drawing, English, Spanish, basic manners and human interaction, games, skipping, soccer.... The list goes on... It's easy to see why we're so exhausted every time we return and crash into bed. It's a great way for us to practice our Spanish and already we've made some lovely little friends in Oculta. One of the nicest parts of our days there, is when the kids hold our hands to take us to the transport van that waits outside the villa, and a few clamber in with us for a joy ride down the block.

In the following days, Em and myself revisited San Telmo, whilst Jess, Nat and Sophie revisited La Boca. We've seen the beautiful Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore on Santa Fe (an old converted theatre with a cafe on the stage looking over a sea of golden light and libros), we've visited our favorite bar in Palermo multiple times, become regulars at a favorite cafe 'Casa de Gretha', had an R2A pizza and empenadas night on the residence terrace, eaten far to much frozen yoghurt and ice cream (so much so, that a couple of us are sponsoring each other to resist temptation),continued with our Spanish lessons 3 times a week and welcomed our final antipodeans member Kelly!

Last week we attended a La Boca home game at the famous La Bombonera Stadium! So along with a bus load of other eager tourists and backpackers (not hard to pick out the Aussie accents)' we stopped off at a football-themed bar for beer and pizza, before heading to the game! I can say on behalf of everyone that we've never attended a sporting match quite like this- you would've thought it was a grand final what with the fireworks and confetti that sprayed the sky before kick-off, however the fans were quick to let us know that this was infact a less-important game. Sitting in the socios (members) section was nothing less than wild. They sung and chanted and whistled the entire game and when the only 2 goals were scored, a few of us lost our footing... And voices.

On the weekend we visited the expansive and beautiful Palermo parks. Kelly and I hired bikes and rode around the pathways and ponds for a couple of hours amongst the hoards of rollerbladers and bikers, before heading to the Palermo markets in the Soho area, where the trees are adorned with fairy lights that overlook a small square of cafes, bars, restaurants and Bohemian market stalls. After a couple of cocktails, we then came home to find the girls very excited about the BA home delivery McDonalds and sushi - (an opportunity not to be missed).

Just today, we've booked our ferry tickets to Uruguay, as this weekend Argentina is celebrating yet another long weekend. We're all very excited to see Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo whilst there, and can't wait to see how the culture differs from our experiences in Buenos Aires.

Much love from Antips BA,
Anna (with Emily, Nat, Jess, Sophie and now Kelly!)

Monday, 23 April 2012

Living the high life: GapBreak volunteers arrive in Cusco, Peru

PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee

Dear amigos, hola from Cusco! Summing up our first week is going to be a serious challenge. Deep breath…

The voyage here was an experience in itself. Whenever anyone mentions ´Santiago´in conversation, we cant help but shiver at the memory of 10 hours spent trying to sleep on the airport floor.. but then again, nothings better for group bonding than seeing each other in feotal position with beanies covering our eyes and a small puddle of drool in clear view of passing travellers (Jack..). But 2 flights later, we touched down in Cusco as the sun was rising over the mountains. Any sneaky photos out of the plane window will not do that view justice.

We all felt a bit heroic surviving the journey, and the epic landscape was not doing anything to diminish our egos. This city literally looks like someone has just cut out a slab of the mountains and poured civilization into the gap – in any direction you look there are rooftops dripping down the mountain sides, and women in traditional dress with huge, colourful bundles that put our backpack struggles to shame. Poor Jacinta was the first to make the trip to the clinic, and spent the first 24 hours under Dr. victors care (airport food), but the rest of us spent the day resting, happily drugged up on coca tea, exploring our beautiful sharehouse and talking to the cooks (Evanjelica and Ramiro), who, despite the language barrier, we would declare our love for by the end of the week.

From then on, we settled into a routine of waking up at 7.30 for an incredible breakfast, and heading into the city centre for a few hours before our 4 hours of Spanish lessons in the afternoon. Given that we are living in ´Peru Time´ now, the halfway break (usually spent being slaughtered by our Spanish teachers in foosball) stretched out, and 4 hours was always closer to 3. Even so, a huge and incredibly dinner was always welcome after struggling through words like ´reloj´ which seem physically impossible to pronounce.

With Arlich and Selvy as our guides, and mime as our main mode of communication, we are slowly getting to know Cusco. We have been weaving our way through the cobbled streets and grassy valleys on foot, en autobus, on horseback. The latter came about as we were approached (looking seriously inconspicuous in our fanny packs and zip off trousers – thanks sam..) quite shadily by a man who plonked us on a horse each with no helmets and sent us off through the muddy paths of sacsayhuaman. Apart from the beautiful temple del sol and Arlich´s incan tales, the highlight of that experience would have to be seeing Charlie ´chazmoney´ Martin take off on the other side of the barbed wire fence; a lone rider pursued by the Peruvian guides.

Fortunately for our poor backsides, our main mode of transport is not horseback, but bus.. although the latter gives us the bigger adrenaline rush. Peruvians like to experiment with how many people can fit into one mini-van, and how many cars can fit on a road with no lanes. After 6 days, we are proud to say that none of us even flinch when we find a sweaty armpit in our face, or when the bus takes off with the door still open, or when a passing car misses us by an inch.

There have been too many funny incidents this week to put into words, but I don’t think any of us will easily forget the moment that Lucy Holm found the ipod connector cord, or any of Chazmoney´s golden quotes at dinner time, including but not limited to “im a bottom man” (he claims to have been talking about bunkbeds). On Friday night, we discovered the joys of early salsa at Cusco´s diskotekas, and found that altitude and alcohol are an interesting mix. Needless to say, it was an emotional goodbye to that beautiful house and our darling Evanjelica, who left us with many hugs, an invitation to her house, and two golden words of wisdom: 1, wear lots of clothes, and 2, practice our Spanish. After the second, she pointed at Lucy Holm and said “maybe not lucy”, bringing back memories of her slip-up on the bus on Friday night “un perro espanol” (one dog Spanish), which caused a few sniggers among the locals.

Finally, we find ourselves settled into the families who have adopted us for the next 3 months. l I have never received such a warm welcome or such a massive lunch as I did yesterday. When the soup was brought out, Sarah and I slurped it up hungrily, only to find that it was the entrée to a massive chicken pasta dish. Mi estomago punished me last night for finishing the whole 2 plates. There are things that will take some getting used to, like the dogs lurking on every corner which we try to convince ourselves are harmless, and the lukewarm shower which gives off small electric shocks every now and again, but those are small prices to pay for the incredible hospitality we have received. Tomorrow we begin our placement at the school – with the help of a dictionary and lots of mime, I managed to gather from my host mum that this initiation will involve lots of confetti… apart from that, none of us have any idea what to expect, but that’s exactly what has made this week so exciting.

Lauren Collee

Teaching projects begin in Quito

COUNTRY: Ecuador
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Jasmine Byrne

On Monday we finally started our placement! Charice, Samantha and I were transformed from relaxed tourists to struggling English teachers.

At 7am we braved the public transport and caught two bus to get to Fernando Pons school and we were greeted with smiles and kisses from the other teachers. Fernando Pons has about 300 students with grades 1 to 7.

During the first hour or so we were introduced to the student body and we established a timetable. We would be working from 8 to 12 with 5 classes a day each 40 minutes long. For the first class Samantha and Charice were paired together and I was on my own. I was given grade 4 I think, I was taken into the class, given a whiteboard marker and told to start teaching!

It was slightly horrifying as I had not yet been told what to teach and I had no idea what level the classes English was. So I did what anyone else would do in this situation and taught them the alphabet! After getting through each letter I managed to get the class to brainstorm a English word starting with each letter of the alphabet, and when they got stuck I would offer a word and draw them a picture of it so they would i'm not the best artist so now there are about 20 children in Quito that think a VAN is a bus....whoops!

Finally time was up and I got to go to the next class, as I left the children clapped for me and said goodbye. My next class was with Samantha, we had year 6. We again did the alphabet and taught them a few numbers with their English names, eleven to nineteen was a bit of a struggle for them but I think we managed to keep the class happy.

Next was recess and we spent the time drowning in a sea of children climbing on us looking for affection. Charice bought out her camera and the children were quite amazing at the pictures of themselves. The children also showered us in gifts, I came away with a yellow rose and two packets of biscuits which were delicious. Nowwww don't worry we didn't selfishly take the young, poor childrens lunch, beforehand Marcelo hand told us to never say no to a gift or food offerings as it was rude.
After recess Samantha and I were again paired together with grade 7, we taught them a few fruits and tested them by saying a fruit and getting them to draw it or we would draw the fruit and they would have to spell the name, they seemed to love this, and so did we, it was fun! Then we had to swap classes again.

This time we were all together to teach the second grade 7 class, we tried to do the same thing getting them to draw pictures, but they were so restless and loud, I think they were getting bored with us. This time our class seemed to be going for ages because the usually teacher never came to relieve us after the 40 minutes. FINALLY she came, and we were able to go home.

The only thing was, we didn’t know how to get home! After leaving the school we walked around for a while looking for the bus, but no luck! So we went back to the school and asked for directions, one of the teachers ended up walking us to the bus stop and making sure we got on the right bus, thankgod for her :)

After arriving home we ate our delicious lunch made by Marcelo and then fell asleep for the rest of the day. On Tuesday Charice and I both woke up sick. I had Tonsillitis which I get once a months so it was so no surprise, but Charice's illness is undiagnosed. She has seen the doctor and has been given antibiotics but 5 days on she is still sick, but feeling slightly better! So whilst Charice and I spent Tuesday to Thursday sleeping and feeling sorry for ourselves Samantha continued her teaching and and the boys continued their placement.

Whilst sitting at home sick, I decided I didn't like teaching very much so Marcelo has agreed to let me swap. The new plan for me is to go to the boys to there placement for the next week and then start a placement with my best friend Holly and Lauren when they get here! I'm very excited about it.

Samantha on the other hand LOVES teaching, everyday she came home tired, but smiling with a different adventurous story each time. On Tuesday she turned up at the school at 7.45 and discovered that the teachers had decided to have a meeting until some time after 9. In the meantime she sat there watching the kids run feral through the school. When classes finally started she taught the children some fruits, vegetables, animals and family. She also had bus trouble Tuesday morning, waiting a whole half an hour for a bus to finally appear going to the right place!

On Wednesday everything went according the plan and she said "it was wonderful". On Thursday (the last day for the week) the first three classes were normal and then there was recess, after this the bell went and she went to find where her next class was, only to be ushered into a 'cave' and fed some polenta "thing" and what she THOUGHT was aromatic water and was then told there would be no more classes as the children had dance classes for the rest of the day. That night she came home and said "yay, I finally get to sleep in tomorrow".

Now, I haven't yet had a chance to talk about my amazing host father Marcelo Maldonado. Marcelo refers to us girls as his little ones or his spoilt ones and the boys as professors. He describes Jeff as a Tsunami and Blake as a Womaniser! Haha.

Marcelo loves us, we are the daughters he has never had. AND he is an amazing cook! Here in Ecuador we have breakfast as normal but lunch and dinner and sort of swapped...we have a huge meal and dessert for lunch and then sandwiches for dinner. Lunch usually consists of rice and meat or salad and it is DELICIOUS, we always look forward to coming home at 1.30 for lunch and walking out of the lift to smell amazing food waiting for us. Marcelo loves talk about previous volunteers and always ends the conversation with "we could write a book you know". We love him.

Until next time,
- Jasmine Byrne

Monday, 16 April 2012

Spanish lessons and a beach escape: GapBreak Ecuador

COUNTRY: Ecuador
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Jasmine Byrne

Week One:
It took three planes and about 26 hours but we finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador on he 19th of March. Well actually Samantha, Blake and I did...Charice unfortunately had a bit of trouble, missing two of her flights, she arrived safely though on the 21st. Jeff had arrived a few hours before us due to flying with a different company and was waiting with Marcelo and William, our new host fathers, at the airport.

During our first week we organised our new $50 Ecuadorian phones, adventured around our neighbourhood and the shopping centres 'Quicentro' and 'Megamaxi', and lastly visited the school which Charice, Samantha and I are to teach. The school is called Fernando Pons and has a female principal. The children we so happy to see us giving us lots of hugs and kisses, a student teacher relationship here is nothing like in Australia! On Thursday night we went out, the nightclub district here is called 'La Marisical' and is full of salsa clubs of discotecas.

Friday was left for sleeping and recovering from the night before!

On Saturday we woke early and took a tour bus around Quito to get a feel for the city. The bus took us to 12 stops and we could choose to hop off at any of these to explore a bit and then catch he next bus coming through. The first place we choose to get off at was La Basilica, a huge, very old cathedral. It was beautiful, we climbed to the top of one of the towers for an amazing view of the city! Although Blake didn't join us for the climb as he was too scared. The cathedral also had the most beautiful stain glass window, it was huge! Outside the cathedral were traditional dancers which we watched for a while, their costumes were very colourful! Our next stop on he our was El Panecillo, a small hill but major landmark of Quito, its name means 'little bread loaf'. On the top of this hill is a huge statue of La Virgin de Quito. Here we looked at craft stalls and unappetising food stalls displaying huge pigs heads!

The next stop as Plaza Grande in Old Town, Quito. Here we ate a traditional Ecuadorian lunch of Humitas and sandwiches and tasty little corn cakes which we don't know the name of. After he tour we ventured back to La Marisical for another night on the town. The girls and I asked asked a few police officers for directions to a Nightclub and then we all got chatting and they ended up taking us for tour around the area on their motorbikes! It was vey fun, but very cold! This night was one of Sam's first clubbing experiences and she loved it! Sunday was again for recovery. On sunday it is family day for our host families so we are to venture out and buy our own food and give our families some peace and quite. We had pizza bagels for lunch and spaghetti for dinner.

Week Two:
This week we had our first Spanish lessons. We studied at 'Academia Latinoamericana de Español' with our professora named Alex, she was wonderful. Each was 4 hours and even with a half an hour break in the middle we were still exhausted after each day! We learnt some helpful and common phases and questions to help us survive here in Ecuador.

This school also offers many extracurricular activities so after our 4 days of intensive Spanish we rewarded ourselves with a Salsa dance class which was $3. Here we learnt that Blake is actually an okay dancer and the rest of us have 2 left feet! We did not commence our volunteer work this week due to the intensive Spanish lessons. During our afternoons after school we hung out in the giant Parque La Carolina and played basketball and soccer with the locals! We made many friends and got their phone numbers and an invite to a party.

On Friday we were free from school and the next week our placement sights were closed for the week due to Easter so we decided to venture to the relaxing beach town of Montañita. We took a bus to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador and then found a bus to Montañita! It took us 13 hours of travel but it was well worth it! We stepped off the bus and were hit but humidity and heat which we immediately fell in love with, after all, Quito was a freezing city, so it was a nice change! After walking around the town for a little bit we finally decided that Hostel Pakalora would be our home for he next week. It was a 10 second walk from the beach, had clean rooms with a bathroom, free WI-FI and...its was only $12 a night! Check in time wasn't for a few hour so we dumped our bag and headed to Tiki Limbo for a delicious breakfast for fruit juice, coffee, tea, pancakes, eggs, french toast, fruit salad and homemade bread and jam!!

This was all for $4 each! After this we finally hit the beach. The water was warm and we were all relieved to work on our tans! At night in Montañita the street turn into festival like parties so you can imagine the fun we had fun dancing like hell until very early in the morning!

Week 3 and 4 to come, with information on our teaching placement!

Jasmine Byrne

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Antipodeans Abroad and Barker College over the past 8 years

Barker College, Indian Himalaya, 2004
Barker College, Tanzania, 2011

PROGRAM: Expeditions & Tours
SCHOOL: Barker College
Written By: Sally Collins, Assistant Dean of the Senior School, Barker College

Antipodeans Abroad have been working with Barker College to provide amazing experiences since 2004 through the Expedition program. Typically the trips have involved a cultural immersion, an opportunity to improve their language skills and a physical adventure that pushes the students to achieve something that they have never achieved before; climbing Mt Meru, Tanzania (4566m), trekking the highest pass in Peru, completing a 8 day trek through the Indian Himalayas or trekking the great Wall of China in the snow for 8 days.

Antipodeans Abroad has always organised an amazing community service component in each Expedition helping others who are less fortunate than us; including resourcing a Tibetan school and repainting part of the monastery, putting a first toilet, shower and hot water service into a rural school in south west China, making an outdoor eating area for a poor boarding school in Peru and setting up a perma-culture area for an orphanage in Tanzania.

The students fundraise for the year leading up to the Expedition, with a common amount of $AUS7000 raised to fund their stay and the equipment they will need on their community project. Monday is also raised for extra schooling, resources, equipment and upkeep of the project in each country.

Barker College, India, 2005

On these Expeditions, the students develop an understanding and awareness for others, emotional intelligence and a travel independence that cannot be given to them in Australia. They book restaurants, accommodation and transport on the Expeditions and plan and arrange the itinerary. Antipodeans support the students with regular itinerary, fundraising and team building meetings.

A quote from a student that joined one of our expeditions –

“It was a very different experience in another country without the guidance of my parents. I definitely learnt to be an independent traveller and how to control what I was doing. I have returned a changed person. I have come to appreciate the things I take for granted in this country. I came back with a renewed love of my friends as I hadn't seen them in ages but most of all I came back with an open mind. Seeing the orphans living such a simple life made me think about mine, all the over exaggeration and emphasis on wealth and happiness that comes with it. It was absent there, it was just simple.”

Barker College, Tanzania, 2011

Expedition Leader's Selection Weekend

PROGRAM: Expeditions & Tours
Written By: Kia Langmead, Expedition Manager

Antipodeans Abroad recently held their annual Expedition Leader's selection weekend, where potential leaders gather to determine their suitability as a future leader on an Antipodeans Abroad expedition. People flew in from all around the country to take part in the weekend, and the weekend attracted a variety of quality Australian facilitators and educators with a wealth of experience and travel.

An Antipodeans Expedition is a program that allows young people to explore new horizons through a 3-4 week expedition in a developing country. The program brings together groups of students aged 14-18 years to discover new cultures, face new challenges and learn new skills, under the supervision of professional leaders. The Antipodeans Abroad Leader has overall responsibility for the welfare of the expedition and members of the team, as well as foreseeing and preventing any risks involved in the activities carried out by the group.

They are also responsible for facilitating the learning outcomes associated with the expedition. The role of an Antipodeans Leader is a dynamic and multi-faceted role, and therefore we were looking for people over 25 years of age, with experience working with young people, extensive personal travel and the ability to make good judgment calls under pressure.

Saturday comprised of a series of workshops, presentations, scenarios and role plays, designed to get the potential leaders thinking on their feet and responding to events that may occur on an Antipodeans Expedition.

Sessions were dynamic and varied, ranging from discussion about how to respond to an emergency situation in a remote area, to observing personalities and leadership styles through initiatives in the outdoors.

Those that were invited to stay on to the Sunday, joined returning Antipodeans leaders and took part in a day of leadership training. Areas that were covered include: Professionalism, roles and responsibilities, communication and emergency procedures and a question and answer session with a ‘Panel of Experts’, which consisted of a panel of returning leaders who offered advice on leading various aspects of an expedition.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Many thanks to all those who made a big effort to be there, and who came from around the country to be a part of the weekend. We look forward to working with you in the future!

The Expedition team,
Danielle, Anne, Kia, Joe and Michelle

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Living life the Porteños way: GapBreak volutneers arrive in Argentina

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Youth & Care Work
Written By: Anna Craven

Welcome to Buenos Aires!

Having all arrived here on Saturday and Sunday after long flights with many stop overs, we're all slowly settling in to life in this incredible city, living in the roadhouse and getting to know the local ways. As Sophie, Jess, Emily and Natalie arrived earlier than myself, they managed to wander around our beautiful neighborhood Recoleta, visiting the famous cemetery and the 'Floralis Generica' - the large metal sculpture located in Plaza de las Naciones Unidas (both of these are just a short walk from home).

I arrived the next day and we immediately began our Spanish lessons down at the R2A Spanish school, which are beneficial because the porteños (residents of BA) have a very distinct accent, making speaking what Spanish we know very difficult.

Life in the roadhouse is a complete change from life back in Aus. Sharing a room with 3 other people, let alone a house with 25 others, is daunting, fun and challenging. Furthermore, cooking for ourselves every night in the busy kitchen has proven to be the best way to exercise culinary imagination. There are always people to talk to, of different ages, backgrounds and reasons for living in BA, so advice for living in such a unique city is never hard to come by- whether it be where to find the best fresh veggies, delicious empanadas, fun local bars and the best flavor of ice cream in the parlor across the street.

This long weekend, we plan to hire bikes on Friday so that we can see more of the city than you would by walking. On Saturday, we'd love to visit the tourist-hub of La Boca, then on Sunday explore the San Telmo markets. Next week, we begin our volunteering with LIFE organization, which we're all looking forward to, and will be continuing with our Spanish lessons.

There's so much information, culture, language and sights to digest that we're all exhausted! However, we can't wait to breathe, live and digest all the Buenos Aires has to offer.

- Anna (with Emily, Natalie, Sophie and Jess)