Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Cape Coast weekend for UniBreakers in Ghana

So I left off when we were going away for the weekend to Cape Coast. Got there, no problems, as there is a direct trotro line.

We arrived ready for a delicious (western) dinner- we had steak and it was glorious. Next morning, after we all called home to let everyone know we got there safely we headed to Kaum National park. This park was beautiful and with seven canopy bridges to walk across and take pictures on, we spent all morning there.

These bridges are amazing, so high and a little rickety which some of the girls found a little worrying!! But lots of fun and got some great pictures of some monkeys, which apparently is really rare, so we were pretty excited about that!

After kakum and quickly doing some postcards, we then drove to Hans Cottage. This guest house is so popular due to its crocodile population, and the opportunity to sit on an alive croc and take pictures. Unfortunately, when we were there, the crocs were in the pond and not on the banks so we didn’t get to sit on one -which some of the girls were quite relieved about I think!!

We came back to town for a big lunch and then had a pretty relaxing afternoon of reading in the hammock, swimming in the beach- the waves here are simply enormous, and two of the girls got their hair braided- which took 6 hours each!! We got to see another amazing African dancing and drumming show, which goes for hours!! During this, we had a big power cut and the whole cape coast was out, luckily Oasis (our lodge) had a back-up generator so we didn’t miss much of the dancing show, but it was quite eerie, to look out over a completely blacked out town!

The next day, we enjoyed another western breakfast- in which one of the girls had cereal with long-life milk which she was so excited about, as Ghana doesn’t have any fresh milk and mostly only evaporated milk, so long-life was quite a treat!

We spent this morning at the best internet cafe ever- so quick and cool (fans!) to rely to some emails and generally catch up with life back home! The afternoon, we spent time at cape coast castle. This was such an interesting expedition. Cape coast castle, is one of the old slave forts, and it was very shocking to see the conditions that these men women lived in before they were shipped out to America (cape coast was used to hold slave that were in the transatlantic triangle- Europe would provide Africa with goods, Africa would provide America with slaves, and America would provide Europe with the materials and tools to make the goods).

There is also a really interesting museum there, that explains all the history and has old shackles that were used to restrain the slaves. Along the castle wall looking out over the sea, there is about 20 huge cannons preserved there which was amazing to see.

Feeling quite sombre after all this, we headed back to Swedru. On Sunday morning, we went with our host family to church, and this was so much fun!!! Ghana church services are so LOUD, I felt like I was in a nightclub, and when I left my ears where ringing!!! But this experience was amazing, they clap and sing and everyone gets into the centre aisle and boogies! We are allowed to take pictures and videos, so we got some great footage of some Twi and English preaching. We spent the rest of the day with our family and doing another hand-washing session- the novelty of this has worn out very quickly now and I appreciate washing machines so much!!

On Monday,we didn't go to the clinic, as there was a funeral going on next door, (an old lady who was 70 + - which is very old in Ghana, and died of 'old age') which we got to sit in on and take pictures of. It was very interesting to see all the differences between Australian and Ghanaian funerals and it was nice that they let us join in. This week of work was good, we saw a couple more births and even saw a premature baby (26 weeks) be born, and it was amazing to observe the different care that they do for this child, as opposed to the care that they would receive in Australia.

We have become quite accustomed to being kicked out of our taxi each morning on the way to work, as the drivers have difficulty understanding where we need to go, and when we leave the village, they realise its 10 minutes away and refuse to go any further! We have started taking trotros now!

On our last day (we are going to the orphanage in our last week), we presented our orphange with some donations (thermometers- they only had one for 40 mothers and 40 babies, some gloves- 1 pair usually is worn for 5 HIV patients and just some extra books, pens, rulers and whiteout- which the clinic was desperately lacking in!!) so we left on a very good note!!

Then we went away for our last weekend.....

Missing you all (and the firstworld!) and cant wait to see you all soon!!!

Weekends in Mauritius - UniBreak week 2 & 3

Blog: Week two.

This week we learned what it means to have all plans and back up plans spoiled by the weather. After a good week of getting more involved in the MMCS dolphin and turtle watching programme, and gaining a much better understanding of how things work, we planned a very eventful weekend. A boat party around the giant coral rock formation off shore, tamarin falls, and a Port Louis adventure or the markets in Quartre Borne lined up for the weekend.

None of these things came into fruition as a cyclone off coast of Madagascar brought with it plenty of rain to ruin our weekend. We spent a very antsy Friday night and Saturday indoors, frustrated that we couldn't be exploring the island in our time off. It rained so much that later in the week we drove passed some roads on our way back from Le Morne that had collapsed with the down poor.

Lucky for us, Daksh - our in house host - made hasty plans for a visit to the North for a rendezvous with the other Antipodeans group staying in Blue Bay. Late Saturday afternoon we all piled into a van and traveled up to the North, where we ate at a very nice restaurant that had generous servings for very small amounts of money.

The other group had planned to meet us there, and did so, but not after a long trip of mechanical issues and so we had already finished by the time they arrived. Afterwards we proceeded to have a night out in our first Mauritius night life experience. It was pretty fun, the dance floor was (thankfully) so air conditioned it felt like stepping into a freezer, which was very welcome as outside was pooring with rain and more humid than we would have liked. The boys - having indulged in a little too many gin an tonics at the restaurant - joined our driver for a nap in the van, the other group headed off similar time, and Amy, Ella, Daksh and his friends and sister danced well into the morning. Once we had had our fill, we piled back into the van and made it back home in time for the sunset.

We may not have got to visit the tourist attractions we would have liked, but good fun was had by all.

Week three.

What a perfect week! After the dreary weather of the weekend, we were thrilled that the sun was out once more for our boat expeditions. We soaked up the sun like only people who have had their entire weekend upset by clouds and who are keen to get a tan only can. So you can imagine our stress when - come Friday - we were alerted that Cyclone Ethel hanging out pretty close, and there was a small possibility than it might come out way, or just bring some generally unforgivable weather. However I think we are still thanking our lucky stars that cyclone Ethel did not come to visit.

It was a long weekend this week for Chinese new year. On Saturday we went to Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, to meet with Ralco, who was to show us around and about. Port Louis was loud and busy. The bus trip there could only be likened to a ride upon the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, however things didn't magically jump out of the way. There were so many close shaves with cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

I was very happy to be off that bus. Once we'd arrived, got lost, and then had some lovely locals walk us five blocks to where we were meant to meet Ralco - which was one of two McDonalds restaurants in Mauritius and the only one that served beef - we were all very thirsty hungry and hot, so as we were early we decided to compare Maccas in Mauritius to our own. I got a chicken big mac, which is as it sounds, a big mac but with chicken instead of beef. It was better than I expected, though I was very disappointed that it did not come with Mac sauce, but I suppose you can never really please an ex-McDonalds employee. At the waterfront we saw a great Chinese dancing dragon display, which had so many firecrackers going off that no one could hear anyone else talk! It was wonderful to see.

Then after a quick look around the expensive waterfront 'craft markets' we headed off to the more authentic Mauritian markets, where we were constantly hailed, requested to look at some special item and generally over charged. After the first purchases though we soon found our feet in the bartering word, and made a few purchases. Two of us purchased two supposed water proof watches, however we are both so worried about getting a watch tan that we have hardly worn them anyway. From there we did a quick walk through the meat market, in which none of us were over keen of buying any meat, as most of it was hooves or other unpleasant things.
We were quickly losing time so we said farewell to Ralco and then headed to Pamplemousse gardens, which was absolutely beautiful, all the trees were huge and old and interesting, and the lilies were metres wide, however they had no shortage of mosquitoes and we regretted not planning ahead for that once we were all scratching madly. They also had tortoises, which were huge and strange! Afterwards we visited Daksh's families restaurant, which we stumbled upon by chance and were very shocked to see him there.

On Sunday we went to blue bay to help the other Antipodeans group in a coral awareness day on the beach, where there was live music, face painting and free glassbottom boat rides out to the marine park where we all went snorkeling. The coral was much bigger than where we usually snorkel, but it was sad that it was fairly bleached. Afterwards we chilled out on the beach, and spent some time talking to tourists and locals about dolphins, and of course we all got our faces painted by the other group.

Our weekend concluded with a Catamaran trip on Monday which has been the highlight of my trip so far. We nearly lost all of the money we spent on it due to my poor organisation skills and booking it on the wrong day, however after some hasty begging emails and phone calls, and a small fee, the day went as planned where we spent all day soaking up the sun, being waited, snorkeling and generally just enjoying ourselves. On board was open bar and buffet barbecue lunch. Then it took us to Ile Aux Cerfs where we went parasailing, and those who were keen went wakeboarding and shopped in even more markets. Ile Aux Cerfs had been described as a secluded island paradise, which was only half true, there was definitely no shortage of people or shops on the island, but it still was very beautiful. We all came home smiling, burned and with incredible sunglasses tans.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Group B from Griffith Uni arrive in Laos

On Friday we had a very busy day indeed! We all arrived with a tone of luggage in tow, excited, teary eyed & ready to leave for our stopover in Bangkok. The flight over was quite good – most reports I’ve asked about seem to be about a very smooth ride & the food being surprisingly good! When we arrived in Bangkok after a whole day of flying though, the team was overall, a little fatigued.

Many of us went to bed, but some of us somehow managed to summon up the energy to attempt to catch a took took into town for some dinner and drinks. After an interesting conversation between two taxi drivers on how to actually get to the city (!), we decided it might just be better if we were dropped off at the local hang out. Firstly, we visited a local Thai nightclub. The club staff made a big fuss over us, making sure that we had fans to keep us cool & mosquito repellant to keep the mozzies away etc. The local band that was even playing sung a song or two in English for us. Next, we walked around for a little bit & then settled down at a quiet little Thai restaurant where the special of the day was a steak, fries, salad AND a beer for 229baht (approximately, $7.50AUD) and a waiter that thought he was an X-man?!? He also had gout… A fun and interesting experience was had by all involved and most of us (MOST that is…hehehe) managed to get back on the bus, bleary eyed & yawning in time to leave for our flight to Luang Prabang.

After our short stopover in Thailand, Group A successfully met Group B in Luang Prabang on Saturday. When we arrived, we all needed to convert dollars to kip, so our lovely guides helped to show us the best places to go to do that and also gave us an idea of where to eat. I would just like to mention here that ‘Joma’, a local western style café where most of us ate lunch on this day, is fantastic even by western standards! Cheap, good quality food that is familiar to the western palate. I had a cheese and chive scone for lunch on this day, costing about 8000kip (One Australian dollar!). It filled me up & it was yummo!

After lunch, they took us around town to a local mountain called ‘Phu Si’. We climbed the mountain together as a group and saw heaps of cool and interesting things along the way such as the 24m guilded stupa called chomsi, the local Buddhist temple, Buddhist monastery and a really cool little cave in the side of the mountain that apparently a couple of the locals used to call home. From the top of the mountain, we took in the view of ‘Buddha’s footprint’ and slowly made our way back down the mountain. After that the local guides showed us some REALLY old buildings and temples (400+ years old) that were undergoing refurbishment. I think the name of the area is called ‘Wat Xieng’.

We were all pretty knackered after our long walk, so we tidied ourselves up and decided where to head out for the night. We decided on a spot of shopping at the local night market before going for dinner. We all just can’t get over how cheap everything is here for us compared to Australia. 1AUD buys about 8000kip and to give you an idea of how much bang you get for your buck – it’s a lot! T-shirts are about 20000kip (approx 2.50) and a can of coke is about 5000kip (approx 70 cents AUD, depending on where you buy it). Bargains galore for any keen eyed shopper out there ;-)

For dinner, different groups went to different places, but a group of students from both Group A & Group B decided to meet up at Utopia, the local tourist restaurant / nightclub. After searching for ages to try to find the place, we walked into a peaceful, chilled out club and settled down onto the floor mats where the idea was to just relax and unwind. ‘Shish’, a kind of local flavored tobacco seemed to be quite popular here. I had a delicious cashew and chicken stir fry and some of the others I was with had vegetarian sandwiches. All really tasty, safe things to eat in the restaurants in town, I can assure you.

Will blog again soon!! Louise Mills

Touch down in Ghana: UniBreak Education Placement

Hello from Ghana! Happy 2012 to you all! Here's to the beginning of an awesome year.

I don't know even where to start! This country is an incredible place. From the moment I arrived I've needed to pinch myself regularly; it doesn't feel real. Its amazing how comfortable you can feel in a foreign country, and how easy it is to forget your colour. I saw a white man yesterday while walking along the road and it took me by complete surprise. I am loving every minute in this hot, humid, chaotic country. I don't know if I want to leave...

I was picked up from the airport by a young man called Bright who guided me through the chaos that is Accra airport, and safely into a cab. I lost track of the number of near misses made by our taxi driver - the 'roads' (if that's what you can call them) are ridiculously busy, with cars going every direction and with nothing signposted, not even speed limits. I gasped in horror at one near miss and Bright just laughed. I just told myself to breathe, to just go with it, and I am loving every moment since. I actually cannot wipe the smile from my face!

I woke on my first morning to a cacophony of sounds - roosters, horns, singing, traffic, Jesus blaring on the radio... I met Tina, my 'big, black African mother,' (as she calls herself) and was immediately pulled into a hug. She is absolutely lovely - genuine, happy and goes out of her way to ensure I am having a good time. She really is my African mother! I've been on my own at the hostel for three days, just catching up on sleep and going into town with Bright and Tina. Accra is chaotic - very little infrastructure or order. Everyone has a mobile phone and hipster clothes but not always a home. It came as quite a shock initially. The western influences here are obnoxiously obvious - huge billboards placed in the middle of slum areas, advertising American products. I'm trying desperately not to be too cynical, but it is everywhere, and makes me quite angry when the level of need is so high.

The people are generally very friendly, and love it when you say hello. 'Obruni!' they chant, meaning 'white person.' The children will often keep singing it even when you're out of sight. The men are awfully persistent; they all want a white wife! I wear a ring on my middle finger on my left hand and Bright assumed it meant I was married. And if not married, then it was promise ring. 'Not a promise ring? Then it must be from your boyfriend. It's not? But you have a boyfriend right? No?' Haha, it made for quite a hilarious exchange. Bright and I have become good friends - he's taken on the role of my protector, always checking in on me and making sure I am ok. And then there is Samuel, the company driver. He made his intentions known from day one. He has already proposed to me, every day referring to me as his future white wife. Its a little overwhelming at times to be honest, but I just laugh and wave him away. Apparently, this is just a taste of what is to come! They are harmless proposals and I know when to be stronger with my refusals (that's for you Mum and Dad!).

Some of the other Antipodean girls arrived yesterday and they took us to a place called Big Milly's Beach House for Reggae Night. IT. WAS. AMAZING. Situated by the beach and surrounded by coconut trees, the beach house serves as an oasis for travelers and locals alike. There we met a couple of Americans and another Aussie (from Brisbane!), so you can imagine what ensued. Lots of laughter and dancing. The Africans own the dance floor! Particularly the men. It was rare that any of us were without an African dancing partner, and damn, they are good! It was almost embarrassing dancing with them! We returned to the hostel in the early hours of the morning, having had the most incredible night.

Today more volunteers arrive from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. On Monday we begin orientation - dance and drumming lessons, a tour of Accra and a lesson in Ghanian culture. On Thursday we are taken to our placements in Swedru - I can't wait! The girls I'm staying with in Swedru are both from Brisbane and are rad. One actually lives down the road in Bardon! Small, small world.

This is really all I have time for. But know that I am safe and well! Thank you again to all of you for your support and encouragement - I still can't quite believe that I made it here, and so much of it is thanks to all of you. My next update will most likely be in a weeks time. In the meantime, my Ghanian number is +233 0200 144 573 . It's a little unreliable at times, so don't be offended if I don't reply! Email is still best.

Hope you are all well. With love form Africa,

Ro x

An eye-opening visit to Phnom Penh - University of Queensland

Day 9 – Friday

Today was the day of our big trip to Phnom Penh and at 7.30am we boarded the bus for our six hour trip. We were all exhausted from our first week and slept most of the way besides a few toilet stops for all our little girl bladders. The road to Phnom Penh got rough at times and for part of the way had been reduced down to dirt due to the flooding rains of the wet season.

When we finally arrived it was easy to tell that Phnom Penh had a larger amount of people suffering from poverty and also had a lot more begger children going around selling items to try and get money. It was difficult to say no to them however we knew that the less we supported them hopefully they were more likely to go to school. As we were all starving after the bus trip, the first port of call was a cute little cafe for lunch, which by the way was delicious.

After lunch we walked across the road to our first proper insight into Cambodia’s sad and horrific history, S-21 which was previously a school however during the Khmer Rouge was turned into a horrific genocide prison of torture. Walking around s-21 was hard, the classrooms had been turned into prison cells where one prisoner would be kept and tortured until they were close to death and sometimes even to death. There were pictures on the wall showing bodies that they had found after the Khmer rouge was over.

There were also still blood stains on the ground where the prisoners laid after being tortured. It was very surreal and upsetting to realise that these terrible terrible things happened after our parents were born which is not that long ago it terms of other historical events. Throughout the museum there were many pictures of the victims of the prison as well as glass cases filled with victims clothes and the torturing equipment that was used. Some of the building fronts were covered in barbed wire and many of the class rooms had been sectioned of into tiny,dark cells where prisoners were forced to stay. For those of you that do not know much about the Khmer Rouge, these prisoners I speak of were not there as a result of crime or misconduct, they were there because they were educated, could speak more than one language or were married to someone who had a high standing role in Cambodian Society.

The more I explored the museum the more sombre I felt and there was many times that I became teary eyed thinking about the hardship that they must have gone through being tortured by their own people for being educated just like we are becoming by studying our degrees. After we finished our tour we were all feeling quite dismal as what we had seen had just hit home in such a big way. The bus trip to the hotel was very quiet as nobody really knew what to say, we were just aware of how lucky we are in Australia and how good our lives actually are. Upon arriving at the hotel we were so excited, we had comfy beds with big fluffy doonas and pillows that felt like sleeping on a cloud. That night we all stuck together in a group, as we didn’t know our way around Phnom Penh and were quite hesitant to explore in small groups, and headed out to dinner before heading back and having one of the best night sleeps I know that I have had on this trip. Day 10 - Saturday

Today was an extremely busy day and we covered a surprising amount of Phnom Penh in a day. After having a small sleep in, we boarded the bus headed for the Choeung ek Genocidal Centre also known as the killing fields. This place is another important part of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge History and we knew it was going to be another sad insight into the history. For those who don’t know the Killing Fields is one of the places where the prisoners were taken to be shot or killed in another way. When buying the tickets upon entry there was an option to hire a set of head phones with an audio machine which gave you an automated tour filled with information, music and survivor stories.

This headset was amazing, I personally don’t believe that I would have gained as much out of the experience if I did not have the headphones and I know that others felt the same way. The killing field’s grounds were pitted all over the place from the large amount of mass gravesthat had been found post Khmer Rouge. Some bones are still to this day being found at the some of the mass grave sites as rain washes away the old dirt.Some of the mass graves still have not been uncovered but the caretakers have decided to let these people’s spirits rest without disturbing them once more. The grounds were extensive and the history behind each part of the tour was fascinating and tragic.

There were boxes of real victims clothes as well as bones that had been uncovered from the mass graves, on display around the killing field. The grounds were so peaceful and yet so saddening at the same time. It was at the killing fields that I also had my first encounter with a wild snake which definitely made my heart skip a few beats. After leaving the killing fields we headed out to the Russian Markets. These markets were extremely large, larger then any markets in Siem Reap. There were many beautiful things to buy however the owners tended not to barter as much as people from Siem Reap do. Within saying that everyone still managed to buy a lot of wonderful souvenirs. After the markets the group split up to explore whatever part of Phnom Penh that tickled our fancy.

Katie, Anna, Abi and I all decided to go and visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. The royal palace was absolutely amazing, the buildings had so much detail and the ceilings were painted with so much detail. The grounds of the palace were so beautifully kept with amazing shaped hedges and perfectly mown grass. Therewere many buildings inside the grounds of the royal palace and all of them contained different artifacts from different centuries and display cabinets containing traditional dress of the royal family. The Silver pagoda was an exquisite building which was named the Silver Pagoda due to the fact that the tile floor is made out of actual Silver.

It was very cool however due to cultural values we couldn’t take photos inside. It was then that we bumped into Amy, Maddie D, Jane, Jess S and Leselle, who had also decided to explore the royal palace. That night we all went out to a group dinner at a restaurant called “Friends”. This restaurant takes teenagers who are working on the street and helps them to learn English and cooking or waitressing skills so they have the ability to gain better jobs in their life. It was such a great restaurant with a really great story and the food was so delicious! After dinner I was exhausted and although others went to explore a little more of Phnom Penh, I went back to my aircon and fluffy doona and fell asleep.

Day 11- Sunday

Today did not start off well. Some of the girls got sick with gastro and were not feeling good at all. As we had to take a six hour bus trip home it was unfortunately bad timing for them and our main priority was getting something to make them feel better before we got on the bus. Luckily we were able to get something from the pharmacy andthey were ok to travel by around 10am.

Every one was exhausted for the bus trip home and all of us slept most of the way. When looking down the aisle of the bus all you could see was body parts sprawled everywhere as people were trying to find the most comfortable way to sleep. The bus trip was absolutely hectic, our bus driver was a crazy driver and was going pretty fast and as everyone loves to use their horns over here he didn’t hold back. Needless to say we got back quicker then expected which gave us all time to prepare for our new clinic rotation and time to go to bed early.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Clincal work and Ceremonies: Griffith University

We went further out to villages this week than any Griffith Univeristy nursing students had been before. Each day we visted a new village.The roads were bumpy and narrow, at times we clung on very tight as we looked over cliffs to the rivers edge. The mornings were freezing cold as we travelled by truck but by lunch time it was very warm and pleasant. The people in the villages were very excited to see us and the reception we received as we arrived each day, unforgettable.

During clinicals this week everyone worked very hard and efficiently. On average we treated 200 plus people at each village. We have become confident in working with the health care workers and translators and as a result we have picked up quite a bit of the Laoation language in the process.

This week we have treated many wounds, some very infected. We have also treated alot of respiratory infections. Their issues to do with respiratory problems are associated with the way they cook inside by fire, the thick dusty environment and a few are heavy smokers. We have tried to gently educate the Loa people to cook outdoors or at least, to keep their homes ventilated as much as they can. It is difficult for them to understand as they have cooked like that for generations.

After a days work the village comes together to to do a traditional Basti Ceremony to thank us. They wish us good health and fortune as the tie pieces of string around our wrists that we need to wear for a minimum of three days. It's a heart warming tradition to experience and I'm sure I wasn't the only one to get a bit teary when we had our final ceremony at Pak Xeng on Friday. It was sad saying goodbye to the people that had so humbly invited us to stay in their village and homes for the last two weeks. They really did feel like family to us and they treated us like one of their own. We all feel very privileged to have experienced their way of life.

The Lao people live a simple life with only basic necessities but as a result their family bonds are strong. They all pitch in to help with daily living activities such as cooking and washing and they always share their meals together. There is no Xbox, lap tops or Facebook the children play outdoors and before the sun even rises the teenagers are up either cooking breakfast or washing the families clothes and there is no stove top or washing machine. In the western population many have forgotten its the simple things in life that matter the most as we are all caught up in our busy lives. Its been nice to stop and reflect on how we live and remember what really is important.

Before we left Pak Xeng we all did weaving and a cooking class, it was so much fun. We shared the meals we prepared for lunch before saying our final farewells to our homestay mums and the rest of their family. Each one of us were given a scarf they had weaved which take 3-5 days to make depending on how big they are. A beautiful keepsake I'm sure we will all cherish.

We returned to Luang Prabang for the weekend. On Saturday all of 'Group A' went on a day long trek that included lunch, elephant ride, trekking by foot through the beautiful bush land, scenic canoe ride and swimming in the waterfalls. Some of us even swam with baby elephants. It was such a beautiful, fun filled day.

We returned to our hotel to welcome 'Group B' to Laos. We are all visiting the Luang Prabang hospital on Monday. We are very interested to see how the main hospital is run. We look forward to working with fresh faces and spending our final week in Sop Jak.

Rachael Grant, Griffith University-Gold Coast Campus.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Nursing Prac begins for UQ students in Cambodia

Day 6 – Tuesday

Today was our second day out on prac and after a not so confident day on Monday we were feeling more self- assured and ready to take on the challenges of the day ahead. After another delicious breakfast the groups dispersed to the different clinics once more. Upon arriving at the clinic we completed a quick run- through of the new medical assessment forms that we were to be using to assess the patients as they arrived at the clinic.

These forms were to be used to assist the doctor and nurses in the clinic by reducing the amount of time taken for each patient consultation as the initial patient assessment and patient observations would already be completed by the time they reached the consultation stage. As a patient arrived at the clinic we would use a translator to ask the patients questions about why they were there, how long they had been experiencing their problem for, whether they had been treated for the same problem in the past and we would do a basic assessment such as blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate and respiratory assessment.

All of this information would then be recorded on the medical assessment form and the patient would give it to the nurse or doctor when it was their turn for a consultation. Using this system made it easier for us to assess each patient as we were able to have direction not only with what we needed to do overall but also with the individual questions that we needed to ask each person based on the problem they were having. It also gave us the opportunity to have an attempt at possibly diagnosing the problem and then checking our thoughts against the doctor’s thoughts. At 10.30, Amy, Jane and Abi headed off to do education with the staff of the SHCC School.

Today they were teaching sanitation and a bit of basic first aid. Maddie C and I stayed at the clinic and split between doing triage and sitting in with the doctor for consultations. That afternoon after lunch Maddie and I continued health assessments in the clinic whilst Abi, Amy and Jane taught some of the children from SHCC some basic hand washing techniques and also basic wound cleaning.

The children often become distracted easily so the girls also played games with them throughout the lesson to keep them enthusiastic and willing to learn. Overall it was a better day then Monday and on our way home we passed a official wedding tent being set up for a wedding which was to take place the next day, we got very excited about that because we had never seen an official Khmer wedding before. That night we all went and had Indian at Curry Walla…. delicious!!! Day 7 – Wednesday

Third day on prac. On our way to the clinic today we noticed that the festivities for the weeding had already started and people were cooking and preparing the tent for the many people who were to arrive. Today was an extremely busy day as there seemed to be a large amount of people at the clinic all day which was great because it ment more people that we could possibly help. As it is the Cambodian winter (even though it still reaches 30°C) a lot of the people coming in for themselves or their children tend to have colds or chest infections just like we would get during winter in Australia.

The majority of people do not have the proper clothing or blankets to keep them sufficiently warm at night time and often get sick quite easily. One of the things that I also notice at the clinic is that the large majority of people do not come in straight away when they have a problem and tend to put off coming to the clinic for up to a month, which is sometimes the case in Australia, however personally when I know that I’m getting sick I try and get on top of it straight away.

Today it was Maddie and my turn to deliver the education session for the SHCC staff. Today’s topic was Lifting and Moving as well as the stretches to complete before and after lifting or moving heavy objects. We made the class interactive and showed them how to first complete a full body stretch. We then asked them to show us how they lift a variety of objects and got them to discuss if they thought anything could be changed. After they gave us their example of lifting the objects we then discussed with them the proper technique of not only lifting heavy objects but also lifting light objects as proper technique is required for both to reduce incidence of injury.

We then asked them to lift a variety of objects using their newly learnt technique and quizzed them on the reasons why it was important to lift and move things correctly. It was extremely satisfying to hear them getting the answers to our questions right as it ment that they were actually absorbing the knowledge. At 11.30, Abi, Jane and Amy arrived at the Khmer house where we have lunch and we all helped to prepare the meals, it is really interesting to see the difference between the Australian cooking set up compared to the Cambodian cooking area.

For starters the Cambodian cooking area at most houses is outside which is really crazy considering how much food actually gets prepared in this area. After lunch we headed back to the clinic and Maddie and I taught a new group of kids from SHCC basic hand washing and wound cleaning whilst Abi, Amy and Jane worked in the clinic. The children left rather early today however during the class to the children we gained a group of women who were eager to learn from us. Maddie and I, with the help of a translator, gave the women a quick run down on the lifting and moving class that we had taught previously that morning and Abi gave them a class on rubbish collection and composting which was the personal topic of her own that she had prepared before leaving Australia (each one of us had to prepare one topic to present during the lunch breaks throughout our prac).

The women seemed to really enjoy these lessons and listened intently throughout the whole session. That afternoon on our way home we were getting all excited to see the wedding when we discovered that it had already finished…. Hopefully we will have a chance to see another one. Day 8 – Thursday Today was our final day on our first rotation for our placement. By this point we had grown so attached to the Krabei Riel Clinic that we did not want to leave, it’s such a great atmosphere at the clinic and so welcoming it was such a pleasure working there. Today’s day had the same structure as the previous days however today Abi, Jane and Amy were completing the education session. Today’s session was on Diabetes, which happens to be a prevalent disease in this country however there is also a lack of basic knowledge on this topic that prevents the detection and treatment of the disease leaving many people untreated and open to the wide variety of complications that it can cause.

While the girls were out doing the education session, Maddie and I got to complete our first intramuscular injections of the placement (which was really exciting!!!!). They were both tetanus vaccinations for adults and Maddie and I were both quite nervous as it was Maddie’s first IM injection and I had not completed one for quite a long time. One thing we realized quickly when giving the injection was that a Cambodian person’s skin is noticeably thicker then our own making it harder to get the needle in initially.

Peta told us that this was because of their constant exposure to the sun, which made a lot of sense and gave us something to work on for the next time that we had the opportunity to give a needle. Just after I gave the needle to my patient I learnt that she was pregnant with TWINS! Which was something I had not come across yet during our week in the clinic. She was 4 months along and this would be here third and fourth babies. I had been hoping to practice my skills with using a pinnard ( non- electrical tool used to listen to babies heart beats within the uterus) and after asking permission from the patient the next thing I knew I was trying to find the twins heartbeats, I was so excited but also unsure of the proper technique as I had only used an electric doppler in Australia.

Unfortunately the twins were moving around too much for me to find hear the heartbeat clearly however I was glad I got the opportunity to try and hopefully I’ll get to practice again before the end of the placement. Our last afternoon in the clinic was extremely busy and hectic and after saying our good byes to the SHCC and clinic staff that we could now call friends we headed back to Jasmine Lodge for a much needed rest. That night Amy, Leselle, Maddie D, Jane, Jess and I all headed to A Viva for an amazing Mexican Dinner followed by a shopping session at Centre Market where we met up with Anna and Katie. That night I went to sleep reflecting on the week that had been and looking forward to out trip to Phnom Penh that was to occur the next day…

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Laos village visits by Griffith University

Wow what a first week out in the villages! It all began when we arrived at the Pak Xeng District on Sunday afternoon. We were greeted by the local children. They all stood in a neat line in their school uniform. Each with their own pretty hand picked bunch of flowers for us. The children were so excited and giggled with delight, it was beautiful to see.

We had a brief meeting with the village chief who welcomed us humbly to their village. We were then introduced to our homestay family. Their homes are basic but clean and comfortable. That night there was a huge celebration in the village, they taught us how to do Lao traditional dance which was hilarious fun then in return we showed them how to do the hokey pokey and head shoulders knees & toes, the children loved it.

On Monday we had a meeting with the heads of the Pak Xeng District Hospital, healthcare workers, translators etc to unpack & organise our donated medications and make a plan of how our clinics would run in the following days. Tuesday was our first clinic day. We drove approx 25 minutes on a bumpy road out to the first village. The day ran smoothly and everyone successfully worked as part of a team with the healthcare workers and translators.

The local village people were so greatful for the most basic necessities such as Panadol for a headache. That day we did see some very sick people too. I treated a person with pleural rub, possible peumonia that was having difficulty breathing.

During the rest of the week as we ventured into poorer and poorer villages the more sicker the people were. We treated a 10 year old girl that had an eye infection for a year and had began to lose her vision. This is just one of the many examples of how early intervention could have prevented serious damage but unfortunately many of these people cannot afford to seek medical assistance early. I think this week we all began to really realise how fortunate we are in the Western population but also how amazing it is to have the opportunity to help these people. Even the most basic of care can make a huge difference here. We all worked hard throughout the week and on the return to Luang Phrabang on Friday afternoon we were so excited to have a hot shower and use a real toilet! During the weekend we all enjoyed free time, relaxed and rejuvenated ready to return and to do it all again.

Rachael Grant Griffith University Gold Coast Campus

Have you ever seen a Liger? Travel time for China Gappers

Hengdaohezi Siberian Tiger Park - photo courtesy of scenery.cultural-china.com

Well, the winter season has overtaken the city and plunged us all into the negative double digits. Surprisingly (and disappointingly) the snow only occurred three or four times, and none as heavy as the first. The sun didn’t rise until we were on the bus to school, and set while we were on our return journey. The air remained still and we did not suffer the Siberian winds as we had feared we would. That said, we are told it is still Shenyang’s coldest winter in years.

So, with days sinking below -15, the glass in the corridors started freezing. As did everyone’s footprints. I almost stacked it half a dozen times in the same place on my way to class, but then I’m a slow learner. The classes that are on duty during these days (one class a week has to stand in designated places, inside and out, during the breaks) were incredibly unlucky and donned their thick school jackets and accompanied their monitor sashes with multiple scarfs. Every one of them was shaking every time I saw them.

So, the school term began to come to an end and we had to mark our students. How do you mark over a thousand students on their oral English skills? One on one, of course. At least that was our idea. My advanced thirteen year olds, who I have twice a week, were theonly class I finished using this method. I played them a movie and took them aside one at a time. It took 3 weeks and I only got through half of the rest, so I put together a written test to substitute the oral exam (unfair, I know, but its better than giving the rest a mark averaged from the kids I DID test, and the school doesn’t place a very high regard on our results anyway). During these tests I met students I swear I had never seen before, and found out that some of the boys were actually girls and vice versa. It was an eye-opening experience.

At last, the final classes came around and I dropped the news that we would not be staying with the school another semester (thanks to some misleading advice). I was shocked, as at the end of class, the students rushed my desk asking for my autograph on all their diaries and English textbooks and work books and loose paper and hands and tissues and... well anything they could grab. It was chaos. I gave them all my email address, and have received a couple of emails from some students. Oneasked what city I would be moving to, so she could hate it the rest of her life. Unfortunately, I don’t support extremist fanaticism, and I didn’t know which city it would be, so I didn’t tell her. They are great kids and I will really miss them.

After Hayley and I had finished up our classes and said our goodbyes, we got together with Dervla, another foreign teacher from Ireland, and we went skiing. It was one hell of a bus ride up a mountain in the freezing cold. Once we got to the top of the mountain, we changed over to a van, which took us along a terrifying frozen 4x4 track around the back of the slopes. I was bracing myself against all four sides of the van and searching for a way to escape if we rolled, but in the end all was safe. Then we hit the ski slopes. We got our crashes out of the way early so we could enjoy a calm afternoon. Then we hired a taxi and had a much quicker, much warmer ride home. Thank god.

On the first Monday of our holidays, we caught a train to Harbin. But only just. We had arrived at the station a little early but had not anticipated the distance we would have to walk INSIDE the station, nor the staircases leading over the tracks. We we own with us, so lugging our suitcases over all those stairs was a nightmare. We were on the train no more than a minute before it began to roll towards the frozen north. It seemed every seat on the train was occupied, and people switched and swapped at will, wandering down the isle on their phone, stopping at every row for a quick sit in any empty chair before moving to the next. It took 6 and a half hours. Upon arriving, we noticed ice sculptures everywhere. They lined the streets and filled the parks, and this wasn’t even the ice world.

On the second day, we went to the Siberian Tiger Park. If you are ever in this part of the world, you MUST go there. We went on a safari-esque bus ride, where our bus actually got attacked by tigers. But fear not! The entire bus is re-enforced with a metal cage. And this is not even the scary part. After you get off the bus, there is a raised walkway for you to see the tigers from. Once up here, you can pay 20RMB to hold a piece of meat out of the cage for the tigers to fight over. They climb up on the side of the cage and push each other off in their attempts. Of course, its not as simple as that. For 60RMB you can buy a live chicken, which can throw to the tigers. Seem cruel? Well for 2800RMB you can buy a cow, yes a cow, to release into the tigers enclosure. Fortunately, we only saw chickens ravaged by the beasts. In the back of the park they also have a collection of other big cats, from white tigers to jaguars and even the rare liger (a tiger crossedwith a lion). They are all big and ferocious, and I would not like to run into any without the metal bars to protect me.

That night we went to the Ice World. Wow. It was amazing. A massive area filled with massive ice buildings, all lit up from the inside with coloured lights. There were ice slides and ice towers and horses and carriages and yaks. We wandered around for hours, climbing towers and taking photos. It is truly an amazing thing to se, and unlike anything you could find back home.

Just before we left Harbin for Beijing, the company handling us dropped the news that we do not have a second placement. Hayley and I are set on staying for another semester, so we cancelled the rest of our travel plans and are staying in Beijing until we sort out our own placement. Thanks to the incredibly kind generosity of my friend’s father, we are staying for free in his hotel for a few days. The biggest challenge we seem to be facing now is choosing a job, because we have so many people helping us find one. We will resume our travels soon, as we still have enough time to see everything we want to see.

Dolphin and Turtle Conservation in Mauritius

Douglas Adams wrote when he Authored 'Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy' that one should never go anywhere without his or her towel, the logic behind it being that somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who is said to know where his or her towel is. As the last few panicky items were thrown into my suitcase, which the scale were telling me was reaching its limit, I decided to only take one beach towel and remove my heavy bath towel, my only regret is that I did not back it in my hand luggage, and immediately mop my face off with it upon exiting the airport. Golly gosh is Mauritius humid! I mean, I am talking back of knee-cap sweat, moustache sweat and embarrassed-to-shake-people's-hands-whom-you've-just-met-due-to-torrid-sweat kinda humid. Somehow though, the only downfall to this beautiful island is also part of its charm, and I have grown to...well, not hate it.

The people here beautiful, they are not at all perturbed by the cockroaches that are the size of baby mammoths, or the heat or the hordes of mosquitoes (which no one was at all exaggerating about) and instead compensate by endlessly throwing themselves into the ocean - in which the water is so warm it is only just a relief from the humidity - how can anyone not love the atmosphere!? The people here seem to follow no rules, and their freedom in infectious. At any point of the day going down to La Preneuse the public beach there are endlessly locals drumming and dancing, or playing Rastafarian music. Where ever you go people are so friendly and say bonjour, not in a pushy way at all, just genuine friendliness. I wish I had learned more French so I sounded more genuine when I attempt to greet them back.

I can't believe it has only been one week.

There are five volunteers from the Antipodeans Unibreak programme living in this fantastically located house in Black River, 200 metres away from the beach and a five minute the supermarket. All of us volunteers are doing some kind of Marine/coast/environment/etc, course so it is a very like minded group that we are in. With us also is a South African volunteer not with antipodeans and not marine based, but very knowledgeable and passionate all the same! Doing the dolphin research is amazing, it is endlessly worth while for my own endeavors (I have now completely change my views of not bothering dreaming about working with dolphins due to lack of job prospects to having faith and trying to get into it). I have just finished my bachelor in Marine Biology and am about to begin honours myself, so it is a well deserved holiday I feel, and being able to do something worth while in between the endless snorkelling, sun baking and drinking mojitos definitely takes away any holiday guilt one might have about having too much fun. We have been also taking back in some turtle monitoring, which is not as well developed as the dolphin monitoring so feels beneficial to be helping.

We go out in a boat 3 times a week and afterward do data entry, we also have tourist surveys on other days - I have not had to do any yet and it's probably the thing I am looking forward to the least, but it seems crucially important. When monitoring dolphins, there are around 25 boats, some of them rather large, all toting tourists who jump in and try and swim with the dolphins. It was absolute insanity, therefore, as it is only tourists getting in, I understand why tourist surveys are crucial, I just hope they speak English!

Everything is so green and leafy, every tree seems to bear fruit or flowers, every house has palms and looks like a holiday house, all the fish are friendly and colourful! This is a fantastic paradise.

I never want to go home!

Jesse Jorgensen-Price.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

University of Queensland - first five days in Cambodia

Oh my goodness! Today is only day number six in Cambodia and I feel like so much has happened and that Cambodia has had a massive impact on our lives already! So heres a quick recap of our trip so far.

Day 1- Thursday

After a 4:30 start in Bangkok we arrived at the airport tired but excited and unsure of what faced us in the day ahead. After what felt like a ten minute flight (actually 40 mins) we finally landed in Siem Reap. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, the sun was shining and there were small wispy clouds floating high in the sky. The mood among us was buzzing with excitement as we headed towards customs.

As soon as we got through customs we met up with Jo and Thomas, our on the ground team while we are in Cambodia, and got into vans on our way to Jasmine Lodge. The traffic on the road to Jasmine Lodge was epic, there were people turning left right and centre and every one drives on the right side of the road completely opposite from Australia. I swear that was the most nerve racking drive of our lives. When we reached Jasmine Lodge we settled in with some delicious lunch and a quick Khmer lesson, most of us picked it up pretty quickly and can now introduce ourselves and count up to 20.

As soon as lunch had ended and we had settled into our rooms we got back into the vans and headed out to the Self Help Community Centre School and the Krabei Riel Health Centre. The SHCC is an amazing place that helps children in the nearby villages by teaching them English, Sport, Art and other various subjects. They currently have just over 1400 students that take various classes during the day. We explored the grounds of the SHCC, which contains various buildings, multiple vegetable gardens as well as some animals that the children help look after.

The children there were so sweet and very willing to learn. After viewing the grounds, some of the group joined some of the SHCC kids in a game of soccer which we lost by a couple of goals. We then headed to the Krabei Riel Health Centre, which greeted us with an eye opening view of the medical facilities available in the villages. The clinic was very basic and only contains four rooms which includes a delivery room and some consulation rooms.

One of the most interesting differences from Australian health care is the fact that no shoes are worn inside the building. By this point we were a little amazed with what we were seeing, knowing that we take the luxurys of the Australian health care system for granted. After our tour of the clinic we headed back into town for a tour of the local area whcih helped us a lot with finding places to go for dinner etc. Everything over here is so cheap and that night I got a large plate of fried rice for $2, finding that in Australia would be imposssible.
Day 2 - Friday

Today was another very hectic amazing day. After a lovely breakfast we walked into town headed for the Angkor hospital for children. This hospital was absolutely inspiring. When we first arrived we watched a DVD about how the hospital was founded and how far it had come. The waiting area of the hospital was packed with parents and their children waiting to see doctors and receive treatment. One thing that I will never forget from this hospital was seeing a girl aged around 2 laying asleep on a swing chair with a rash covering her body, there was nothing that any of us could do and no way that we could help her I just felt so helpless.

After seeing the waiting area we continued on to the kitchen area where the patients family would prepare food for the family either while they were waiting for treatment or while they were receiving treament. The hospital also had a vegetable garden where hey grew fresh produce to give to the patients family to cook if they could not afford to buy food. After looking around the rest of the buildings we headed off towards the Provincial hospital.

This hospital was a lot larger then any other of the hospitals or clinics we had seen however it still had quite basic facilities, none of the beds had sheets and there was no proper cooking area for the patient's families. We had a guided tour of this hospital, which is the main hospital in Siem Reap for the people to go. following the tour we had lunch and took approx an hours drive to the Military Handicap Development Centre which is another basic health clinic that we will be working in throughout our placement. we also visited the school and played with some of the children that attend the school. They were so cute and showed us how they could sing the alphabet as well as some other english songs.

Following our visit to the school we headed to the Cambodian Landmine Museum, which was amazingly insightful. It was extremely interesting to learn about how landmines are uncovered and remved from the land. There was plenty of information about Cambodia's dark and tragic history with the Khmer Rouge as well as stories from survivors of that time period. I have never seen so many landmines in one museum before and according to the information only 30% of the mines that have been uncovered were in that museum. The search for landmines in villages around Cambodia is still completed to this day by a very skill team and believe it or not they can detect the landmines by using a stick.

As we left the landmine museum I think the group had an improved understanding of the hardships that the Cambodian people experienced during the rough Khmer rouge time period. On our way back to the lodge we passed a small temple which gave us a taste of what it will be like to see Angkor Wat. The temple was beautiful and as the sun was setting it seemed to bounce off the uneven edges and jagged walls of the temples capturing its beauty in a way that couldn't be described. That night we went to a restaurant for a group dinner where we experienced some traditional Khmer dances, each dance displaying its own beautiful and individual story with such detail and elegance. Day 3 - Saturday

Today was the day of our home stay, we were all very excited to stay in a real Khmer house and gain a greater understanding of the way that they live in the villages. After a little bit of a sleep in we headed off on our hour drive towards the homestay. On the way we stopped off at a cute little restaurant for a really delicious lunch and some people bought fresh coconuts to drink the coconut water out of which were cut there fresh at the restaurant.

After lunch we headed out to a school called "My Grandfather's House"" to do some health education sessions to the children of the school. When we arrived we were greeted by approx 250 school children as well as the teachers waiting in lines for us to arrive. It was quite overwhelming at first because we didn't know how we could provide education to such a large group of students. So after a quick introduction we split the children into three groups and taught them three separate topics which were First Aid, Hand washing and Sanitation and also Teeth Brushing. The children were so eager and willing to learn and they all wanted to get involved in our interactive sessions.

After teaching them our topics we taught them some simple English games such as Heads, shoulders, knees and toes, Simon says and also the Hokey Pokey. They all had such a good time and it made our group feel good that we could make an impact on their lives by teaching them basic skills that we take for granted. The next part of our day was also amazing we got to go on ox cart rides...Yes believe it or not OX CART RIDES! we boarded our ox carts in an extremely awkward fashion at my grandfathers house and got off an hour later at our home stay house. The ox cart ride was quite bumpy but extremely enjoyable and there were many laughs along the way. I had never experienced anything like that before and a lot of us found it so surreal and quite relaxing.

During our ride we traveled along dirt roads, past local houses and across vast fields and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets that we had ever seen and although we couldn't quite capture it's beauty on film I think it will be a memory that will stick with us for quite a long time. When we reached our homestay house we all got back into the vans and headed to dinner at the same restaurant we had lunch at previously that day. It was at this dinner that we learnt that not everybody had quite gotten the knack of aiming in the squat toilets and someone had accidently missed and hit their foot. If you had seen a squat toilet you would understand how easily that could have happened.

I also learnt at dinner that mosquito repellant and eyes really don't go together and I had to get Peta to wash it out.... so tip from the experienced dont scratch your insect repellant covered arm and then wipe your eye. We also had our first experience with begging children who were trying to sell bracelets to us at the restaurant, they were really cute and knew really good English however it was really sad to see young children trying to sell items on the street at night rather then laying in bed getting excited about thier next day at school.

After dinner we headed back to the homestay house and walked upstairs to where we were all sleeping. It looked like any kids dream, there was six mosquito net tents lined up in two rows each of them with woven mats laying on the floor which was the equivalent of a bed. We then each had a blanket and small pillow and there were two or three of us in each tent. It took me back to my childhood when i used to make cubby houses under the kitchen table for fun except so much better! The weather that night was quite cold which none of us were expecting so it made sleeping a little bit uncomfortable but it was good to see how Cambodian people lived and slept. The was the first night that we actually felt the cold of the Cambodian winter. Day 4 - Sunday

This morning we all we up before sunrise after having a not so comfortable sleep the night before. As soon as everyone was up we piled into the vans and started on our hour drive back to Jasmine Lodge for breakfast. Today was our free day so after breakfast and some much needed sleep everyone dispersed to explore Siem Reap. Some people went shopping, others lazed around and watched movies however most of us went out and had $5 and hour massages. I personally went with Katie and Anna to the Seeing Hands massage clinic to get a massage from people who had become blind. The massage was amazing and we felt so relaxed afterwards. Knowing that we had our first day of prac the next day we all went to bed pretty early not knowing what to expect from the day ahead. Day 5- Monday

Today was our first day of prac and we were all feeling quite nervous and unsure of what to expect. We were all ready to leave by 7.15am with one group going to the Krabei Riel clinic and the SHCC school, one group going to the MHDC clinic and the final group going to the MHDC school. Each one of the groups had planned education sessions to present to the men, women and children of the villages and also some of the staff of the SHCC. My group consists of Jane, Amy, Abi and Maddie C and this week we are based out at the krabei riel clinic with included education at the SHCC.

When we first got the clinic we were all so nervous unsure of what we were ment to be doing, how we were meant to do it and how we were going to overcome the language barrier. it was just very confronting first up and with Monday being the busiest day at the clinic there was already a lot of patients there. The group split up and some of us went with the nurse doing triage and the rest of us sat in with the doctor and the translator to listen to the consultations with the patients. Even thought the doctor couldn't speak any English he was so willing to teach us and help us gain a better understanding of his processes and also to let us have a go.

There were also vaccinations going on at the clinic as well so all of us got to watch some babies get vaccinations and watch thier needle disposing technique which is quite different from Australia. After a morning at the clinic we headed to SHCC to do a health promotion class with some of the staff and social workers from the SHCC school, today we focussed on Hepititis B and taught them what it is, how you can contract it and how to prevent it.

The class were so eager to learn and at the end of the session had some extremely relevant and interesting questions which was great because it ment that our class had understood and taken in what we had taught. That afternoon, after lunch, we can back to SHCC and taught the children some basic first aid and wound cleaning and also how to bandage a snake bite, they picked it up so quickly and they looked so cute wrapping themselves up in bandages, hopefully now they know what to do if they do happen to get in that situation, hopefully that won't happen though. By the end of the day we were in high spirits we felt like we had accomplished something that day and now had a bit more of an understanding of our role in the clinic which we knew would help with our confidence the next day.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Griffith University arrive in Laos

We all arrived safely to Luang Prabang, Laos on Saturday to a beautiful sunny day. We were greeted by our local guides/translaters that took us on the back of a truck with all of our luggage to our hotel, the Haysok Hotel.After settling into our very comfortable hotel rooms Graham our guide along with the lovely translators gave us an orientation and showed us around the town. We were able to explore the beautiful local temples, sample some mango & sticky rice and get to know some of the local traditions. At 4pm we listened to the rhythmic beats of the monks a definite must for anyone visiting here. Then we split up in groups for some free time. A group of 10 of us enjoyed a cold drink next to the river then we wandered the streets looking for somewhere to have dinner. We came across a bamboo bridge that went over the main river. Apparently it is replaced approximately every 6months because it gets washed away. It was a little daunting to cross for the fear we would fall through. On the other side we found a beautiful restaurant on the hillside, just think Bali style huts, lit with lantern and cushions for seating.

The meals were incredibly cheap I think it worked out to be about $6 Au each for a banquet of food including our drinks. Was such a beautiful relaxing atmosphere. After dinner we strolled the local night markets before calling it a night. New friendships within our group are already starting to form. We are all throughly enjoying Luang Prabang and getting to know the locals and their traditions. The Loatian people are very friendly, helpful and gentle by nature an absolute joy to be around.

Today we enjoyed a hot breakfast at our hotel and some of us have gone out to buy some supplies in the market. We are booking an all day trek for next weekend which includess riding an elephant, swimming in the waterfalls and getting photos with Sun Bears. sure to be a fun filled day. After lunch we start the 3hr journey out to the villages via truck, I'm sure that will be an experience with many giggles along the way. We are all very much looking forward to see the smiling faces of the Loatian people as we enter the many villages to begin work in the clinics. Saba ai-dii for now from all of group A.

Rachael Grant Griffith University Gold Coast Campus

Friday, 6 January 2012

Safari in the savannah - the final blog for Unibreak in Ghana

Our last weekend together in Ghana could have been a disaster. It was our most ambitious travel plan to date. A minimum of 14 hours travel time stood between us and a successful safari weekend. We had to get from Swedru to Accra (Circle station) – about 2 hours on a tro tro, Accra to Tamale - about 8 hours on an overnight bus, and the last leg was from Tamale to Mole National Park - about 4 hours in a ‘heavy duty’ tro tro.

One of Ghana’s most notorious regions for bad roads, our travel North for that period of time would have been the most uncomfortable ride if it wasn’t for the blissful air-conditioning and ever-so-welcome reclining chairs that were a pleasant surprise on the overnight bus. It was a relatively trouble free journey (the late night stops were a little hairy) but we reached Tamale later than expected and missed the connecting tro tro to Mole National Park. Stranded at the station, Tina (our in country agent) came to the rescue once more, working her contacts and getting us on the road again.

Falling victim to the unpaved road for an hour while the driver fixed the tro tro, we finally arrived at Mole National Park. Nothing says ‘welcome to your safari getaway’ like a troop of baboons at your front door. Mindful of our welcome party’s sticky fingers, we had a tasty lunch inside before cooling down in the hotel’s swimming pool and settling in for our first night in the National Park.

We woke early to chance our luck at seeing elephants on a 2 hour walking safari. Our armed safari guide led us past crocodiles, antelope, monkeys, vultures, warthogs and plenty of elephant tracks until we heard an almighty splash at a waterhole near where the elephants like to come and like salt from the rocks. Unfortunately the sound was bigger than the culprit and our excitement was dashed when we scrambled through the bushes only to find a croc sunbaking on the bank was the culprit of the crash.

Nonetheless it was a good start to the day and many tried their luck again to see the world’s largest living land animal on a jeep safari to no avail. Still the evening was not lost as we laughed our way through a team trivia night, enjoying the company of the big group and having some good fun. The good times rolled on even when we were stranded on the long, red road on the way back to Tamale with a flat tyre. Making the most of the setting and time, we posed for a team photo shoot against the picturesque African landscape.

On the drive back from Tamale, somehow the driver managed to get us back to Accra three hours earlier than expected, a feat we hadn’t catered for or even experienced on our travels in Ghana. Stuck in the dark with the prospect of lingering around the station until it was light enough for tro tros to take us back to Swedru, our kind bus driver Kofi said we could sleep in the comfort and safety of the bus until daybreak. Not only that, he then went to another station in Accra to find a tro tro to takes us back to Swedru – all for free.

For the rest of the day we lounged by the pool at Greenland Hotel in Swedru. It was a great way to get ready for the last week at most of our placements.

This blog has solely been about our time spent travelling as a group on weekends and doesn’t even scratch the surface of our placement experiences because of the big differences between orphanages, schools and hospital placements and our time spent with our host families too. Even with these differences, Ghana was undoubtedly a great experience for all of us and one we’ll remember for many years to come.

UniBreakers unforgettable experience in Peru

Our Final Week came to a bittersweet close this weekend. Saying goodbye was hard without a doubt. Goodbye to our families – so loving and welcoming and whom we started referring to as ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ a long time ago. Goodbye to Cusco – daily views of lush green mountains, memorable taxi rides and cobblestone streets. Goodbye to our ‘escuela’ in Ccorao – those affectionate, cheeky kids, the amazing machine that is Ricardo and our helpful, gracious teachers.

The week was taken up with frantic hard work on The Wall (now complete!), last minute shopping for llama jumpers or Cusquenian trinkets, packing, and our last time at our favourite eateries (adios Jack’s!). We’ve all had a great time spending our last week with our families (thank you Wills and Nelly for taking such good care of Nivine and me!). Being able to buy them a small Christmas present, cook them dinner for once or take them out somewhere were some small ways we said ‘thank you and we love you’.

Our last day at school was one of the best we’ve had – each grade performed a song for us in an assembly, we got to spend some time with our classes giving out presents and capturing some moments with them on camera and it was topped off with an heartfelt inauguration ceremony of the wall and Christmas chocolate ‘caliente’ and panetone for everyone. The dismal weather did nothing to deter our spirits during this last day.

Also, during the trip, the boys came up with a really great list of tips for the next groups to come through and here are a few of them for you guys: - When bargaining, cut the vender’s price in half and go from there - When quad biking: Be. Careful. - Be prepared for cold and sometimes no showers - When buying agua, remember: always Sin Gas - Invest in a alpaca jumper on Day 1 - Do not eat the hommus at Jack’s Café - When hopping in a taxi, some key phrases include: “normalmente ocho soles senor!” and “cerca el Maestro” - Embrace every moment

One month. A Horseriding trip. A Machu Picchu Trek. A weekend away at Lake Titicaca. Numerous trips to Pisaq Mercado. Countless clubs. Countless cafes. Quad biking. Mountain biking. Three cases of salmonella. One twisted knee. A fractured nose. Countless other issues regarding bodily functions. Seven incredible host families. One funny and irreplaceable Arlich. One wonderful school filled with even more wonderful kids. One wall. Fourteen volunteers.

Thank you Antipodeans for an unforgettable experience that has changed us forever and of which no part I regret!

Heaps of love,

Sach, Nivine, Rowan, Dan, Joe, Louis, Arnav, Ben, Harshita, Tess, Nadia, Vanessa, Liz, Meg x x x