Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Goodbye to Laos for Griffith University

On Sunday, we packed up our belongings (again!) and set off for Ban Na Pho, the same village we stayed in during the first week. This time though, we stayed in different houses with different home stay families on the opposite side of the village, further up the hill. The home stays were again very simple and the families were very nice. We ate dinner at the lodge and then all settled in to bed for an early night. In our home stay, we were just about to nod off to sleep when a confused rooster started crowing as if the sun was coming up. It was 10pm!! Crazy rooster… lol...

Anyway, we were awoken by the crowing of SANE roosters along with the squealing and clucking sounds of the local pigs and chickens as the sun came up on Monday morning. We got up, had breakfast and set out for our first health clinic in the village of Ban Huasaking. We again focused the care in 4 main areas: basic health checks of villagers, treatment of ailments and illnesses (mobile clinic), health education (sanitation, hygiene, diet and nutrition, dental hygiene, wound care etc) and ante natal workshops. We continued to set up health clinics in villages for the rest of the week. On Tuesday it was in Ban Phunorwan & Hadid and on Wednesday it was in Ban Houaypho. We had become rather good at setting up the clinics by this stage and everything generally ran quite smoothly. This week the villagers visited with much the same ailments as the week before, but some villages this week seemed to have a higher incidence of Tuberculosis than the week before. The district manager of health came to visit us one afternoon in the villages and this point was raised with him. We were told that the matter would be investigated further and that samples for pathology screening at the local permanent treatment centre would be taken. This is a good example of the collaborative relationship that we have been aiming to build with the local health workers and authorities. With Tuberculosis, the disease can be treated by the local Lao authorities, but the problem is that it requires a 4-8 week hospital stay and many of the villagers are reluctant to leave their farms and families for such a prolonged period of time.

Immunization for family members of those in close contact with a TB sufferer are available, but the villagers often must travel to the treatment centre to receive it, something that is not always a possibility for them to do so immunization rates in these areas are not always ideal.

On Thursday we set up our last clinic in Ban Phounorwan, which is the home village to Chipseng, one of our translators and our local village mediator. There was a really cool bridge in this village that was built by contributions from a group that had travelled there in the past. Basically, the village was given the option to put some money towards something that they really needed. It was decided that a bridge that could be used in the difficult wet season to cross the river from the highlands to the lowlands would be the most practical investment as this has been known to be a dangerous activity during the wet season when the river floods.

In the afternoon on Thursday we had a special visit from the Lao Minister for Health. After the official business of speeches and acknowledgements by the minister and Hazel (on behalf of Griffith University), a party was held in the community lodge as a commemoration and thanks for all of the hard work we had done. We did lots of dancing with the villagers and by the end of the night we were all exhausted but still smiling. On Friday, the local home stay families and village chief said good bye to us and commemorated our departure with a traditional Basi Su Khouan ceremony. Basi is pali for ‘ties of thread’ and su khouan is Lao for ‘defending the spirit or soul’. Basi’s are performed for many different reasons e.g. births, marriages, departure from a trip or arrival from a trip. The village gathered around a centerpiece they had made for us from banana leaves, offerings and bonds to ‘tie’ everyone together as a community. The chief said a blessing for us and the villagers tied bonds around us. It was very sad to be leaving the village, but we knew that we had made a difference in the community and we really felt very appreciated by them.

After saying goodbye, we began to load up the trucks. Our luggage was much lighter than it had been on previous occasions as we didn’t pack up ALL of our things. Most of us chose to leave behind clothing, shoes and useful possessions for the families in the village to use - we literally gave them the clothes off our backs! These villagers honestly have very few possessions and clothes to call their own and we were all quite happy to part with a few of our own things for them to use. When we had finished loading what we were taking home with us on the truck, we set off. On the way, we stopped in at several of the villagers homes to check on their health and to pay for their hospital stays. It was great to see that the broken arms had been fixed by the hospital and were now well on the way to healing. The babies that had pneumonia were also recovering well. We hadn’t heard back about how the soldier that we dropped off at the war memorial hospital went yet, but Chipseng was following this up for us and would let us know when he had more information.

Eventually, we arrived at the village of Pak Ou for a lovely lunch in a restaurant on the Mekong river. After lunch, we got on a Mekong riverboat and visited the sacred Pak Ou caves where there are literally hundreds of statues of Buddah overlooking the confluence of the Mekong and Ou rivers. We all got back on the riverboat and rode back to Luang Prabang in this traditional style long boat. The river cruise was quite relaxing and the scenery was magnificent, but the thought of the western style bathrooms at the hotel and the thought of a meal not containing rice or eggs was a definite thought to look forward to!

On Friday night, following a heavenly bathroom experience, most of us had dinner together at ‘Le Elephant’, a lovely French style restaurant in Luang Prabang. We presented our facilitators with cards to say thank you for all of their hard work and effort and we enjoyed a lovely meal together. After dinner and following a final dash through the night markets for mad last minute gift shopping, we all settled in for a quiet, early night in preparation for our flight the next day.

It is so hard to describe the feeling of our trip coming to an end… It has been such a whirlwind of amazing experiences and I think we were all a little sad that it was all coming to an end, but also a little excited to be heading back home (for those of us not lucky enough to be staying on longer that is). We have all benefitted enormously from the placement overall and learnt a lot about nursing, ourselves and travelling. We all embraced a sense of social responsibility and personal activism in participating in the experience and it was great to have the opportunity to learn about a new country, culture and meet new people. We have all gained such valuable skills in leadership, communication, problem solving, reflection and critical thinking. I am sure future employers will be keen to hear all about it in the future. What I am not so sure about is whether I, or anybody else in the group, is keen to eat rice or eggs willingly again anytime during February 2012… maybe by Easter we might be able to stomach the chocolate kind again? ;-)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Last blog from Borneo UniBreak volunteers

Our third week in Borneo was all about getting stuck into our project work. By now we were all familiar with what exactly we were meant to be doing and why we were doing it, which meant that we could start to see progress as everything was coming together. This week was also Chinese New Year, which is celebrated for virtually the entire week, so to most of our dismay, the school was closed the whole time, so there was no teaching, but this opened up opportunities for everyone to help out in all the aspects of the kindergarten and the war memorial.

Lunch times consisted of heat induced naps, reading and swapping novels, swimming in the lake, sun tanning by the volleyball court and badminton games while night times were still filled with rice wine, karaoke, card games, and midnight chats in the long house, as everyone was finally slipping into a nice routine here at Tinagol. The end of this week was the last for the people in our group who had signed up to go SCUBA diving in Kota Kinabalu, so Zul wanted to celebrate their last night by taking us all to the local pub in the village, which was well, an experience to say the least for a westerner, but everyone always has a good time together, so it made for some good last memories. Just to add, the boys rendition of “twist and shout” I think needs a special mention, as one of the best things most of us can agree we have seen here.

Our final week in Borneo was all about goodbyes. As some of us had already left Tinagol to spend their final week getting their SCUBA open water dive licenses off Jesselton point, for those eight of us left we could really feel our time coming to a close. However there was something very satisfying about seeing the cannon for the war memorial be completed, and knowing that all the effort and cut fingers were justified. We spent our last day at the most beautiful beach we had ever seen, relaxing on the sand and swimming in the crystal clear water, where our final night, of course, involved rice wine celebrations, although this time, it was the rice wine we had made ourselves two weeks prior, and I think something went very, very wrong in our method.

Sad goodbyes were said to Zul and all the staff at Tinagol as we got on the bus back to KK, saying goodbye to the longhouse, where so many memories were made was extremely hard. Finally after a good last night all together in Kota Kinabalu, we had to say goodbye to each other, which no one was expecting to be as hard as it was, the notion that this time was actually over was settling in and was hard to grasp.

We have made so many amazing new friends and had so many wonderful and life changing experience in such a whirlwind space of time, and every drop of sweat, cut, blood and tears was worth it, this was the kind of thing you remember for the rest of your life.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Griffith Uni (Team B) first few weeks in Laos

Group B Week 1 Blog

On Sunday, we visited the gorgeous Kuang Si waterfall. We all left for the trip in trucks that we sat in the back of. At the waterfalls there were some interesting items for sale at the local market (boiled eggs on a stick anyone??) and there was also a bear sanctuary for bears that have been cruelly treated or born in captivity. At the actual waterfalls, the scenery was just beautiful. There were several small waterfalls and a crystal clear, blue lagoon that we could swing from a tree rope into. Many photos were taken underneath the waterfall by those that had waterproof cameras as you can swim under the fall. It was AMAZING!

On Monday, we visited the PLQ medical training college and experienced an exchange of ideas that included community health, cpr and manual handling. The training college is quite basic and the nurses and health workers welcomed us with open arms. We broke into groups, with some discussing community health whilst others looked at CPR and other health education topics. It was very interesting and the conversation lead into a demonstration of the different ways in which we practice as nurses on issues such as manual handling.

In the afternoon, we visited the hospital in Luang Prabang. The hospital provides care to Luang Prabang residents and the residents of the surrounding villages. It is set up in a surprisingly similar way to how our hospitals are set up in Australia eg they have an emergency room, pediatric ICU, a sort of ‘GP’ clinic etc but a huge difference is that the people do not pay for the room as such, they pay for the healthcare and equipment that is provided. Unfortunately though, with many families living off a wage of less than AU$1 per day, even just coming to hospital and paying for the equipment is simply out of the budget for many families. We were very lucky whilst walking past the pediatric ICU to be shown a set of conjoined twins. The hospital in Luang Prabang is a small hospital though and it is currently trying to send the babies to another hospital for more specialized care.

On Tuesday, we packed up our things, loaded the trucks and made our way to the village ‘Ban Napho’, about 2 hours drive on dirt roads outside of Luang Prabang. We were greeted by the village children who gave us ‘love flowers’. The accommodation is very basic, with mosquito nets covering wadded mattresses set out on the floor. The houses have electricity inside the house and the wealthier families have a TV and a stereo. Many have a house phone. Internet is not common and in fact, they do not seem to own computers in general. All cooking is done outside the house on a fire in ‘the kitchen’. The ‘bathroom’ is also outside the house, consisting of a squat toilet, a bowl for washing and a bowl for storing water for ‘flushing’. It has been an interesting experience for those of us learning to use these to say the least… still on our “L” plates at this stage actually with many of us needing to discreetly wash our feet as well as our hands after using the squat toilet… That night the villagers welcomed us with a ceremony to commemorate our arrival. They did it in ‘the lodge’, a beautiful, open community hall that was a donation made from a previous Antipodeans group.

It was made from local materials as it helps to keep money spent on the village in the village. In the lodge, they danced and sang for us and also showed us some fun traditional Lao games. When asked to perform a traditional Australian song for them (on the spot by the way…) we gave them a roaring rendition of ‘Home Among the Gum Trees’. A fun night enjoyed by all. On Wednesday, we woke up at the wonderful hour of 5am by the roosters in the community crowing and squawking to tell us that the sun was coming up. We all ate breakfast together under the beautiful lodge and group B was split into two separate groups. Group number 1 set up our first health clinic with Group A, whilst group number 2 worked on the construction of a toilet block and kitchen with group A for the local health clinic in ‘Sop Jak’.

In the afternoon, Group B went on an exciting river raft ride down the Sueng river. It was soo much fun! Our bottoms may have ended up a little wetter than they began but the scenery was just gorgeous. We ended our day with a wash in the river, a delicious meal and an early night in bed. On Thursday, group 1 and 2 swapped roles with group 1 working on the Sop Jak clinic kitchen / toilet construction whilst group 2 set up the health clinic with Group A. Setting up the clinic with group A’s In the afternoon, Group B continued with the construction whilst Group A enjoyed the river rafting experience.

This particular day was also Australia Day and as the true blue aussies we are, we chose to celebrate in style. Hazel set up the lodge with Aussie flag decorations and we came dressed to impress with many Aussie T-shirts, shorts, thongs, flags and tattoos on display. Group A met Group B at the lodge and we all enjoyed a marvelous feast together. On Friday, we all attempted to have a sleep in until 7 o’clock for an 8 o’clock breakfast. We were separated into groups within the village and learnt how to cook traditional Lao style and also how to weave. We all enjoyed the meals we had made for lunch and then packed up our things and got ready to leave for Luang Prabang On Saturday, a large percentage of the group went to ride the elephants. I am told it was ‘the best thing ever’, ‘a really awesome experience’. Group B Blog, Week 2 Sunday, January 29th.

We again packed up our things, checked out of our hotel and made our way to our next village ‘Ban Pakeng’, situated about an hour and a half by dirt road outside of Luang Prabang. We were told that the village is a much larger village than the one we stayed at in the first week, housing about 800 people or so, consisting mostly of farmers and gardeners. In the afternoon that we arrived in the village we took a little walk through and had a look at the river so that we would know where to go to wash ourselves in the afternoon. On the way to the river some of us were lucky enough to see a tiny baby pig being born right before our eyes! That was really special.

Later, we were greeted by the village chiefs and welcomed into the community with a ceremony and dancing. The village chiefs told us how grateful they were to have us there providing health care in the villages. The group was then split into two’s and we were shown to our home stay. The accommodation was again very basic, with mosquito nets covering wadded mattresses set out on the floor, electricity inside the houses, a TV and a stereo. All of the cooking in our homestay was done in an outside room of the house on a fire in ‘the kitchen’. The ‘bathroom’ was again, also outside the house and was once again a squat toilet, but by this stage most of us had gained our squat toilet ‘P’ plates and we are getting better at the technicalities of it all... Monday, January 30th.

On this day we set up our very first health clinic on our own without Group A’s help in Ban Haukeng. We decided on the previous night that there would be a designated role for each person on the clinic and who would be in each role. The roles were: reception (including height and weight), clinic and pharmacy. The reception area was given a translator for the first few minutes to get the hang of how to ask for a person’s details in Lao, then left to their own devices to work the language out. Each of the three clinic areas had a translator, a Lao health worker, 2-3 Griffith University students and a facilitator. The Griffith students worked together as a team to do vital signs, a clinical assessment and a clinical diagnosis with an appropriate pharmacological aid and patient education provided when necessary. All information was run past the Lao health work who ultimately made the final decisions about the diagnosis and drug prescribed. The pharmacy also had a health worker to check the dispensing of drugs, but no translator.

In the afternoon when the clinic was a little quieter, we used the time for health promotion of things like tooth brushing, hand washing and wound care. We also ran an antenatal clinic with the help of our two nurse facilitators (who are also qualified midwives) involving pregnancy care, birthing and baby care. We even had a full pregnancy suit, complete with a full term baby ready to demonstrate birthing positions!

After the first day in the clinic on our own, as the well behaved, ‘reflective practice’ nurses that we are, we assessed how the day went. Overall, we felt the clinic ran very well, but it was decided that there was a need for an additional role as a ‘crowd controller’ tomorrow.

At the end of the day, I asked each member of the group, what, from their point of view was the thing or something that they enjoyed the most from the first health clinic day. Here are the responses: Aimee: The child with the cleft palate really stood out to me, I was surprised at how calm the baby was. I really enjoyed learning the drugs and the disease that it goes with it. We were able to refer the child to operation smile and hopefully in the future, the child will get the cleft palate fixed. Darcee: I really enjoyed caring for the person that got hit in the eye with a paw paw 3 days ago. It was black, red and swollen. I cleaned it with saline, administered antibiotic eye drops, patched it and explained to him how to care for it.

Fiona: I really enjoyed doing the health promotion or health ‘mobbing’ as it has become known as. The kids get so excited because they get free stuff! They were shoving it down their pants and then coming back for another toothbrush.

Kathryn: I just loved the whole learning experience.

Kymmie: I thoroughly enjoyed watching Teaghen give birth in health promotion today. Would have to say that was my definite highlight.

Teaghen: Giving birth was my favorite part of the day.

Diana: I think getting the chance to syringe a child’s ears was my favorite stand out moment for the day.

Cara: It was a really good learning experience. I liked listening to the Doppler.

Colin: Today it was counting to one hundred in Lao with the children.

Amber: I had a really good learning experience today.

Anna: Holding the babies

Alexa: Hanging out with the village people

Ashley: I really enjoyed speaking to the people and everything really

Marie: I really liked the babies and pregnant women

Ryan: Playing with the kids and trying to organize everybody. Also learning a bit more of the language.

Me: I think the ‘Fracture clinic of back slabs’ stood out for me today. It was certainly something I wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to do back home.

We continued to set up health clinics in different villages of various sizes for the remainder of the week. On Tuesday we set up a clinic in Ban Hadsangon (population approx 600), Wednesday in Ban Hadhouay (population approx 600), Thursday in Ban Hadsang (population approx 400) and Friday in our own village. Every day we were greeted by a procession of village children, villagers and the village chief, all of whom were just so grateful that we were there to provide healthcare to their village. As a gesture of thanks for allowing us to come into their village, 2 volunteers provided a donation bag of clothes, books toys and useful things to be distributed amongst the people. We also gave each village a bag of school supplies to be used at the local schools. Nearly all of the school children attend school here, but it is not easy for them to attend when they are living off such a small income and the children are often needed in the home to tend the garden or help with housework. Nearly all of the children use broken bags to carry the couple of books that they have to school and most of them have ripped and dirty, dusty clothes to wear. Many do not have any shoes that they wear to school.

Friday 3rd February On Friday we had a crazy morning in our very own village, Ban Pekkeng. Luckily, by this stage we had many of the aspects of our health clinic finely tuned. It did take a lot of organization, crowd control, quick thinking and fast moving BUT we flew through 113 villagers before 12 o’clock! Our facilitators congratulated us on a job well done and we all headed back to our home stays to pack up to leave for Luang Prabang again.

We are currently still in the process of compiling research data to provide a definitive result on this, but just asking around the group, the main complaints within the villagers seemed to be runny nose, coughing (many due to Tuberculosis), colds & flus, gastro, sore stomach and of course the famous ‘Jeplang, jeplang’ combined with a point to the individuals back to indicate back pain. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we saw around 170 people each day whilst on Thursday because it was a smaller village, we managed to get through about 100. These were all full clinic days. Some of the main medical highlights from the week of clinics that we set up and were able to help with were:

We patched up 2 boys who had broken arms and sent them to hospital (with money) to fix them up. I know that one was a bilateral radius and ulna fracture, compound and oblique but I’m not 100% sure on the other one… We sent a baby and a mother to hospital because the baby had really bad pneumonia. The mother didn’t want to go because she couldn’t afford to go, but with some reassurance (and some money courtesy of us), we put her in the front of our truck and took her to town with us We took a man with a suspected sub dural hematoma to hospital, but luckily because he was a soldier, we didn’t have to pay for his care The feelings about the health clinics are so hard to put into words.

At the hospitals, they will only take you if you can pay upfront and none of the people that we sent to hospital could afford to go without our help. The money at the hospital is collected everyday by the Dr or nurse who will tells the patient what they need every day and if they haven’t got it, they are out the door. It feels really good to be able to help out the people of the Sueng Valley communities. Really puts things into perspective for us as ‘wealthy westerners’ in a whole new way.

Before we left the village for Luang Prabang, our families gave each of us a ‘Bazi’, which is a ceremony to commemorate our stay in the homestay with the family, to acknowledge our existence as a part of the family and to wish us well on our journey into the future and hope that we come back to visit. The ceremony involved as many family members as possible being present, the village chief being present and many friends and well wishers too. We were blessed by the chief and by the family by having bands of string placed on our wrists, one on the right and one on the left by each of the villagers. We were all given beautiful scarves as departure gifts, worn from left to right to signify buddah (apparently right to left represents the communist party). Then we headed back to Luang Prabang for the weekend, feeling exhausted but really good about the work we have done at the same time and looking forward to some creature comforts - GOD BLESS European toilets and showers!

The gap year that was - Emma and her life in Peru

A bus load of wonderful Peruvian stories that made for a fascinating gap year!

I think my time in Peru could be compared to the crazy, outer world experience of taking the local Peruvian bus to school… so here goes!

So you make the decision to go. You’re waiting in line to get the special ‘Batman’ bus. Then others join the nonexistent line before they all get on the Zorro bus and leave you once again standing alone. I will admit this is when I thought maybe I should have ‘got on with my life’ , following my other friend’s decision to go to uni. But then more people come and the bus is in sight. I get carried onto the bus dazed, confused and getting lost in a buzz of Spanish words, big skirts and colours. The decision was made, all my documents were signed and my pack was all ready.

The bus then lurches into action and for the first few minutes all is chaos whilst locals and me alike race for a seat to spare my head banging on the roof. When the small ticket boy comes around to ask for money I am faced with another cultural shock… Spanish. However with the wonderful use of our hands, facial expressions, fellow passengers and us speaking louder and slower in our respective languages (it is a proven fact that this doesn’t make it any easier for a Peruvian person to understand english) the price was established. In here steps our wonderful Spanish teacher Liliana as well as our wonderful host families who did everything to make us feel happy and welcome.

A few stops along a little boy sitting at the back of the bus needs to get off and yet again the bus is thrown into pandemonium. It is our first time at school meeting the beautiful children, teachers and community. Everyone gets up to give us their seats and we are made to feel so included that it feels like we have known everyone forever. For the next little while not too much happens on the ‘bus’ journey. We are getting to know our classes and teachers whilst planning lessons, we are talking with Jane and Arlich about what we want to build in the school and we are exploring the fantastic Cusco! The bus stops and the rest of the group jump on, we are now thankfully al together

A local leans over to chat with me and begins to tell me his life story. After many minutes of polite smiling and trying to converse in Spanish the bus groans climbing the hill making it impossible for any conversation. Our little bus slowly but surely made it up the hill near Sacsayhuaman (Sexy woman) passing many other ancient Inca ruins giving us glimpses into a past life. Looking out the window of the bus I could see the valleys where we white water rafted, the town of Pisac where we went to the famous market, the volcanic mountain and canyons near Arequipa and the river which feeds into Lake Titicaca where we enjoyed relaxing on a boat and the tumbling waterfalls over which we zip-lined! In the distance I even think I eye spied the hazy hazardous Bolivian border and Manu jungle. What weekend adventures we had!!

Getting stopped by a local police check we all felt slightly culturally shocked… a few of us visited the horrible bathrooms after drinking Peruvian water, or eating salad from Govinda Lila’s wonderful vegetarian food and took a little side trip to one of the multiple pharmacies there are in Cusco. But we luckily clear the check unscathed and better off for having experienced it. More incredible stories to tell!

The last leg of our journey goes much quicker than expected, the bus rolls down hill with no vision of stopping. Suddenly the ticket boy is calling our school’s stop and I am left to fight my way to the door. The locals are making it difficult with their beautiful smiles and large baskets of chickens that have also made the journey but finally I jump out to breathe the cool, fresh, clean mountain air. I take a few moments to pull myself together and think about the unforgettable experiences I have had during my time in Peru, the great characters I have met, the wonderful friends I have shared it with and overall how mighty glad I am that I decided to board this bus and not the brand new clean super speedy one full of photographing older tourists that sped on ahead and braved the excitement of uni.

For me that could wait till next year.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Last blog from UniBreak student Rachel in Ghana

So this weekend we all headed to the Eastern Region for our last weekend in Ghana! We had to catch three trotro's to get to Alburi, but we got there at last!

We went straight to Pete's Pizza, which according to our trusty Bradt Guide, has delicious pizza- it was right, very good pizza! We then went to Bob Marley's studio, that his wife Rita Marley had build in his honor after he died, in Alburi where he was born. Unfortunately it has burnt down previously and we got only look at the outside, but it was still interesting. We also went to the Botanical gardens whilst in Alburi, which was really interesting and got lots of great photos here. After all this we ran out of things to do in Alburi so we caught 4 (!) trotros back to cape coast (our favorite place in alllllll of Ghana!!), and once again enjoyed swimming, hammocking and stocked up on some good books from the english bookstore there. Great relaxing last weekend in Ghana.

We were planning on going to the orphange for Monday and Tuesday but alas Bianca was ill on Monday, we think from some food we ate,- was bound to happen at some stage!! But on Tuesday we managed to go into the orphange. This was a really great experience, and we were really glad that we got to see both the clinic and the orphange sides of things here. The orphanage is very under-resourced and it was very sad to see how many orphans there are here and how hard it must be on them. Whilst the children were in class, there was lots of clothes hand-washing... we appreciate our washing machines SO much now! and dishes washing. During break times it was really fun to play with the kids though and we got some great pictures of us volunteers with the kids. We also got to put the youngest children tied to our backs like the women carry their children here, it was actually really comfy!!

We left our families on Wednesday morning, which was very sad, but we promised to keep in touch and send our photos over to them. It was hard to say goodbye to these families who have looked after us so well for the past month! Well, this is the end of our time in Ghana, and we have all agreed that it was the best way ever to spend our uni holidays and we are so glad that we all came and made a difference here in such a beautiful country.

Well, time to fly now, we can wait to see you all soon!!!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Final blog from University of Queensland in Cambodia

Day 17 - Saturday

Today was an extremely busy day and the first day that we really had free time to explore Siem Reap. After a nice sleep in a group of us headed up stairs at Jasmine to have breakfast and make plans for the day ahead. After changing our minds numerous times we all worked out what we were going to do. Some were going for massages, some were going shopping but Katie and I had decided that today we would like to see the floating villages.

We went and booked at reception and within 5 minutes a tuk tuk was there ready to go, (which I dont think would ever happen in Australia). After quickly scrambling around getting our stuff together we were in the tuk tuk heading towards a part of Siem Reap that we hadn't gotten to see yet.

The journey in the tuk tuk took about 20 minutes and the scenery along the way was extremely diverse and much more third world then the rest of the city. There were many small thatched houses, heaps of kids riding push bikes home from school, houses that were clearly owned by people with money and some spectacularly green rice fields. Many of the houses were built up on extremely high and rather unstable looking columns that im guessing is to protect the houses from all the water in the wet season however Im unsure of whether I could live in one of those houses without the fear of it eventually falling over.

After the tuk tuk ride we reached the wharf where we headed down to our boat which was a big wooden boat that could seat about fifteen people, however we had this one all to ourselves. As soon as we were in our seats the boat headed out towards the floating village. The floating village was amazing to see it was very different to anything I had ever experienced before and was interesting to learn how people could live and rely on the lake so much. The houses were extremely basic and some lucky people had boats but most of the people just had canoes that they used to get around. Most of the houses had makeshift clothes lines the were strung up along walls and many people were just using the river to bathe in. We passed many children who were playing and fishing in the water and they all seemed extremely happy, which made me think of some children back home who complain about all the things they dont have and dont appreciate how good thier lives actually are. There were floating shops, a floating school and even a floating church.

There were also floating cafes that the tourists could stop at to buy food or drinks during their tour. When we made it through the village we went out into the open lake called Tonle Sap. It was so big that I thought we had actually gone out into the open ocean. According to our boat driver who had grown up in the floating village, Tonle Sap is the biggest lake in South East Asia and is 150km wide. While we were out sitting on the lake a small boat came along side us. This boat contained a small family of a father and a boy and a small girl. Much to my surprise the girl had a python wrapped around her neck and was offering me a photo with it for $1. As fr as Im concerned snakes are interesting to look at but they can stay far away from me. The next part of the tour involved stopping at a restaurant that had a fish and crocodile farm and a large look-out where you could take photos of the village from above. I had never seen a crocodile farm before so when i looked in I was so shocked to see so many crocodiles all being kept in such a confined space.

After the restaurant we headed back towards the wharf through the village, even though it was such a poor village it still had this indescribable beauty about it which was enhanced by how happy the people looked. We arrived back at Jasmine Lodge at 1:40pm after our tour and a group of us had planned to go to a traditional Khmer food cooking class as we had all fallen in love with the cuisine while we had been here. This class however started at 2pm with an arrival time of 1:45pm so back in a tuk tuk I jumped an headed towards Temple Bar in Pub street which was where the class was being held. The group that went to the cooking class included, Anna, Jane, Jess S and Jess H, Kris, Leselle, Maddie D and Maddy C, Amy, Lisa and I. It was $10 and included a free t-shirt, a three course meal that we got to prepare and eat and we got to dress up in aprons and chef hats which to us was pretty much worth the $10 anyways. For entre we made fried or fresh spring rolls, my fried spring rolls still ended up being bigger then everyone elses I still have no idea why.

For main we made with a Khmer Amok or a curry which were both dishes that we had frequently whilst dining in Cambodia and for dessert we made a Banana dish that I didn't particularly enjoy but others thought it was fantastic. After our amazing cooking class we headed back to Jasmine Lodge again where Katie, Anna, Abi and I decided that we would like to try and catch sunset at Angkor Wat temple so back in a tuk tuk we got and headed straight for the temple. Unfortunately by the time we reached the temple we had missed sunset but were still surprised by its amazing beauty under the afternoon sun and still got some amazing photos. That evening I was exhausted but was so glad that I had experienced so much in one day.

Day 18- Sunday

Today was temple day!! I was so excited! Everyone was heading out today to see the temples and some girls had even got up at 4am so go out and see sunrise. Maddy C, Lisa, Katie and I however had booked an English tour guide and a tuk tuk to be picked up at 9am for a full day tour of the three most popular temples, Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. First we headed to Angkor Wat which is the biggest temple and most well known out of the three that we were heading to today. Angkor Wat is an absolutely amazing temple and its main three towers are featured on the Cambodian flag, however as we leant that day it actually has five towers, four around the outside and one in the middle except the back two hide behind the front two which is why you only see three when looking at it straight on. We also learnt that each temple is created by a reining king and is built in dedication to one of the gods so in the case of Angkor Wat it was dedicated to the god Vishnu and took approx 37 years to build.

Not all of the carvings are finished on the walls of Angkor Wat because after a king finishes his reign the new king builds his own temple rather then completing the previous kings temple. There were many carvings on the walls of Angkor Wat telling stories of the wars between gods and demons. There are also carving describing a well known story in the religion of cambodia about the churning of the sea which involved the gods and demons working together for thousands of years to churn a sea to make the water give them immortality. In the very middle of the temple there is a tower that you can get to, up some extremely steep stairs mind you, and you can see over the whole Angkor Wat temple area. It was an amazing view and made me wonder what I would have seen from the top if I was alive when this temple was being used by royalty. Going back down the stairs from the top tower was extremely difficult as the stairs are all very tiny as well as steep. As Lisa is scared of heights she decided to go down the stairs backwards so she didnt have to look down, this was good for her but made it harder for Katie and I as went ended up laughing all the way down the stairs. Our guide was fantastic and told us all the history of Angkor Wat and how it was built and how it functioned in the past.

It took us around 3 hours to fully see the whole of Angkor Wat but it was so worthwhile. After finishing Angkor Wat, we headed to the complex called Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom contains a very large amount of temples and back in history it functioned as a city under the reign of the king presiding at the time. Inside Angkor Thom lies the temple Bayon however our next stop was Ta Prohm which has become famous for featuring on the first Tomb Raider movie. This temple was a lot different from Angkor Wat not only in the structure but also in the location. Ta Prohm is located more in the jungle and many of its buildings have been destroyed due to extremely large and very old trees growing through the temple. Ta Prohm was made from a different stone then most of the other temples as during the time that this temple was being built there was a shortage of sand stone. The thick roots of the trees run along and down the walls of the temple like snakes pushing the stone aside. Some of the trees have even started growing inside the roof of a building rather then in the ground which is an amazing sight.

Maddy, Lisa, Katie and I got a photo at the tree that was used in Tomb Raider which was pretty cool. A lot of restoration is being completed at this temple at the moment to try and keep the structure intact and restore some of the building back to their former glory. After finishing our tour through Ta Prohm we headed to Bayon which is famously known for the faces in the rock. Just before entering Bayon we were greeted by some monkeys being feed by tourists on the side of the road, there were three of them and we were pretty sure that one of them was pregnant either that or it had an extremely droopy belly. They were pretty cute but we didn't get too close especially after the warnings from the travel health doctor about rabies. Bayon was extremely beautiful and the carvings in the wall of this temple were extremely well preserved and told stories about Cambodian and Chinese soldiers. All of the towers of Bayon had four sides with a large face carved in each side. It was easy to see how the faces had become famous because they were extremely unique and very beautiful.

As Bayon was the last temple of the day the sun was sitting low in the sky which gave us a fantastic opportunity to take some amazing photos of the temple under the light of the afternoon sun. After visiting Bayon our tour guide had to leave for another engagement however he told the tuk tuk driver to take us to Pre Rup (another temple just a bit further away) for the sunset. We thanked our tour guide before leaving as he had done such a great job and the experience would not have been the same without him. When we arrived at Pre Rup, there were already people walking up the extremely steep stone steps to the top. When we reached the top after a few breaks on the way up we positioned ourselves in the best place available to see the sunset. The whole experience today had been amazing and breath taking with beauty that was hard to put in to words. While watching the sunset from the top of a temple over a city that I had fallen in love with I realised that this had been one of the best weekends of my life and that I was so happy to be sharing it with 3 wonderful girls, Maddy, Lisa and Katie.

Day 19 - Monday

Start of the last week of prac, man it has gone so fast. This week Jane, Abi, Amy, Maddy C and I were all at the MHDC school doing education classes for adults, teenagers and children. The way that the day was structured was adult classes (separate classes for men and women) for two hours in the morning, followed by lunch at either Davy's uncles house or the restaurant and then classes with either teenagers or children for the last hour of the day. I knew this was going to be the most difficult week for me as I have never done so many education classes and didnt have any experience to base what I was going to do off of. Today Maddy and I decided that we would take the women's class for the week and that Abi, Jane and Amy would take the men's class for the week.

Our first topics for today were Lifting and Moving with the women's class and Hepatitis B and Rabies for the mens class. When we started we were so nervous because we werent sure what the best way to teach them was and if they would even be interested in the topics, plus everything we said had to be translated to them through our amazing translator Bota. Our lifting and moving topic lasted just under an hour of the class and by the end of the topic the women seemed so bored and uninterested.I felt so defeated and upset because I didnt know how to teach them in a way they would enjoy it and want to learn about it plus it is really hard to tell how they are feeling off their facial expressions which makes it hard to figure out what to do next. As we had covered our whole topic in under half the class time we gave the women a 15 minute break so that we could get together with the mens class group and see how they were going and discuss tactics of what to do next. During this time Maddy and I decided that we would teach them Hepatitis B after the break and hopefully they would be more interested in that topic. Luckily they were a bit more interested in this topic and seemed to have more questions about it at the end which lifted our spirits a little and made us not give up on our teaching skills.

When they had no more questions we asked the women what they would like to learn about for the rest of the week and surprisingly they gave us a list of topics including, lungs and digestive system, appendicitis, pregnancy and breastfeeding, contraception and STD's. This was great as we knew that if we taught them these topics they would actually be interested in what we were talking about. After that interesting session we went and had lunch at the restaurant with the group that was at the MHDC clinic which this week was Jess S, Lisa, Katie and Kris. Lunch was great as usual at the restaurant. After lunch we headed back to the school where Maddy and I were going to teach the teenagers class and Abi, Jane and Amy were going to teach the children's class. As we were unaware of what the teenagers wanted to learn about we decided to teach them about Australia including all the states and capital cities and some of the famous Australian animals. We practiced some of the pronunciation of these words with them and they all copied them down in their books.

At the end of the lesson we also asked them what they wanted to learn about for the rest of the week. Surprisingly they said things like setting goals for the future and healthy eating which was great to hear. That night I was exhausted and felt defeated from a hard day of teaching so I stayed back at Jasmine whilst everyone else went out to dinner and did some research for the next day's topic determined that it was going to be a better day.

Day 20- Tuesday

Second day of teaching was better then the first which was great and it turned out to be a much better day. Today the women's class learnt about the digestive system and the lungs as well as diseases and infections such as tuberculosis and appendicitis. The men's class were learning about Hep A, Hep C and HIV. Today's class was so much more interactive and enjoyable and the women had a lot of relevant questions and seemed genuinely interested in what we were teaching them. We gave them a break during the middle of the class and when they came back they were just as enthusiastic to learn which was a great improvement on the day before. That day we had lunch without the group from the MHDC clinic as they were out buying all of the things that we had decided to buy with the fundraising money. It was at lunch that we learnt that we had to teach the childrens and the teenagers class something to perform at the presentation that we wee going to attend on friday. We immediately freaked out a bit about this as we werent quite sure what to teach them but we eventually decided to teach both classes a song.

As most of the teenagers could read pretty good english and speak pretty good english Maddy and I decided to teach them a bit of a harder song which end up being the I can sing a rainbow song. When we got to the teenage class our first part of the class we had prepared information about setting goals for the future. First we went around the class and asked them what they wanted to do in the future after they finished school. Most of them wanted to be teachers, but two wanted to be nurses, two wanted to be doctors and one wanted to be a tour guide and the last one wanted to be a singer. We then discussed the difference between long term goals and short term goals and how to reward yourself after reaching your goals. After the lesson on setting goals we had a first practice at the song we were going to perform on friday. The first go wasn't too good but that was to be expected but all of the students copied down the sing and said that they would practice at home. But we practiced again for good measure just before they left.

Day 21- Wednesday

Today was a pretty dismal day. It was my turn to be sick so I spent the day sleeping and feeling nauseated which was pretty crappy. When the girls got home they said they had a great day, they spent the day painting the library at the school and teaching the women's class about pregnancy and breastfeeding and the mens class about lifting and moving. They also practiced the song with the teenagers. After everyone got home I was feeling a little better and learnt that Peta our lecturer and some of the girls were going out to get some traditional Khmer photos done. I decided to tag along incase I didnt get another opportunity. Peta, Abi, Katie and I all went together to a photo shop that offered the Khmer photos for $15 which included hair, make up and costume plus four photos... so cheap! After we had arrived another group of girls - Jess S, Amy, Jane, Maddie D and Leselle arrived at the same place, this overwhelmed the make up and hair people I think as there were so many people in the room. So how this works is first you get your make up completed to make you look like a china doll then you get your hair done which is usually big hair and they use a lot of fake hair pieces as well. You then pick out the colour of your traditional Khmer costume and they pick all the jewellery to go with your costume. Everyone looked amazing when we got them done and we were so excited to see ourselves all dressed up.

Day 22 - Thursday (Australia Day)

Today was our last day of prac for the whole placement it was a pretty sad because we had such a great time. Our final lessons for the women was contraception, STD's and menopause and for the men it was a lesson about Australia. The women really enjoyed our class on contraception and STDs and asked heaps of questions about the pill and the depo injection and especcially menopause. Not many women in cambodia know about menopause so sometimes when they start going through menopause and thier period stops they believe that they are pregnant and when they find out they aren't pregnant they don't understand what is wrong. After the class the women were all excited and thanked us for teaching them. They then started asking us questions about our lives n Australia which they found extremely interesting. One lady even wanted to marry Maddy and I off to her 12 year old son haha! That afternoon in our teenage class we spent the whole class practicing the song we had taught them and practicing lining up so that they were well presented for the following day.

By now they were really good at the song and only struggled with a few words. That afternoon when we left the school we were all in high spirits as it was Australia Day and Jasmine Lodge was holding a BBQ to celebrate, so when we got home we had a shower and got ready and then went back out to the front of jasmine for the BBQ. They had steak and chicken wings, potato salad, lettuce and tomato and even BBQ sauce and mustard which we hadn't had for the whole trip! Mr Kun the lodge owner also flled up a big esky with softdrink and some beer and told all the guests at the BBQ that the drinks were free which was great because we got to have a beer on Australia day with our BBQ. That night we all went to bed thinking of home and preparing for the presentation the next day.

Day 23- Friday

Today was a very emotional day as it was the last day that we would be heading to the site that we had been working so hard at over the last three weeks. Today we were attending a presentation with the military and his excellence who is basically equal to the minister of defence for Australia but Cambodia's version. When we arrived all of the school kids were lined up outside the hall awaiting our arrival and the arrival of his excellency. We immediately went in and got seated in the front rows, which were opposite a large group of military people and in front of a group of people from the community. Just after we sat down his excellency arrived, there were cameras everywhere and everyone clapped and stood up when he walked in the room. It was at this point I think we realised how important he really was. When the ceremony started a few people from the military first gave their speeches and then Peta and Liz and then it was mine, Leselle and Anna's turn to make a speech. I was first and was so so nervous as it was the first speech I had done to someone so important and also because I was representing our group at an important ceremony and didn't want to mess up. After me, Anna and Leselle got up and did their speeches fantastically.

Following the speeches it was time for the children to perform the songs that we had taught them. The younger children went first and then the older children that Maddy and I had been working with went second. They sang the song so amazingly I was so so proud of them and also felt proud of ourselves for being able to teach them something new in only a number of days. After the performances his excellency gave a speech and then presented Tom and Dayvy some medals to reward them for their great service to Cambodia through the help they had done in the villages. Following their presentation we then were pulled up in groups of 5 to get presented some framed certificates and scarves by his excellency and members from the military. This was one of the proudest moments of my life, it was this point that I actually realised how important it was that we were actually here and how much of a true impact that we had made, I couldnt help but smile and knew that I would never forget this moment, not ever. When all of the presentations were finished we walked with his excellency down to the new kitchen that we had helped fund to be built and watched the red ribbon be cut to officially open it. We then went to the school were all of the little kids were lined up clapping as we went on a tour to the library. The kids were all so cute and this is the part where a few us turned on the water works and became quite emotional.

We had all loved our experience so much and knew that it was going to be so hard to leave the country and the children. Following our tour we headed back up to the hall to see our buckets of donations being handed out to all of the houses. These buckets contained a mosquito net, a mat (which they use to sleep on), soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, 2kg washing powder and a blanket and the bucket could be used to store fresh water. It was great to see the smiles on people's faces after receiving thier bucket. After this we headed to lunch with the military and his excellency at the restaurant that we ate at during our lunch breaks. I was so surreal going to lunch with such important people. His excellency was such a down to earth person as well and knew a limited amount of english but tried to say as much as he could to interact in conversations with us which was really great.

That afternoon when lunch was over we headed back to Jasmine to have some free time before our dinner with the military and his excellency that night. During the break Maddy and Lisa wanted to go and get some traditional Khmer photos done and as we had become quite good friends I went with them and got them done again. Just after we got back from getting the photos done we had to leave for dinner which gave us about 15 minutes to be ready. We went to dinner at a place where you get given raw ingredients and a pot with boiling water and you put all the ingredients in together to make your own soup. It was really amazing and tasted so good, I wasnt quite sure what everything in the soup was but it tasted good regardless. Dinner was so fun and very relaxed and his excellency came around and talked to all of us at our tables numerous times which was really good to see as it isn't often that you see someone in a high standing position be so down to earth. I'm sure that the girls will all agree that the phrase we will take away from this dinner is "Dont forget Cambodia"

Day 24 - Saturday

My Second last day in Cambodia turned out to be another amazing day in more ways then one. Bota (one of the translators) and I had organised a trip up to Phnom Kulen with Sandi (another translator) and Jess H, Katie, Abi, Anna and Kris. It was an hour and a half away so we left fairly early in the morning so we could spend as much time as possible in this amazing place. So let me tell you a little about Phnom Kulen it is one of the most sacred mountains in all of Cambodia, it features a Buddhist temple at the top and then after a short walk there is a breathtaking three layered waterfall. After our bumpy 1 and a half hour trip we arrived at a little village that surrounded the Buddhist temple.

We went for a walk up to the Buddhist temple to have a look around and right at the top of the temple there is a reclining Buddha that would weigh a huge amount and is painted gold it was really cool. There was also a man inside this room that could read things about you and tell you things about your future. Jess H, Kris and I had a reading done by him and were so surprised by how accurate some of the things he said were. After we finished having a look around the temple we went on a short walk through the jungle of the mountain and came out on the side of a stream which was bordered with some shaded huts, two restaurants and had a rickety looking bridge adjoining each side. By this point we were all getting hungry so we sat in one of the huts by the stream where we ordered our lunch and listened to the sound of the flowing water as we waited for our food to be delivered from the restaurant to our hut.

It was so peaceful listening to the stream and was so beautiful watching the water flow over th rocks. After lunch we headed down towards the end of the stream where it seemed to go over the edge, this I learnt was where the first ledge of the waterfall went down the the second ledge of the waterfall. So after a few short steps I was watching white water flow over the edge of the rock and down along the other rocks and over the edge to the third edge of the waterfall, it was absolutely amazing I had never seen anything like it. The water was so beautifully clear and very fresh and cold as it was travelling down the stream from the very top of the mountain. We each dared each other to stand under the flow of the water and when we did it was like having a cold shower in the middle of winter it was so cold but somehow it was really easy to adapt to and when you stepped out you felt cleaner then you had in your entire life.

After frolicking around on the second layer for awhile we headed down the long steps to the third layer of the water fall, you have to climb over alot of rock and along some makeshift paths to get there but when I saw the main waterfall for the first time it took my breath away and I was speechless it was gorgeous and unlike anything I had ever seen. I could describe it in here but I don't think there is actual words to describe its magnificance, it was the perfect thing to do that day and just made me feel so happy inside it summed up my trip in such an incrediable way. After swimming in the waters of the waterfall for awhile we headed for Jasmine. On the way back we stopped at Bantaey Srey which is a temple famously known for its spectacular carvings and pink sandstone structure. We could only stay for 20 minutes as Anna was leaving on a flight tonight and had yet to finish packing.

When we reached Jasmine we were extremely tired but so happy and content we just couldnt stop smiling. Tonight was our goodbye dinner and we all had to be ready by 6.30pm to head to the restaurant and all of the translators were attending to celebrate an excellent trip. Unfortunately before we had left two of the girls that had been sick for a few days had to be taken into hospital and were admitted to stay overnight. The goodbye dinner just wasn't the same without them but we knew that it was best for them to be better before the flight home. At the dinner we made a presentation to all the translators and gave them certificates of appreciation for their hard work whilst on the trip. Without them we wouldnt have been able to accomplish anything and we really owed them a lot of gratititude, they helped make the trip memorable especially Dayvy who worked so amazingly hard to make everything function smoothly and does an extremely good job at it!

Day 25- Sunday

This was our last day in Siem Reap, which meant our day to pack, our last day for last minute shopping (which i did plenty of) and our last day to spend in a city that had captured our hearts more then we thought possible. Some of us didn't actually realise how much stuff we had accumulated over our month in Cambodia and a few of us had to buy a second bag to bring it home in! Packing was the hardest thing as it ment the trip of a lifetime was over, many of us were sad to be leaving but at the same time were excited to see out loved ones again. At about lunch time we got the girls back out of hospital and helped them pack up all their stuff and get them ready to go and at 4.30, the translators came to Jasmine lodge to say goodbye to us for the last time. Many tears were shed as friendships had been made in the small time we were there but we were all so happy that we could make a difference in a country less fortunate then our own.

Things that I will miss about Cambodia, the people, the tuk tuks, the crazy power lines, the amazingly cheap prices, being offered fish massages every time I walk down a street, the children, the translators, the banana and nutella crepes and most of all the feeling of just being in the city. This was the most amazing and life changing trip of my life, I didn't think that it would have as much effect on me as it has and all the hard work that we put in before we even got there was so totally worth it. After we left Jasmine we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Bangkok, as we waited we all reflected on things that we would miss and many of us wrote the last couple of entries in our diaries. Boarding the plane was a quite sad not only because it was small and had propellors and we were all worried that the extra weight in our baggage would make it crash but because we were leaving behind a country that had had an impact on all of our lives in numerous ways. When the plane finally took off and as I watched the lights of the city fade into the distance I knew without a doubt that I would be back.

Week 1 & 2 in Borneo for UniBreak volunteers

Week One Our first week in Borneo has been full of exciting, new and wonderful experiences. We have only been here for 7 days and already we have met so many wonderful people from all over the world, and I’m not just talking about the lovely and hospitable locals but all the other volunteers from all over Australia the UK and Holland. We have done everything from scoping out the streets and city life around Kota Kinabalu to roughing it in hammocks in the untamed jungles of Malaysia. We have travelled down the Kinabatangan River spotting wild monkeys, birds, lizards and countless types of creepy crawlies. In groups we have spent the majority of our time so far in Borneo living with local home stay families in the Batu Puteh community, who showed us all nothing but kindness, teaching us all their way of life; however I think we have all come to appreciate Western plumbing systems we have back at home.

We took day trips to a Chinese Buddhist temple, Sandakan Memorial Park and Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre; I’d imagine that none of us will forget the things we saw in these places for a very long time. As far as our volunteer work has been going we spent a day working in a nursery, planting seeds and maintaining young trees which were going to be planted in the jungle just over the river. We all may have had a little but too much fun using machetes to cut through tall weeds in order to clear space for the trees we were about to plant during the jungle camp. But all in all so far we have been spending time with our local guides who definitely live up to the meaning of working on “Borneo time” and soaking up all this program has had to offer so far, and now we are all very excited about what our next camp, Camp Tinagol in Kudat, has in store for us.

Week Two Week two of our time in Borneo has been much harder working; however it has been more fun than any of us expected. Being thrust into the longhouse at Camp Tinagol has forced everyone to bond a lot more than the previous camp did, literally spending every waking (and sleeping) moment together. This week we has had many highlights including, getting amongst our project work, moving into the longhouse, beach parties, drinking rice wine and singing karaoke with locals, climbing Mt Kinabalu, and weekend trips to Kota Kinabalu.

We have learned so much about the local Rungus people from our camp leader, Zul and the other staff members, as well as getting to know the other volunteers, and by now I think we can all say that we have all made so many wonderful new friends. Our project work has consisted of us all rotating through different jobs, including, building a kindergarten in the local village, teaching in the primary school, and building a war memorial statue out of bamboo, that is eco-friendly which will be shown in the streets of KK. As for those of us that did the mount climb, we can all agree that it was one of the most challenging things any of us had ever done, mentally and physically, but seeing the sunrise from the peak made it all very worth it. The only sad thing about this camp is that time is flying by much too fast.

Our UniBreak volunteers hit the ground running in Kenya

Week 2: This week we begun work on our projects around the village, which we had been eagerly awaiting. There were a few groups working on different aspects of the projects- some were putting up a fence, some were making and painting gates, and our group embarked on the building of a community hut, which meant a lot of land clearing and digging over the full 5 days.

None of us were prepared for how challenging, but equally as rewarding, the project work really is. By the time Friday rolled around, we were all exhausted, but were able to look back on what we had accomplished in such a short amount of time. We could clearly witness the contribution we'd made to the community, in our own small but long-lasting way. As a reward for our efforts, a group of traditional African dancers performed for us an array of energetic and vivacious dances, giving us a true taste of the musical culture. On Saturday night, we all got the opportunity to ditch the work clothes and shovels, dress up a little bit and hit the dance floor at Forty Thieves- our first glance of the Kenyan nightlife. Week 3:

On Monday we commenced our final working week at camp Muhaka, and embraced, for the last time, the friendly atmosphere of the little village. We worked on rendering and painting a toilet block for the Islamic primary school. We awoke on Thursday morning, buzzing with anticipation for the journey to camp Tsavo- a camp nestled beneath a canopy of acacia trees, and surrounded by vast savannahs and African wildlife. All the one month volunteers said our goodbyes to those staying for two and three months, and set off on our travels to the distant but alluring Tsavo, which we had heard so much about from the camp workers and locals alike.

As we arrived, we were all stunned by the beauty of the scenery around us, and the seclusion of the camp right in the heart of breathtaking Tsavo. We were welcomed by the camp manager, Sammy K, and the project managers, Peter and Steve, who once again impressed us with their optimism and humour. Our first sanctuary management project was to clear the unwanted plants from the road so that the bus could drive us to Sasenyi school on Monday. As dusk crept across the sky, we all embarked on our wildlife monitoring project.

The aim was to collect data about the animals in the national park, but it eventually became more of a mini safari treat. We were lucky enough to encounter about ten elephants, clustered in small groups, trudging through the scrubby bushlands. They were astounding, majestic creatures, and sparked a great sense of excitement among us about working so closely with the wildlife.