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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Reflections from France - GapBreakers last days with host families


COUNTRY: France
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Language and tutoring English
WRITTEN BY: Siobhan Calafiore

So our French adventure has finally come to an end. I don’t think any of us would have ever believed that three months could go that quickly! Before I left I was wondering how I would cope being away from home for that long but in the end I could have easily stayed longer. I remember writing that the hardest part of this trip was getting off the train to meet our host families.

Maybe I was wrong.

For many of us the hardest part was saying goodbye and letting go of what has become our life for the last three months. But it was a different kind of hard. Not the butterflies, the nervousness, the anxiety when the wheels of the train came to a halt but a bittersweet acceptance. Here was a group of people I had come to know and love that I now must leave and may or may not ever see again. It was something that was difficult to get my head around but luckily we have email, facebook and skype to keep these connections going.

Phoebe

Saying goodbye was a lot tougher than Phoebe had anticipated. After having gotten to know her family so well it was hard leaving without knowing when she would see them again. On her last night they reflected over the three months. It was clear that Phoebe had become a part of the family. Her absence wasn’t going to be easy and the family admitted how much they were all going to miss her.

Phoebe is grateful for what she believes has been a unique opportunity to immerse herself in the French culture and to come away with new friends, an unforgettable experience and a much higher level of French. However Phoebe’s travels are not over yet. She has a month in the United Kingdom reuniting with Jess in Scotland and then another month exploring Asia before her return. She says “it makes leaving France easier as I have a lot to look forward to”.


Georgia

Georgia’s last day was celebrated with a barbecue lunch in the garden whilst enjoying the beautiful weather. She was treated to an amazing feast of “gateau de crepes” with tuna, crab, tomato and cucumber, barbecued meats, cheese typical of the region and the most amazing lemon tart. Her host mother’s exceptional cooking was something she was going to miss. The rest of the afternoon was spent by the pool soaking up the July sunshine and chatting with her host sisters.

The next morning before Georgia was driven to the train station she had to say goodbye to everyone for the last time. There was the usual cheek kissing and hugging and nearly a few tears. Promises were made to stay in touch and Georgia was invited to come back anytime she wanted. “It was less of an invitation and more of an expectation”. She says that she is grateful “for their kindness and generosity and for their patience with trying to communicate at times.”

Looking back on the trip Georgia wouldn’t change a thing. She has learned a lot from her family about the French language and culture. She had to learn to think about things differently in order to express herself and to be patient when people didn’t understand. However her ability to speak and understand has improved and watching the French news isn’t so hard anymore.

Another challenge was explaining the history of Australia, especially trying to make the French understand about the history of the Aboriginals and the incredible multiculturalism. These topics the French generally knew little about. “They didn’t realise how many different people have built up Australia” and were shocked that Georgia could buy French cheese at the local supermarket.

However like Phoebe and Jess the journey doesn’t end here for Georgia. She is off to Paris to spend a few days there before heading to Munich. She has planned three more months of travel around Europe and will be visiting family she hasn’t seen in years. Although some do not speak English she is optimistic that it will turn out alright.


Jess

Jess managed to shed a few tears when saying goodbye to her host parents. She says she had the “best experience” having gained a lot of independence, confidence and life experience from the trip. She would recommend it to anyone looking to expand their horizons and improve their French.

However although sad to leave France she is excited to be heading off to the United Kingdom and Croatia where she will be catching up with friends before heading home.

On my last night we had a large celebration with family friends. We ate mussels and fries for dinner, a strawberry tart and a traditional Brittany cake called the “Far” for dessert. Gifts were exchanged, photos taken, bottles of champagne opened and there was lots of loud and terrible singing to famous French songs, dancing and laughter into the early hours of the morning.

The next day after waking up, eating breakfast and showering I was ready to head off to the train station. Although the family made the effort to wake up early and say goodbye, these goodbyes were quick having said everything that needed to be said the night before. A quick glance through the train window expressed more than any words could, a smile, a wave and then that was it.

Although this experience hasn’t changed who I am I believe it has bettered me. I have benefitted from this year in a way that I wouldn’t have at university. After twelve years of school it was time to change tack. Of course this decision led to doubt, worry and constant questioning especially since both my siblings, all my friends and what felt like everyone I knew was heading to university. Sometimes I wondered if I had made the wrong decision.

But there is no right or wrong and I come away from these last three months convinced that a GAP year was the best idea I ever had. Having grown up in a pretty sheltered world being out there by myself was the best thing for me. Although I did have a support network in case things went wrong the experience definitely made me become more independent, responsible, confident and stronger as a person.

Speaking to foreigners in their native tongue, travelling around by myself, teaching a classroom of children, meeting so many new people and adapting to another culture whilst being so far away from my own have all been different challenges that I have conquered along the way.

My French has progressed more than I had ever hoped for. After a year and a half since I completed year 12 French I was amazed how quickly I returned to my former level and then even more amazed how quickly I surpassed it. My comprehension improved the most and by the last week I could understand everything that was being said to me, the conversations around me and even the television without massive strains of concentration.

My spoken French became more fluent, my accent more authentic and by the end of the three months I knew enough to not be limited in what I wanted to say.
The places we have visited, the memories and especially the friendships we have made will never be forgotten. I am grateful to all the people I have met, who have helped me along the way and who have made my trip so memorable.

For all of us this adventure has been everything we had hoped for and more.
And finally to the girls who went on this trip with me
It was so nice to have travelled with you and to have shared some of the best memories with you. I know for a long time we will be reminiscing about this trip and I can’t wait to catch up with you all back in Australia.

Thank you for reading my blog and I guess that’s it from me!

Au revoir
Siobhan














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The 5 million step weekend: Pokhara UniBreak



COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Health & Teaching
WRITTEN BY: UniBreakers, Pokhara Nepal

We’ve come to the end of our 3rd week in Pokhara and we all just don’t know where the time has gone! Everyone has been spending some quality time with each of their Tibetan families this week, as we’re going to miss them when we leave!

We also said goodbye to two UniBreakers – Lottie and Bridget – who had to return to Adelaide to begin their final semester of Nursing.

By now everyone is in a great routine with his or her placements – enthusiasm is still high and everyone is learning so much! This week most of us also visited the Leprosy hospital – Green Pastures. Considering Leprosy does not exist anymore in Australia the experience was quite confronting. However, the hospital takes amazing care of the patients and all dressings are changed with impressive regularity.

The facilities are clean and the hospital even has its own prosthetics workshop, where prosthetic limbs are made for the patients largely free of charge. Despite the sadness and empathy we felt for the patients, overall the experience was positive due to the excellent conditions in the hospital and the cheeky smiles from the patients.


We had a farewell dinner together on Wednesday night for Lottie and Bridget, and farewelled them to Kathmandu on Thursday. The rest of the group spent the weekend hiking to Damphus with one of the local Tibetan guides – in our collective opinion it was a trek rather than a hike!

There were about 5,000,000,000 steep steps to climb before we reached ‘the top’, but then there were MORE! Let’s just say Nick will get a few ex-Antips patients wanting hip and knee replacements when he becomes an orthopaedic surgeon! Once we arrived in Damphus and recovered, we explored the village and the girls took part in a touch of sunbaking. The resulting burns are still being felt days later!

As it was our last weekend in Pokhara, we decided to harden up and go white water rafting as well! We received our safety brief, and then they let us loose on the river! Paddling gives you a wicked appetite and we had lunch by the river, made by our rafting guide and the kayakers in the ‘water ambulances’. Our new friends whipped up some homemade coleslaw, buffalo salami, homemade bread and buffalo cheese and we had sandwiches and bananas on the riverbank.

The July UniBreakers are thrill-seekers so we were all feeling a little bummed and bored before lunch – that was until we were thrown from the boat! Rafting is much more fun without a raft! When we made it back in one piece we were told there were no showers but told to pop across the road and shower in the waterfall.

No problems, sure thing! Only in Nepal. All in all we had a spectacular weekend and it was a great to have such a jam-packed final weekend.

Look out for our final blog post next week where we’ll be sharing our final thoughts and stories.

UniBreakers Pokhara Nepal
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Final adventures for the famous ghana girls


COUNTRY: Ghana
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Orphanage work
WRITTEN BY: Ghana girls 2012

Ghana girls here, writing our final blog together, before we go our separate ways all too soon.

We've had a roller coaster journey over the past few weeks, starting with a tearful goodbye in Swedru. The sight of our empty bedrooms made it seem as though we'd never lived there before, but the memories, photos and friendships made during our time in Ghana prove otherwise.

Our two week travel plans went up in smoke upon discovering that the Queen Volta cruise was (in typical Ghanaian style) out of order. So we made a hasty decision to board a trotro and travel to the seat of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi. This gave us five long hours to reflect on the lives we left behind.

Upon arriving in Kumasi, the biggest city we'd stayed in thus far, we were amazed at the simple things of urbanized life that we'd forgotten, such as street signs and white bedsheets. We spent the following morning in the largest open-air market in West Africa, getting lost in the winding labyrinth where one could find anything and everything from dried chameleons to acrylic hair extensions.

The next day we ventured out to Adanwomase, one of the kente-cloth weaving villages of the Ashanti region. Here we tried our hand at the ancient art, were gobsmacked by the professional weavers dexterity and sampled raw cocoa. We came upon the tree after which Adanwomase was named, planted atop a live virgin hundreds of years ago (presumably, she is now dead).

Techiman came next, where we zipped around for a good hour trying to find accommodation in taxis that appeared far too small for five adults. At Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary we got caught up in a tribal war between two monkey gangs.

We stood in awe as they swung through the trees and hissed at each other on the path, secretly glad we got those rabies shots. We visited the monkey cemetery where the Colobus and Mona monkeys are buried beside a fetish priest who, according to his grave stone, lived to be 120 (this is a common, dubious claim in Ghana).

We then headed north on a route that the guide book told us to forget about as it was impossible to get public transport. We got a bus within ten minutes. Unfortunately our luck ended here. We endured a torturous journey, squeezed between African booties and Canadian creepers. Bouncing down the worst dirt road yet, the skin beneath our eyes vibrated and the water bags in our laps burst...but mole was worth it. However our luck did not change straight away as we suffered the first of what would be later referred to as the 'baboon muggings'.

Bess's bread was snatched out of her hands from what she thought was Tara but was in fact a big mama of a baboon. Tara herself was the next victim, attacked as she strolled leisurely around the breakfast table. And as we know, bad things happen in threes and Annie's big bag of oats was the third target. However, despite these unfortunate occurrences, our memories of mole are very fond.

We spent an adventurous night sleeping under the African skies in our very own tree hide. Don't worry parents, we had a khaki-clad man with a gun to keep us safe from the creatures of the night. We awoke with the sun and the sound of the jungle coming alive. On our walk back to the motel, we were fortunate to stumble upon five elephants bathing in the waterhole, to Sophie's utmost joy. We watched mesmerized until our guide had to drag us away.

This ignited the adventurous flame within us all as we also spent the next night sleeping under a blanket of stars. This was in the quaint, rural, Muslim village of Larabanga. Despite the guidebooks negative review we found Larabanga to be one of the highlights of our journey. We realised the village was like nothing we'd ever experienced before as we explored it on our borrowed villager bikes.

We visited the oldest mosque in Ghana with a lovely guide that we all wouldn't have minded packing in our suit cases and taking home. As the sun set and the stifling heat of the day cooled we settled ourselves down for the night on top of the Salia brothers mud-hut roof. However, at 1am, we were rudely awoken by lightening strikes and the wind whipping into a sandstorm.

We became a flurry of activity as we threw mattresses, mosquito nets and ourselves off the rood, dashing inside seconds before the rain came pelting down. We woke again three hours later, at the ungodly hour of 4am, to catch the only bus out of Larabanga. The next nine hours were spent bumping along dirt roads, during which we experienced the weirdest marriage proposal yet. A one-eared man quite seriously asked for Sarah's hand, in front of both his wife and his children. 'I want two or four wives' said he.

Our final few days together were spent relaxing beside the serene Lake Bosumtwi which lies in an ancient meteorite crater and is the sacred gate through which local souls pass on to the after life. The serenity was soon lost as we engaged in a friendly leadership building activity...WAR!

After having warned the staff that we were not in fact being murdered, we proceeded to chase each other around the lawns, stumbling on branches in the dark, wresting and tackling each other to the ground like violent five year olds. The game ended prematurely, despite how much fun we were having, as Margie rested her head on a nest of aggressive fire ants. After washing off the sweat, dirt and blood we spent the evening having a nice night time swim under the dazzling stars.

So here we are, back at Felcare Hostel, where we started three short months ago. Not a lot has changed here, however we can't say the same for ourselves. We've come a long way, growing not only as individuals but as a whole group. And what an amazing experience we've had, an experience that will be with us forever.

So over and out from the Ghana Girls for the final time. But before we leave you, we would like to give a huge thank you to everyone that has enabled us to take this journey.

xoxo Ghana Girls.
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Last blog from UniBreaker Caitlin in Cambodia


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Education
WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Boyd

Where did the last four weeks go?! During our final farewell dinner last night with our in country partner Dayvy, we unanimously agreed that our time here in Siem Reap has just flown by! Take note, future Antipodeans, that time on your placements is fleeting so make the most of your time abroad!

To shake up the final few weeks of our placements, the Cambodian government brought forward the school holiday period, (thus closing school) following the outbreak of a new form of foot and mouth disease, affecting children in Cambodia. Nevertheless, we took this change of plans on board, with both the SHCC and MDHC teams setting new goals for their communities.

At SHCC, Maeve and Caitlin switched from teaching students to teaching teachers, constructing and implementing their own Training Course, an initially daunting task considering our lack of pedagogical knowledge as unqualified uni students! However, we feel that our own experiences in the education system in Australia provided us with new ideas and options for the teachers at the school.

Over at MHDC, the girls were able to continue teaching the adult classes, with both the men and women demonstrating great progress with the English classes. They also covered healthy eating and the dangers of tobacco and alcohol in their health promotion classes. Without children present, they instead worked on a handover system for future volunteers.

They coordinated the distribution of 6 water pumps and 4 water filters, and a variety of seeds and plants and health promotion booklets for the 120 homes in the community. Needless to say, its been an intense last week!

Luckily we were well rested with our ''All-Play" visit to chilled out Battambang the weekend before, with the Blind Massages and rickety bamboo train ride being the highlights of our time away.

With only 3 remaining Antips here at the guesthouse, its a little quite and we are already missing those not around. We are greatly appreciative of everyone that has made our trip here so smooth sailing and memorable, with shout outs going to Dayvy, Sandy, Bota, Bontheon, the teachers at SHCC and of course the Antips team back home.

Hope as you read, we have inspired you to take the plunge and be involved in something as amazing as a volunteer program such as this. I know we will all return that little bit more aware of the world beyond our bubbles and its complexities, but know that small and possible changes can be made.
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Friday, 27 July 2012

Kathmandu UniBreak Volunteers near the end of their placement



COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Health & Teaching
WRITTEN BY: UniBreakers, Kathmandu, Nepal

After our weekend in Chitwan National Park we were two weeks into our time in Nepal and with two weeks to go! We all feel so at home now with our families and in Chapagaun, the locals are starting to get used to seeing us walking past each morning and afternoon and are greeting us with many Hello's and Namaste's.

The doctors and nurses at the Health Centre are so friendly and to have so many familiar faces in a foreign country is such a nice feeling.

After spending a few weeks at the Health Centre it has been really interesting to see the same patients coming in for wound cleaning and dressings to see how well or unwell they are healing. Many of the patient's wounds heal slower than they could due to the fact that they have little choice but to continue working on their rice fields and
getting the wounds continually wet and dirty.

The orphanage project that we're working on is going really good! The bedroom is completed- painting is finished, lino is layed, and the holes are patched up. We're just waiting on a carpenter to build a bookcase and cupboard and for the mattresses to be re-filled. Hopefully in the following week we will get to see the finished
toilet.

At the start of our placement, our mum asked Mary and I to cook a meal that we would eat at home in Australia for the family one night. We had so many ideas but there was a restriction on what we could cook because there is no oven and there are certain foods that the Nepalese don't eat. So we cooked chicken and buffalo sausage pizza's (as
requested by our brother's) on a pan with a lid over the top. Our family loved them! Even Grandma who has cooked her whole life, although when we were making a dough she couldn't help but give us a
hand.

This weekend our travels took us to Pokhara about a 7 hour bus ride away. The scenery was beautiful and made the long trip so much more enjoyable! Pokhara was the best place I've been so far! There was so much to do and we all wished that we could have spent so much longer than just a weekend there! The Himilaya's that surround Pokhara are amazing! In our time in Pokhara we saw the sunrise from a viewpoint
called Sarangkot, went canoeing on Phewa Lake, and the highlight of the weekend was paragliding off a mountain with Mary and Matt!! A couple of us hired bikes and went exploring to some waterfalls and caves, despite initially getting 20 meters down the road and having one of the bike chains break, nearly getting knocked over by countless
motorbikes and scooters and getting lost we made it back before dark.

It's monsoon season here now but we have been so lucky with the weather!! It has hardly rained and on the few times it has, it's been warm anyway so it doesn't matter too much, so for advice for future Antip's don't let the potentially bad weather stop you!

One more week to go! :(
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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Murdoch University students set up health clinics in rural Laos


COUNTRY: Laos
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Murdoch Nursing & Midwifery
WRITTEN BY: Murdoch University

Sabaai dii… Hello!

Week three saw us stay in the purpose built dorms in Ban Napho. We arrived to a lovely reception from the village and enjoyed performances by the local Laos dancing group as well as songs, games and more dancing. Monday was a very busy day with us conducting two clinics before spending time with villagers to discuss the needs of the community.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we conducted more health clinics with a ceremony on Thursday afternoon with the District governor, government officals and village chief.

After the official proceedings our group was very pleased to donate the unused medications and three big bags of medical supplies to the district as well as present some gifts to the health care workers that had been working with us at each clinic. This was followed by a huge spread of amazing Laos food and some beerlao to celebrate the great partnership.

On Friday with a mix of sadness and excitement we packed our bags and were again treated to a Basi Su Khouan ceremony and many of us are still proudly wearing our cotton arm bands received during the ceremony.

In the afternoon we headed to the sacred Pak Ou Buddha Caves, a place of significant cultural importance to those who follow buddhism follwed by a Mekong River Cruise back to our hotel. In the evening we shared our last Laos meal together at Utopia before shopping at the beautiful night markets. Saturday we headed for Luang Prabang airport and were farewelled by the wonderful guides from Buffalo tours.

Team Murdoch is now home and settling back into our lives. Its been a hectic week back in oz with many of our group attending interviews for our 2013 grad programs.

Its been an amazing trip, we have seen and done so much and we are all a little sad its over. Team Murdoch boosts a unique group of special people and we are honoured to have had this experience together. We have many people to thank and recommend the experience 100%.
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Group update from Shelby in Cape Town

Brad, Antips GapBreak volunteer

COUNTRY: Southern Africa (Swaziland, Mozambique & South Africa)
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Shelby Stapleton, In-Country Partner

The group are doing fantastically – it is such a breathe of fresh air to have some Australians in the mix :)

Chicky and Bryar are at Angels and Starfish educate – working with 4-6 year olds. This placement is often quite interesting, as the school is funded by a British charity so gives the illusion of being well resourced and "under control" however, the kids are still from the township, and are often the poorest and least disciplined.

They are finding it a new challenge working with children who speak English (compared to Swaziland where they don't) yet they still don't listen! They leave everyday full of energy and the teachers love having them around – they bring a fantastic positive attitude to the school, but I think are finding themselves tired towards the end of their trip!

Brad is working with an Italian volunteer at a preschool called Jelly Tots – this is the stark opposite to Angels and Starfish – the preschool is run by one lady out of her front room, and they lack all the basic resources, however her passion keeps them going, and the kids here are incredibly well behaved (when Sofia is around..!). The atmosphere at Jelly tots is always incredible when I go, Brad is their first ever male volunteer, so they are loving having such a good role model around for the boys in the group.

Izzy is her normal crazy self, and is working at a very challenging placement In the other township in Hout Bay. The preschool she is working at is only for children who's parents are drug addicts and are in a rehabilitation program across the road. She is changing between classes of 3-4 year olds and 4-5 year olds – and they are loving her positive attitude and amazing energy!

They all also participated in our Mandela day events last week (I'm going to help Byrar write a blog about this today or tomorrow!) where the country in encouraged to give 67 minutes of the day to the community to commemorate the 67 years he gave to the country. We helped rebuild shacks that were destroyed in a fire recently, helped with a street clean up and attended at photo exhibition where local teens had been taught how to use SLR cameras to take photos of their lives in a township.

On Monday they went out shark cage diving and had a BALL swimming with 18 sharks in the ocean…. (I'm sure this will be in the blog too!). In the afternoons they have been up to all kinds of sightseeing mischief – table mountain, lions head, today they are headed into Cape Town to see some museums (the slave lodge and district 6) before having dinner at Mama Africa – a great restaurant in the middle of town where you can eat any african animal you can think of! They are off wine tasting this week as well, and this weekend are going sightseeing around Cape Point and boulder beach – to sit next to penguins on the beach,.,…!!

Hope that keeps you up to date on them for the time being – I will sit with them tomorrow and write another blog post. Hope you are well, chat to you soon :)

Thanks so much,
Shelby Stapleton
Cape Town In-Country Partnet
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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Week 2 for UniBreakers in Pokhara



COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Health & Teaching
WRITTEN BY: UniBreakers, Pokhara Nepal

Week 2 in Pokhara has drawn to a close for the Nepal Antips UniBreak volunteers. This week we’ve settled in to our assorted projects and really hit the ground running. We’ve also done some more exploring of the beautiful town that is Pokhara and even travelled a little further afield to Chitwan National Park!

Here are the stories of three Pokhara volunteers from their 3 separate placements;

Toni: Kumudini Homes School (Primary Education student)
“I have enjoyed the teaching aspect of my placement so far, as well as the next-door teachers popping their heads in the window! I’ve been mainly teaching at a year one level. You can’t go in thinking you’re going to teach in the style you’re used to – you have to go in it for an open mind. If I had my time again I’d learn more about Nepal prior to arriving so I could teach the content with confidence. I have particularly enjoyed the group-based work, which the students are not used to. It was fantastic! The kids got a lot out of the new learning styles and I hope they can employ the new styles in the future.”

Lyn: Fishtail Hospital (Nursing student)
“The clinics are fantastic – I find the way that the medical staff deal with a variety of aliments and complaints with very limited resources to be truly inspiring. The gynaecology clinic is very interesting due to the variety of cases. The doctors are very cooperative and enjoy teaching us even though they don’t have to. The Operating Theatre was impressive - they do so much with so little! I couldn’t believe when I saw the surgical instruments in toolboxes on the Operating Room floor – so different to Australia.”

Amelia: Manipal Teaching Hospital (Reproductive Medicine student)
“I’ve really enjoyed the past few weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Manipal – the doctors and nurses have been very considerate and enjoy teaching me! I’ve been allowed to assist in some procedures in the NICU and have attended deliveries with the on-call staff from Paediatrics. The wards are very basic, with functional but old equipment, but the staff do the absolute best job they can with the resources they have. It’s very sobering!”

In our spare time in between placements and family time at home in Tashi Ling Settlement, we’ve been paragliding, hiking to the Peace Pagoda, lounging by Fewa Lake and exercising in the lead up to a group hike we plan to do before leaving. After the busy week, the whole group spent the weekend at Chitwan National Park, living it up with elephants! We went on a sunset elephant-back jungle safari, took part in some birdwatching at dawn and had a splish-splash with the elephants in the river for their bath-time! We were even lucky enough to catch a few glimpses of the Annapurna range through the monsoon clouds at sunset.

We’ve reached the half-way point now and we’re all enjoying our time immensely. Bring on the next fortnight!

Lots of love!

UniBreakers Pokhara Nepal
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Friday, 20 July 2012

GapBreakers have arrived in Hout Bay, South Africa

View from Table Mountain

Playing with the Cheetah!

COUNTRY: Southern Africa (Swaziland, Mozambique & South Africa)
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Bryar Hawkins

Hello Antipodeans!!

We have finally arrived in Hout Bay, Cape Town!

Our journey starts in St Lucia, a cute little town with beautiful weather, the first stop on our tour down the garden route. Our 2 days here were spent on the beach and shopping at local markets. From here we went to Durban, which was a stark contrast to say the least. Nothing like the small country towns in Swaziland, and we spent 2 days in city life at a great backpackers with loads of fun.
Next, the Baz Bus dropped us in Cinsta which was our favorite place on the whole trip! We got to play with Cheetah’s and Elephants and spent loads of time with the locals at the barefoot cafĂ© (make sure you say HI to Brian from us!).
From here to Tsikamma. We were a bit worried we might get bored with 3 days here, however, little did we know the Billabong Pro at Jeffery’s Bay – a world Class Surf Tournament – was waiting for us just down the road – with $1.50 cocktails!!!!!!!

Next Izzy jumped off a bridge … snaps for Izzy (The highest bungee in the world)!

After 12 hours on the Baz Bus we finally arrived in Cape Town, where we had the weekend to relax and explore Long Street before a day of sightseeing on the big red bus.

We now have 2 weeks left of volunteering in Hout Bay – at 3 different preschools – Jelly Tots, Starfish and Angels, and Little Angels. Our experience in the townships in Cape Town is going to be different to Swaziland – a very contrasted environment, the disparity between rich and poor is very in your face, however kids are kids wherever you go, everyday is fulfilling when you get to spend your time working with amazingly resilient children who smile no matter what.


Catch you next time, after we go shark cage diving… No big deal…
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Thursday, 19 July 2012

UniBreakers work to improve health knowledge in rural Cambodia

Birthday celebrations!

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Education
WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Boyd

It's hard to think we're over half way into our placements with around a week and a half to go. As I write I am on our lunch break, a time each day where we are exposed to a colourful assortment of Khmer meals, some, like crickets and snails, a little more interesting than others! In the classroom Maeve and I have been working alongside the teachers in preparation for the students' monthly unit test, with this week focusing on adjectives and nouns. Matt has dabbled in a little of everything, with soccer training, the construction of a pig enclosure and organic farming taking up the day.

Meanwhile on the other side of Siem Reap, some 50 minutes away, the rest of the team is planning their health and English teaching lessons. Although they are only a short distance from the city, health knowledge is relatively limited in this rural area, and the girls have found they are going back to basics in regards to hygiene and health. This week they have focused on first aid, the importance of water, teeth brushing and hand washing. Aileen has also been making house visits to villagers to assist with medical problems, and Maria and Chandini to the Provisional Hospital to observe the work they do there with physiotherapists, both interesting and educational experiences.

Over the weekend, five of us braved the long bus trip to Phnom Penh where we visited the eerie and shocking Killing Fields and S21 Building. The other three relaxed in Phnom Kulen, swimming below the serene waterfall there and relaxing at 'home' at Jasmine Lodge.

With the little time left we're trying to cram in as much as possible with both our teaching, health promotion and holidaying experiences too. Keep posted to see what else is yet to marvel us in this amazing corner of the world.
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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Building toilets & observing childbirths are all part of UniBreak Nepal

Chapagaun

UniBreakers outside monestary

After our weekend in Kathmandu of relaxing and visiting the monkey temple we were ready to start our second week of work. Everyone agreed that the Health Centre usually gets quiet in the afternoons so to make the best use of our time in Nepal we are spending the afternoons at a local orphanage in Techo, about half an hour walk away from the Chapagaun Health Care Centre. With the combined organization of our in- country support guys, Rajesh and Matricka and the people that run the orphanage it was decided that the most necessary work needed is a new toilet because there is currently only one that is shared by everyone there including the four disabled orphan’s which pose extra difficulties using a communal squat toilet. We are also renovating a bedroom shared by four teenage boys. Myself and some of the other volunteers did some fundraising before coming here so all the money for the work we are doing is coming directly from us. Everyone is so excited to be doing some hard work and to see the end results! So far in the bedroom we have completed two coats of paint. The children there are beautiful and are so excited to see the new bright walls! We have hired a contractor to do most of the work for the toilet and we are helping with any manual labour where we can, such as carrying the bricks from where they were dropped off by the truck to where the toilet is being constructed.

One of the most exciting parts of the week at the Health Centre was definitely getting to observe the birth of a baby boy! I was very lucky to get the chance to be apart of it and Mary, the other volunteer I’m living with saw one as well. The birth that Mary saw wasn’t as smooth as the one I saw but mother and baby were both healthy. Unfortunately in Nepal there is a very strong cultural view towards boys being the preferred gender to give birth to and through the nurses’ translations I was told that the mother said that she was so happy to have had a boy. The main trend I’ve noticed in patients at the Health Centre are injuries from work and motorbike accidents such as exhaust burns, some of the wounds have been the most brutal I’ve seen and there isn’t as much of an importance placed in pain relief during procedures on the wounds as there is in Australia.

All of us girls picked up our Kuthur’s from the tailor this week much to our Amma’s (Mum’s) excitement! Mine and Mary’s Amma put one of her Kuthur’s on as well and got us to have a photo with her, it was so sweet! Whilst in Nepal I have discovered a love for Mo-mo’s, a traditional Nepalese food that is like a dumpling. Our Hajur- amma (Grandma) taught us how to make them one night for dinner- rolling out the dough, spooning some filling (we had buffalo, but they can also have chicken or vegetables) and the fiddly part of twisting them closed in a special way, which Hajur- amma got many laughs out of watching us do the final part!

On the weekend we all went to Chitwan National Park, except sadly a couple of girls had to stay home due to sickness. We arrived in Chitwan seven hours after catching a bus from Kathmandu- it was a hot, sticky and windy trip BUT the views were amazing! Our time in Chitwan was great! We packed everything that we could into the weekend, which we are getting used to! We visited an elephant conservation centre, went on an elephant back safari, had a canoe trip, saw the sunset on the river, shopped, saw a cultural dance show and went on a walking safari through the national park where we saw rhino’s, deers, elephants and lots of birds.

And that is our week in a nutshell! Despite the power cuts interrupting the writing of this and me having to re-write it and wait for wi-fi access I hope you all enjoy.
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Beautiful Island and French goodbyes



COUNTRY: France
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Language and tutoring English
WRITTEN BY: Siobhan Calafiore

Just like the beginning of May and the beginning of June, Phoebe, Jess and I were reunited the beginning of July. However this time it wasn’t Paris that brought us all together again but a little island off the coast of Vannes named Belle Ile en Mer.
The famous island with the “aiguilles” rocks that Monet once painted was recommended to both Phoebe and I by numerous people. We invited the other girls on the France trip and Jess was quick to say yes. She made the long journey from Le Mans spending a night with Phoebe in Thiex.
Although Belle Ile isn’t all that far away it took us eight hours to get there. I caught my train to Vannes at eight in the morning and a bus ride, another train ride, another bus ride and a boat ride later we arrived in Belle Ile just after two in the afternoon. None of the transport we had to take came very frequently and so we spent many hours waiting. Although we would have rather spent those hours on the island we made the most of it. In Auray as we waited for our train to Quiberon we had breakfast and caught up on what each of us had been doing the last month. We weren’t short on things to say as both Phoebe and Jess had done so much travelling. Then in Quiberon (which is a beautiful seaside town) we had lunch at a restaurant by the beach before catching the boat to Belle Ile.
It was a relief to finally arrive. We had only twenty four short hours on the island before making the eight hour trip back home. However in that time we managed to visit the old fortifications that line the coast and walked through their crumbling, dark remains, we spent some time admiring a beautiful piece of beach sheltered by rocks and vegetation where Phoebe braved the cold water and went for a swim, we tried out the cafes and bars the town had to offer and we walked through the citadel which the town Le Palais is known for. We left Belle Ile with some reluctance wishing that we could extend our stay. It definitely lived up to its name “Beautiful Island”.

I have also had the chance to go to Rennes to explore the old city and the museum of Brittany with my host mother. She also took me to Auray as we went shopping with her friends and I got to see a bit more of the town. But my biggest adventure this past week has been my trip to Lyon over the weekend (which is why my blog is a little bit late!). I was reunited with my host family from three years ago and I didn’t realise until I was back in their house surrounded by all the family (Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and Grandparents) how happy I was to be back and how much I had missed them! I spent the days swimming in the pool, playing table tennis and badminton with the girls and cooking. Friday night we went to a nearby village which had a celebration with music, dancing and fireworks and even the rain could not dampen the town’s spirits. Saturday night was the 14th of July Bastille Day celebrations and I went to Lyon with my (previous) host sister and her friends and we watched the magnificent fireworks display. It was an amazing four days and very difficult to say goodbye because unlike the last time this time I wasn’t so sure when I would have a chance to come back.

Jess has also spent the week travelling visiting Bruges, Amsterdam and Brussels whereas Phoebe has spent the last week with her family in Thiex doing some final English lessons but will be coming to Hennebont to visit me and my town very soon!

Only five more days to go! This time next week I will be in Australia and the other girls will be all over Europe! It is very hard to believe how close we are to the end of this adventure. I know I will be sad to leave and I will find it hard to say goodbye to what has been my home and family for the past three months.
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Monday, 16 July 2012

Aussies dance amongst the beautiful Maldives



COUNTRY: Maldives
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Sports Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Amanda Maitland

Here is the third blog, we have just finished today at the Prize giving ceremony where we got to dress in traditional Maldivian clothes. Was a lot of fun and were all getting a little heavy hearted about having to say goodbye to one of the most amazing adventures of our lives! Luisa is all fine now and has the whole island looking out for her!

AUSTRALIANS CAN DANCE!
This week marks the halfway point of our adventure. Things we love so far, the persistence in the children to get to know us and our culture, breakthrough teaching moments that remind us of why we are studying teaching, finding familiar western foods on our dinner and lunch plates, Maldivian sunsets, Assad's music, pool and badminton sessions, randomly breaking out into our favourite Aussie songs, evening playground adventures, sleepovers in the lounge room, walking adventures 'everyday', Toblerone feasts, Cheeky's strange habits, laughing from exhaustion and also, Iced Milo's.

After the victorious win of the school team in the football match, we took the island hero's (Elephant & Stallion) away from their new adoring fans to practice for our much anticipated Aussie mash up in the GA Atoll school performance night. After 10 mins of practice it was time to get ready to wow the crowd. The mash up consisted of some Phil Collins, Build me up Buttercup, Burn Baby Burn, We Will Rock You, Kung Fu Fighting, YMCA, The Nutbush, Warp 1.8 and some truly extreme shuffling.

After our mind blowing performance, (thanking our culture for teaching us national dance moves such as the Nutbush) our celebrity status grew another couple of notches with kids either being to scared to offend us with their real opinions or we all were genuinely good dancers in a previous life!

After cooling our newly inspired ego's with a nice sleep in, we went for a picnic on another uninhabited island with the female lead teacher and her family. Two boat trips and one fish later, we arrived on our island. After the claiming of 'James Island' last trip by writing names in the sand, Zak thought it fitting to properly claim this island by mounting an Aussie flag on a makeshift pole in the sand.

Each island we have visited has surpassed our expectations, outdoing the previous island in scenery, coral reefs and adventure paths. It was another hot day in the Maldives and we were only too happy to explore the flawless, unscathed reefs that we discovered below the waters surface. This was by far the best snorkeling destination of the trip (so far) possibly, due to it's immaculate condition from the island being uninhabited.

When we arrived we scaled the perimeter of the island finding a comfy spot to set up camp. Along the way we discovered a coconut tree matching our climbing capabilities! After snorkeling and eating our picnic lunch of tuna spaghetti the boys conquered the coconut tree. Sitting down to relax after some exhaustive climbing the first boat load went back to Kolamaafushi. Whilst waiting we casually found a James mermaid in the sand.

Driving away from the island, another perfect Kodak moment appeared as the sun began to set above 'Australia Island' marking the end of another inspiring day in the Maldives. The return trip was steady and relaxing. We were all feeling a little dazed from the heat of our freshly sun kissed skin and so marked one of the first boat trips where all 8 of the group were consumed in their own thoughts listening to music on the somber trip home. When we arrived home we caught the first early night of the trip, in preparation for our swimming lessons starting the next day.

After much anticipation, swimming season was finally here for the students of GA Atoll school! We were unable to start the lessons at the beginning of the placement due to the inter-house school sports tournaments. By now we had many recruitment's including grade 1 students who would frequently ask, "Miss, swimming?".

On our first day of lessons, the senior students were the lucky candidates selected to test our water knowledge. At 3:45pm the Koalas, Crocodiles, Emu's, Echidna's, Kangaroo's, Platypus', Blue Tongue Lizards and Wombat's floated on in for the first of many fun and rewarding lessons. Four games of 'what's the time Mr wolf?', detailed floating and kick practice later our first day of swimming lessons were finished. Exhausted, yet excited that we had just completed the first set of lessons without any hiccups we made the 10 minute walk back to the house to shower and get ready for dinner.

The second day of lessons proved to be more of a challenge with the juniors taking to the water. The weather was much rougher than normal so the conditions of the sea were not ideal for teaching small children how to swim. Nevertheless we battled through, testing out as many ways to explain swimming terms to children who do not yet understand English. For the first time for many of us the language barrier between the two nationalities became evident.

We continued our now regular routine of eat, school, eat, rest, swimming, eat, activities and finally sleep for the rest of the week. We marked the end of our second week and also halfway mark with a trip to the most spectacular, breathtaking resort we have ever laid eyes and hands on, Robinson's Club Maldives. Here we took time to relax by the pool bar, dance into the night at the black and white party, eat as much familiar food as possible and mostly to relax by shedding some layers.

Returning to the land of the living after feeling very much alive from our return boat trip to Kolamaafushi we finished the weekend with a night in watching movies and reminiscing on the adventures so far.

End of second week stats:

Total photo count: 5000+
Iced milo count: 52
Showers per day: 4-5
500ml water bottles consumed (drinking only): 852
Doctors visits: 3
Trees climbed: 3

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Friday, 13 July 2012

Colourful introductions to life in rural Kathmandu, Nepal



COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Health
WRITTEN BY: Kate Wildes

"Everyone's first impression in the group of Nepal is despite how poverty stricken it is, it is so colourful! There is 7 of us in the group and most of us got here on Sunday afternoon to a tiny airport where we were met by Rajesh our in-country guide. On our trip from the airport to Chapagaun which is the small village we are placed in located about half an hour out of Kathmandu. There were cows, goats, dogs, chickens everywhere in the roads and because cows are worshipped in Nepal the traffic does everything to avoid disturbing them! And the car horns are constant! Can already tell the place is never going to get boring!

We all met our host families on the first day and despite the awkwardness at first after a few days in we felt at home! We were all placed in pairs to a host family and in my family is hajur- Amma (grandma), hajur- ba (grandpa), ba (dad), Amma (mum) and our two brothers Sumyuk and Swoyam who are 14 and 8 years old. Our family all speak fluent English except our grandparents who are the most caring people ever! Thanks to our brothers and lots of body language we manage to basically understand them. Grandpa has been teaching us some Nepali and I think he now assumes that we spoke fluent Nepali! Our house has a beautiful view of the rice fields and mountains, especially from our rooftop terrace. We were surprised to have a western bathroom but only cold water and there's a Nepalese bathroom for when the other one is leaking.

We had an orientation on Monday with Rajesh and Matris where we were introduced to the basics of the Hindu religion, the health care centre we are volunteering at, some Nepali language and Nepal customs such as using your hands for eating and don't point your feet at anyone as they are considered the least holy sacred part of the body....

Our first week in Chapagaun Health Care Centre has been very interesting, because it's a clinic in a rural area it doesn't specialize in anything but takes on a lot of maternity patients. For our first week we did a lot of observing and getting our feet because the language barrier poses extra problems especially with the patients. Some of the patients include a baby who was delivered with six fingers on each hand, a construction worked who fell from scaffolding and had a deep gash in his shin that needed stitching,... We are also helping out at a local orphanage next week.

We all finished the week off by going to Thamel in Kathmandu for the weekend, where we all satisfied our need for a hot shower and food cravings after a week of eating Dal baht (rice, lentils, soup, and often a vegetable curry) for nearly every meal, breakfast included.

Already after a week we have had so many experiences and unfortunately a couple of people have been pretty sick from the food or water and someone else has been bitten by a dog which led to chaos regarding getting his rabies shots but it all worked out! So far, having the best time with an awesome family and group of volunteers in a crazy country."

Thanks !
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UniBreakers live amongst Tibetan refugee community



Namaste! Tashi dalek! Today marks the end of week 1 in Nepal for the UniBreakers based in Pokhara – and what a week! It feels like we’ve been away forever and everyone has settled in very well to daily Nepali life.

The July Pokhara group is made up of 9 students; 8 girls and 1 guy. We have…

· Three nursing students (Elli, Bridget and Lottie) and one teacher from Adelaide (Toni)
· One Nutrition student (Emma) and one Journalism/Communications student (Holli) from the Gold Coast
· One nursing student (Lyn), one Biomedical Science student (Nick) and one Reproductive Medicine student (Amelia) from Perth.

The group have been getting on famously and after a week we’re already incredibly close. The group is living in the outskirts of Pokhara in a Tibetan Refugee Community called TashiLing. Our Tibetan host families have been very welcoming and accommodating which has helped ease any nerves!

Elli, Bridget, Lottie and Lyn are placed in Fishtail Hospital and after an initial shock at the conditions within the hospital the girls are full of enthusiasm and wonder at the abilities of the nurses and doctors that work with such limited resources. It’s a similar situation at Manipal Hospital for Amelia and Nick – the medical miracles that take place in hospitals that are lacking in both funds and equipment is often breathtaking. The health students overall already have some great stories and are looking forward to meeting new medical challenges in the coming weeks.

Toni, Holli and Emma have loved their first few days at Kumundini school. They are loving riding the school bus with their students and are getting used other teachers from neighbouring classrooms popping their heads through the window and not the door, which would be too logical! The local kids love to learn and the girls look forward to sharing different teaching techniques with the local teachers and running new classes with their students.

So far, everyone is having a ball. Highlights include;
· Day 1: A roaring rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody and Call Me Maybe, followed by a local musician serenading the group during a road-block on the way from Kathmandu to Pokhara. We still all have “sometimes trekking, sometimes rafting…” ringing in our ears
· Day 2: Nepali and Tibetan language classes – we HAD to know the important bits! (“I love coffee”, “I’m learning Nepali”, “where is the toilet?”)
· Day 3: First day of placement for the group and Holli’s birthday evening
· Day 4: Exploring the local community after placement and a trip to the Emergency Room in the pouring Monsoon rain
· Day 5: Celebrating His Holiness the Dalia Lama’s 77th Birthday with the local Tibetan community – traditional Tibetan dress, feasts and dancing for all!
· Day 6: Seeing the Anapurna range above Fewa Lake after the clouds finally cleared – a breathtaking sight
· Day 7: An interesting variation of Yoga class with a local instructor after placement, which required a lot of heavy breathing and rolling on the floor. They don’t make classes like that in Australia!


Until next time!

Unibreakers, Pokhara Nepal.
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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Eye opening beginnings in Cambodia


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Education
WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Boyd

Well, what a week! It began with an eye opening visit to the Angkor Hospital for Children, where a staggering 400 - 500 students are seen daily free of charge a completely awe-inspiring ,well developed centre. Next was a seminar run by conCERT, contextualizing the treatment and situation of children in Cambodian society, in preparation for our placements. In between these events, the wonderful Dayvy, our in-country partner, was there organizing our stomachs, treating us to traditional Khmer lunches, with one restaurant even providing hammocks for our post-meal naps. She has also helped us during the commencement of our placements, which we have now settled into at the Military Handicap Development Centre and the Self Help Community Centre. The girls at MHDC have begun their task of health promotion, teaching adults and children alike, embracing the slight language barriers that exist working with people from a foreign rural community. The three english teachers have equally stepped up to their daily bike trips to and from SHCC, having only had one minor confrontation with a rice paddy. In the classroom, they have started assisting the English language classes given in addition to the regular schooling for children.

As if the week was not full-on enough, we have all had massive weekends too! Almost all have marveled at the Temples of Angkor be it by bike, foot or tuk-tuk, and Matt tackled a one day dirt biking trip outside of Siem Reap.

It''s been a big week, especially as we have come to recognize some of the difficulties set with out tasks. But we can feel with each day on our placements, if its only just in one student or adult picking up something new, that this can and will be a beneficial and exciting few weeks to come!
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Monday, 9 July 2012

Girls visit lake villages, rainsforests, safari parks, and say good-byes in Ghana


COUNTRY: Ghana
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Orphanage work
WRITTEN BY: Ghana girls 2012

It's amazing to think that we're already nearing the end of our placement in Ghana! Last Friday was a very emotional day for us all as we bid farewell to our schools and especially our beautiful children, that we already miss! But we're also getting really excited for the two weeks travelling that is coming up next when we'll get to explore more of Ghana and hopefully head all the way up to Mole National Park, which is reputedly the best wildlife sanctuary in West Africa.

We've also had a really great past couple of weeks. Two weekends ago, Sophie, Sarah and Tara headed west to see Nzulezu, a stilt village, and Ankasa, the largest rainforest reserve in Ghana. Both places were really beautiful and well worth the four or five hours sitting in a tro-tro! To reach Nzulezu also required an hour's canoe ride up a river and across a lake before we saw the village that had been built on poles, and because of all the rain that had raised the water level of the lake, looked as if it was floating on the surface of the water. We also really enjoyed seeing Ankasa and had a lot of adventures getting there, as we decided to hike the last 6km into the rainforest rather than attempt to get a trotro down the very long and very muddy dirt road. We walked in the rainforest itself later that afternoon and Sarah swears she saw some monkeys (they were probably squirrels) but we definitely did see a snake, because we almost stepped on it before it slithered off the path.

The weekend after that, Sophie and Tara went down to Kokrobite while the others ventured into the Volta Region to see the highly recommended Wli Waterfall (more on that later!). Kokrobite was a great experience filled with music and dancing. The best part about it was visiting friends that we'd made on our previous visit, so we spent a lot of time relaxing, chatting and hanging out. We were also pretty thrilled that we got to stay in a treehouse on Saturday night that had been built out of bamboo in the branches of one of the trees inside a hostel there!

This last week has been spent preparing our final donations to our schools, ranging from wastepaper bins to first-aid kits. We're also getting ready to say goodbye to our host-families, as tonight is our last night in Swedru! Next time we write we'll have a lot more news to tell you about life after our teaching placement, but so far we've all had an amazing time teaching and living here, and we'll really miss all our friends, family and kids that we've built relationships with.

We'll be in touch later, and as always sending you much love from Africa! Ghana Girls, xxx
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Life in Camp Tsavo, Kenya




COUNTRY: Kenya
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Community & Conservation
WRITTEN BY: Bronte Anthony

Our last two weeks spent in Tsavo have come and gone, and it's seemingly difficult to realise that our first month in Kenya has passed. And we're still alive and well!

Departing Muhaka was a sad affair, and as we drove away in our huge safari style vehicle, we waved goodbye to the smiling faces of our crew members. It is comforting to know we will be back there toward the end of our three month stay, nonetheless it was still a bit emotional. The truck was incredibly packed, and we were all squashed sitting together on benches that lined the truck sides and faced inward, while our assortment of bags and backpacks commandeered the aisle, eliminating any possibility of legroom. It was rather a cozy situation we endured for the six hour journey to Tsavo, to say the least.

Passing through Mombasa again, we soon exchanged the busy city for a main highway, which lead us past our new African landscape made up of mud huts situated amongst sharp, pointy and scraggly trees, drowning in the red dirt that inhabits this part of Africa. Turning into Rukinga Ranch meant we became totally immersed in this dead forrest. Everyone was now peering intently out the sides of the truck, looking for any signs of animal life, and we spied elephants! Needless to say, there was much squealing and screaming (which we had to learn to suppress now that we were sharing our space with the wild, yet surprisingly shy, African animals), and our excitement continued until the elephant tusk-esque gates of Camp Tsavo were in sight.

It really was an amazing camp, perhaps it was the sheer size of the place which gave off this spectacular aura. From the outset, it looked like a cluster of huts in the middle of nowhere, however once our new crew members (the energetic project helper, Peter, and project manager, Steve) and head leader (Sammy K - instantly identified by his beaded belt proclaiming his name in colorful letters) gave us a tour of camp, we noticed much more. Surrounded by an electric fence, this camp housed an office and 'bar' hut, equipped with a fridge stocked up on soft drink and Tuskers (the local African beer) available for purchase. From the communal eating hut, there were various paved pathways leading to either the revealing bathrooms with their billowing shower curtains, or our round bedroom bandas filled with large wooden bunk beds, or the kitchen building which was situated on the other side of camp, meaning that we had quite a trek from the eating area with our dirty dishes. In addition, there was a fire pit, a greenhouse and tree nursery, a laundry hut with a washing line, a small football field, and an education centre (displaying animal skulls and jars of preserved reptiles and amphibians).

Our schedule for the two weeks in Tsavo was quite varied, made up of project work in Sasenyi and Bugutta Primary Schools, Sanctuary Maintenance, Waterhole and Wildlife Monitoring, a number of recreational activities and a Safari (of course).

Everyday we would have to travel from Camp to our designated work, thankfully however the truck trip would rarely seem tedious (excluding the constant breakdowns provided by an Indiana jones style truck about 50 years old). One could look out and see an umbrella thorn tree, or a baobab tree, or some baboons plotting from afar, or a mountain in the distance, or a herd of zebras, or a few antelope bounding by.

Our work in the Sasenyi Primary School involved mixing concrete and plastering the walls of an unfinished classroom, as well as teaching classes if we desired. There were about 600 children in the school, dressed in their pale pink uniforms, all eager to learn and be educated.

It was primarily thanks to Camps International that the school had buildings, although it wasn't easy to fathom that this school was one of the best (academically) in the region, especially when all of the factors were taken into account, for example:
- the 5-7km walk most children have to make to school each day (starting at 6am)
- the lack of water they can drink whilst at school (even though there were water tanks, these are useless without rainfall, and apparently it has not been a good rainy season)
- the absence of any form of food that the Upper Class children can eat each day (as a result of the lack of water, the school cannot provide a small bowl of porridge to all the students at this time, however they could in the past. Now they supply the nursery and younger children with a a spoonful of corn flour mixed with water. Nonetheless, if some of the older children are more fortunate, they can bring one packed meal from home, however they have to move away from the crowd to eat it)
- the packed classrooms which would no doubt affect their learning environment
- the blocked toilet situation (although Camps were in the middle of creating a dedicated ladies loo for those girls at their time of the month. Normally they would miss a whole week of school and stay home because of this)
- the state of the classroom buildings (most of which weren't too bad, annoyingly though, there were a couple that the government began to construct, before ceasing all funding. One building has sat, hardly finished, for two years, whilst other older standing classrooms never had proper floors or roofs, therefore allowing for leaks when it does rain)

Our project work of Sanctary Maintentance (or 'Sano Maino' as Sarah dubbed it) started with a session of digging trenches, which would act as drainage from a waterhole nearby. Shovels and hoes in hand, we endured our first three hours of digging and dust. Much dust. We learnt very quickly that finishing work as an orange creature was inevitable. Most of our work following this consisted of hacking trees and slashing the dry grass that had overgrown onto the roads within the Ranch.

Wildlife and Waterhole Monitoring would generally take up the rest of our day after Sanctuary Maintenance mornings. We would drive out on the dirt roads and survey the land, recording the number of zebras, antelopes, giraffes, buffalo, elephants and warthogs which would cross our path. Then we would spend hours sitting patiently by waterholes in the big safari truck, waiting anxiously for animals to approach. The elephants were certainly the most incredible to behold. Funnily enough, we saw them so frequently during our stay in Tsavo, that they almost became as ordinary as a household pet (now that is a sentence one cannot construct at home!), especially when they would, irritatingly, destroy the water pipes...our only source of water making it rather difficult to shower. Viewing them from a 20m distance however, and physically seeing their huge bodies lumber together in herds toward a waterhole, is something I'm sure none of us will ever forget. Couple that with an African sun setting in the background, and you have the most picturesque and magical scene.

In our final week, the Camp Kenya crew had organized various activities, including:
- A visit to a Masai Mara village (which was...interesting...to say the least! It was certainly fascinating to observe their way of living, and to join in on a traditional Masai dancing session, however some skepticism couldn't quite be helped when a 500 shilling fee was imposed upon entry to this community situated just off the main highway...oh, and Sarah may have almost been inducted into their tribe, which was rather worrying, to put it mildly)
- A Bush Adventure day, made up of constructing a shelter from locally acquired materials (e.g. tree branches and palm fronds weaved together to make thatching), learning to make fire, and practicing with (their somewhat flimsy) bows and arrows.
- A trek up Mt Kasigau, our local looming mountain we could view from anywhere on the plain-like landscape of the Ranch. At 1628m above sea level, this 'trek' was more like an intense climb. The twisting and turning route we followed was completely immersed in prickly and dead-like bushes, as well as countless rocks and roots. We also had to handle the change in climate and vegetation - starting in the dry, humid scrub, passing through the cool, lush rainforest, and then enduring the steepest, muddiest, most terrifying, haunting climb into the cloud forrest at the peak. It was real climbing, on hands and knees at times, reaching for roots and trees to use as leverage, and avoiding slippery mud infested slopes, cleverly disguised with piles of wet leaves. Upon reaching the summit we realized we chose the only day of the year where by clouds engulfed the peak totally and utterly obscuring our view. As we sat shivering atop the mountain many of us were questioning why we even bothered to make the climb especially when we realized the trip down involved a great deal of mud sliding (including some amusing, yet terrifying, moments where people nearly went sliding over the edge...)

The infamous Safari made up our last day in Tsavo. It was started with an appropriate, but highly unexpected, awakening at 2:30 am, thanks to a local lion roaring just outside the perimeter of the camp, causing our cabin to break out into horrifying hysterics (which may have also involved a few tears of terror when one of us suggested the lion was hiding in the kitchen - which we soon realized to be highly unlikely). At 6:30 am we rugged up and prepared for the 1 hour 15 minute journey to Tsavo East National Park. Once there, we obediently followed the National Park Road, and almost immediately came across a family of antelope grazing naturally. Throughout the day, we observed a wide variety of animals, all of which we had already seen, nonetheless it was still a delight to see them at such close range (especially the adorable baby elephants and serene giraffes). Just as we broke for lunch, rumors arose that a cheetah had been sighted, and so we quickly piled back onto the truck and raced to the small dirt hill, where we spied it lazing in the sun, totally unaware of its audience's cameras snapping away excitedly (that is, until Oliver unexpectedly decided to hop out of the truck, for reasons we could not comprehend). All in all however, there was a general acknowledgement that our Safari day was a wonderful experience, and certainly one we were most privileged to enjoy here in Kenya.

Loads of love from all of us (and sincere apologies on my behalf for this belated blog entry). We will additionally attempt to attach some photographs as soon as we can.

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Long days, cold showers and iced milos in the Maldives


COUNTRY: Maldives
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Sports Coaching
WRITTEN BY: Amanda Maitland

After a fabulous welcome ceremony and well awaited sleep, Assad took us to GA Atoll School to meet with the principal and fellow teachers. We were introduced to Mr. Abdullah the school principal who spoke with us about what subjects and grades we would like to teach. After some discussion and explanation of how the school system works we were introduced to our associate teachers who would be guiding us through the majority of the placement.
After we had met our associate teachers, we were more than eager to start teaching and getting to know the school community but before the teaching began Assad had organised one more snorkeling trip to an uninhabited island. This was our third day as a group but felt like we had know each other for a life time.

This experience has been one containing many first attempts at new feats including, accessing a boat via a thin wooden plank, climbing up to the second story of a building via a thin creaking wooden ladder with missing steps, actually enjoying cold showers and driving ourselves across the Indian ocean with Luisa taking the first leg.

Captain Luisa began our snorkeling trip, roaring open the engine of the dingy and out across more Maldivian blue, crystal clear water. We arrived at 'James Island' (which James himself had fittingly named and claimed) with high expectations as each island we visit surpasses the previous in its divine surroundings and amazing sea life. After some name writing in the sand and more photos of 'postcard perfect surroundings' we set off snorkeling. Sure enough we were all stoked to be visiting the 'drop off' where we not only found Nemo and Dory but also many other familiar Disney characters.

Heading back to Kolamaafushi we captured another surreal photograph of the hot Maldivian sun setting over James Island, marking the end of our mini holiday before starting our teaching adventures the following morning.

Our first day at school started with an assembly introducing the Maldives June 2012 team to the school community. We then had a staff meeting where we became acquainted with majority of the faculty and most importantly chose our school house teams from a hat. Our timing of arrival coincided with the islands inter-house football and netball tournaments with both games beings played on alternate days. We were lucky enough to witness the grand final of both sports and add our own Aussie influence by teaching the students the chant, "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi."

The sports tournament was played in the late afternoons when the Maldivian sun is a little less harsh. The timing didn't stop us unaccustomed Aussies from sweating out the majority of the water we consume. With our sweaty foreheads we battled through the heat supporting our house teams with cheers, drumming and teaching the students the Macarena. Our famous chant has become a regular call of hello with many students chanting, "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" when approaching us in the streets or at school.

Tired, ecstatic and sweaty we made it to the end of our first week! A common feeling brought up during our spicy dinners is how amazed we are that we can fit so many activities in the hours of the day. A typical day is,

6:20am - Alarms sound to start the day (but are snoozed for that extra 10 mins to avoid getting dressed in our head to toe clothing)
6:30am – We’re up and starting the day
6:50am - Breakfast normally consisting of strawberry cornflakes, mini bananas, jam, cheese or honey on toast.
7:20am - Arrive at school.
7:30am - First period begins

At school being studious teachers

12:45pm - school finishes
1:00pm - Lunch
2:00pm - Peel our sweaty selves off the chairs and make our way home to escape the heat.

midday showers to cool off, naps, sometimes swimming and chilling in the boys 'hut.'

4:15pm - Get ready to make our way to support our teams in the house tournament.

House tournament

6:00pm - quick swim to cool off
7:00pm- Dinner.
8:00pm-

Assad's activity time, consisting of pool, badminton, music sessions and supply shopping time.

10:00pm - Debrief of the day in the girls lounge room with iPods.

Bed time!

6:20am - Start again!


The end of the school week was marked with a football match between the island's men's team and the winner of the school tournament. Our very own, 'Elephant' and 'Stallion' starred in the line up for the island match and helped lead the school team to victory for the first time, with the match ending in a penalty shoot out!

Our long days are soothed with cold showers and the comfort of drinking Iced Milo's. The celebrity effect we have here hasn't worn off yet and neither have our Cheshire cat grins or positive attitudes. Clinching our empty milo glasses together we celebrate making it to our one week anniversary and look forward to the adventures yet to come....

End of first week stats:

Total photo count: 2099
Iced milo count: 36
Showers per day: 4
500ml water bottles consumed (drinking only): 448
Doctors visits: 2
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Murdoch arrive in Laos



COUNTRY: Laos
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups - Murdoch University
PROJECT: Murdoch Nursing & Midwifery
WRITTEN BY: Murdoch University

Sabaai dii … Hello from Laos. The Murdoch team has arrived safely and is all well. Our accommodation in Luang Prabang is really comfortable and central. On Wednesday we visited the Luang Prabang Provincial Hospital and were greeted by one of the directors who is also a GP and lecturer, he gave us a presentation on health care and the hospitals objectives in Laos followed by a tour. Next was the Nursing College were again we were welcomed and given a generous amount of time from the school director and lecturers followed by a tour and demonstration of child birth procedures in Laos. Thursday was the start of our adventure into the Sueang Valley. After the pleasant drive through the picturesque countryside we arrived in the village of Ban Hat Houay to a lovely welcoming by the Governor and official of the district and village chiefs. The food is amazing and I doubt any of us will lose any weight as planned! The home stays are homely and the people are so kind and accommodating. We’ve had a few funny experiences getting used to the Laos toileting and bathing system, however I am sure we will all be experts soon.
We held our first clinic yesterday in the village of Ban Hua Keng and we are very proud to report we were able to assess 96 villagers in the morning. Our team of Murdochians, translators and health care workers formed a great team and we feel quite confident and excited for the full week of clinics starting Monday.
Today we are back in Luang Prabang and using the day to catch up on paperwork, get massages and do a little exploring. We hope to rise early tomorrow to watch the many monks walk the streets at 5:30am and give them our offering. At 2:30pm we head back to the village to prepare for next week’s clinics. Sonk dii der… Good bye from the Murdoch tea
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Friday, 6 July 2012

Improving education in Nepal...with a few dances along the way


COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Pauletto

We've done a lot in the last month. We went to Kathmandu with our host father and some friends. Before we went to dinner and the clubs we paid for our school gift...a new wall too surround the school with steps and gate! Our school sits on a somewhat small cliff and kids were always falling off and getting hurt, so this was a great way to modernise the school in a way the whole village would be able to see and appreciate. Afterwards we had an enjoyable night of great Nepali food and dancing, then a not so enjoyable time of dragging certain members of our group home to our locked hotel at midnight. We certainly got to know our host father on a more intimate basis. Uniquely Nepalese experience. After that we more or less remained in the village. Teaching really hit its peak now. All the games we taught we're finally catching on, kids would come to school excited, they were actually getting what we were saying! This was difficult to come to terms with though. Such a massive difference was already sweeping the school. Teachers were changing, kids were learning. The whole attitude towards education and everything we were doing was incredibly uplifting. The sad part was realising we aren't here forever. How could we ever make this sustainable? Then Ryan came.

KEEP had been contacted a month prior to this by an American working in China, Ryan, who had a laptop to donate to a deserving school. Our Agent Kabita instantly thought of us. Ryan stayed with us for 10 days before leaving to the catch the last of the trekking season, bringing with him a brand new HP laptop. Kabita also told us the next batch of volunteers would be coming to our village!

This made everything so incredibly better. More teachers, more funding, more hope for little Kakre. It's awesome to be part of something sustainable, yes, it's only a small difference on our behalf, but with more people coming all these small differences will be something so huge and positive for the school and entire community.

A week after, Bella and I took Saroj, our host brother, to Thamel on one of our routine visits. Leigh stayed behind with Ryan to plan a run with a group he's found here, the Himalaya Hash House Harriers. They planned a run through our village, which would have been awesome to see but we needed to buy some supplies and gifts for the family. We thought Saroj's eyes would explode. We tool him to see Madagascar 3, which he loved! This followed by Pizza and Ice Cream meant one very tired little Nepali and a night of pretend parenting. We even let him sleep till 9! A nice change from the usual 5am start. Our day started with our other reason for a trip to Thamel, gift shopping! With Saroj's help (he was able to get us the cheap 'Nepali' rate), we bought gifts for family and friends, including skipping ropes for the girls, a chargeable radio for Hem and some chocolate for Saraswoti. We returned to the village late in the afternoon, splashing out at the local 'momo palace' for the best momos in town! (Momo’s are sort of like a steamed dumpling, only a thousand times better)

Kabita came to visit on Monday, two days later, as she studies the red panda here. Leigh and I were hanging out to trek the routes but may have to cancel our plans. We're well into the Monsoon season now so trekking is inadvisable, especially in Lang Tang which although has beautiful scenery is frequented by landslides. It was sad to see Ryan go, just enough time for him to get a taste of village life but not long enough for a true experience. It really bought our own departure into light. Two weeks left! All those days of sickness and craving our mum's cooking which seemed to drag on for weeks seemed like only yesterday. Ah well, we were only hoping to get as many flowers as Ryan did when he left!

Our last two weeks at school were a mixture of teaching, games and preparing some musical items for our farewell. The teachers were very keen for us to teach some Australian songs and dances...right. Bella succeeded in teaching the nutbush to grade three for Ryan's farewell, now it was time to come up with something else! Next on the list was a uniquely Nepalese rendition of 'Glamorous' by Fergie. Wow. We had to change a few lines, make it more child friendly but it worked! The kids loved it. Everytime I taught class three the lesson would inevitably dissolve into a dance party, all the kids belting GLAMOROUS! at the top of their lungs. Unfortunately my dance lesson to year four didn't quite take off. Granted I only started a week before our farewell they did pretty well at it though! Sadly we never performed, the kids just weren't ready for it. Also it was dubbed, -ahem-, promiscuous by the group. It's best described as a 'slutty macarena'...which actually sums it up pretty well. Guess I haven't changed that much!
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