An internship in China

As I reached the bottom of the stairs of my airplane, I hoisted my over-weight hand-carry up one stair at a time. I’ve never had to walk up the stairs of my flight before. I felt like a celebrity until I got up to the top entrance of the plane where I’m supposed to look back and wave at the paparazzi. I looked back, took a deep breath and said to myself, there no turning back – you’re going to Beijing…

As I sat waiting for other passengers to board the flight, I glanced around trying to look calm, controlled and content, thinking to myself “Seriously, who fly’s on the 1st of the 1st? It a public holiday!” A middle aged man politely excused himself, as he reached into his seat next to me. It was a full flight. The Captain announced to his staff to get ready for takeoff. This is when I started to panic. I asked myself “What am I doing here?” “Why am I going to Beijing?” “Is my Mandarin good enough to work in Beijing?” “Why are there people flying on the 1st of the 1st?!? Why are you even here?” Mind you this was the first time I’ve ever travelled alone. I shut my eyes and gripped on tightly to my seat until a few moments later an airhostess handed me an arrival card. I started filling in my details until I realised that I had not printed out my hotel address properly nor translated it into Chinese characters as it only resembled a few Pinyin words that did not make any sense to my outdated Chinese vocabulary at the back of my mind. How would the taxi driver know where my hotel is?  I started to get nervous and desperately glanced around. After some failed attempts to grab the attention of the airhostess, the gentleman next to me, turns and asks me “Are you okay? I’m a local from Beijing, do you need any help?” That was the moment of relief. He filled in all the required details in Chinese and wrote my hotel address in Chinese characters so I would be able to show the taxi driver. From that moment on, all my doubts about my trip to Beijing faded.

….

As I pushed my trolley full of luggage towards the taxi gate, a large swarm of people rushed through running towards the taxis. There were many of them, parked in all different directions honking at each other with half open doors and potential clients screaming on top of their lungs trying to bargain for the best price. I’ve heard about black taxis which are a common mode of transport in Beijing, however to see that many of them with people lunging at them at every possible second, I had no chance.  It was night time in the freezing cold as well. I just stood there clinging tightly to my luggage hoping that if I waited long enough, the crowd would eventually go. But it didn’t.

A tap on the shoulder, it was the gentleman I sat next to on the plane. He had already managed to successfully hail a taxi and offered to share it with me as my hotel was on the way to his workplace. My mother always told me to never get into a car with a stranger… I weighed my options. To get into a taxi with a stranger who is a local in Beijing and knows where they are going and already has a taxi on standby or to stand there in the freezing cold attempting to hail a taxi with my five bags of luggage, and try to bargain with a taxi driver who might take me to who knows where. I got in.

Twenty minutes later I arrived at my hotel; the gentleman refused to take my share of the taxi fare and even handed me a few boxes of famous souvenirs he had brought on his trip and then he leaves.

As I progressed through my month in Beijing as a foreigner this is one of many examples of how awesome and nice people in Beijing are. Even though there were many differences in culture and values, the one thing that stood out to me were that the people were always willing to help. My internship went very well which I’ve definitely learnt a lot which will help me in the future. I will never forget this life changing experience.

Jenny travelled to Beijing to complete a professional internship through internship provider CRCC Asia in summer 2013/14.

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Welcome to our home at Playa Caletas

Hola my name is Tess and I just completed 3 weeks on the Costa Rica turtle conservation project through VOICE and Pretoma.

When I decided to do the Costa Rican turtle conservation I wasn’t sure what to expect from the program. So I chose to go in with an open mind, without expectations. This was the best choice because this project is beyond expectations.

Challenges on this program only come from an unwillingness to embrace all that it has to offer. From basic living conditions to predominantly night work, in terms of turtles, to a person’s ability to fill their own time with relaxation when needed and ability to work on cleaning and maintaining your home on camp and the beach which both are quick to be called home.

This program gives you knowledge, not only on turtles, but also on how to take care of the environment. It gives you skills in areas such as turtle conservation, maintenance skills for camp, including cooking and cleaning but not the conventional way. It is also a great place to work on your Spanish- even for a person like me who isn’t particularly multilingual.

This program was incredible. I embraced and joined every minute. I will not only continue to stay in contact with the people I shared it with from all around the world but I will carry all the skills and knowledge I gained with me for a long time to come.

Tess travelled to Costa Rica with VOICE in 2013 on an environmental conservation program supported by BUiLD Abroad. 

 

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Fixing wheels in India

Hello from my computer!

I have just arrived back from a three month project in India where myself and a team were designing and building a cycle rickshaw for young start-up company located in the Northern state of Uttar Pradesh in a city called Varanasi.

The city resides beside Mother Ganga (Ganges River), snaking along in twists and turns for several kilometres before slowing spreading out into smaller country towns. During the first month, I was first struck by the intricate alleyways and smiling faces of the young children that play in the water. When you first stand by the river, you are taken aback by the amount of people that use the river every day in one form or another. I saw younger men squatting by the side of the water brushing their teeth while some of the elder men waded into the water and were having their daily bath.

The life in India was so different to anything I have ever experienced in Australia, from cultural practices within a house environment, to how Indians work within a company setting.

During the three months, I was in charge of doing a cultural research on rickshaw drivers; their life, family and community setting. This would give the design team a better understanding of how to design for the user, and ensure that the rickshaw was created in such a way that it reached maximum potential for the user. Throughout the later stages of the project, I began creating a future business model for the business, to adjust and give space for the new rickshaw prototype to fall into the financial equation.

Each day, I headed into the office, and began a series of tests and experiments including creative sessions, in-depth interviews and shadowing drivers to experience their daily life as best I could as a foreigner. The days were long, however I enjoyed the feeling tiredness, as I waited in line for an auto-rickshaw to take me home from the office to my living quarters on the other side of the city. The drive home from work was something I always looked forward to. I sat a small vehicle half the size of a Renault Twingo. No matter which position you had, there was no room. The driver sat in the front with one passenger each side of him, and three more were squeezed in at the back. Sitting in one of the allocated seats holding on for dear life as the driver weaved in and out of traffic, your head and body would be half out of the vehicle, bobbing up and down over the various potholes throughout the city. Bobble-bobble-bobble. Many a time the driver would miss a bicycle or pedestrian by millimetres, but he would drive on unfazed at the situation.

On coming back, I have realised how much I miss India and its people. Everything from the sounds when you wake up, to the regular chai-tea stall visit makes me sigh, and wish I was back in India. The trip made me realise a character of myself, that I hope to never lose on coming back, but most of all, I will miss all the people that I met during my time there, and the memories and experiences that I gained from them, and hopefully those that I have given to them.

Kathryn travelled to India in 2013 with the support of a BUiLD General Grant to volunteer on a rickshaw improvement project with SMV Wheels. 

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Kolkata- ‘Kisses and Kuddles’

Kolkata; affectionately known as the City of Joy, a pocket of the world that is home to the of poorest people residing in slums that line the streets, renowned for the saintly works of Mother Teresa and a place where a smile and gentle touch resonates love.

Kolkata holds a special place in my heart after first visiting in 2012 on a volunteering pilgrimage with school. I promised myself that I would one day return and reunite myself with the colour, curries and most importantly children of Kolkata.  Thank you to UTS BUild for helping to make it possible, I returned to India at the beginning 2014.  Volunteering with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charities; 19 homes run by dedicated Sisters who take in and care for the dying, destitute and abandoned people of society, I served in Shishu Barvan, a home for abandoned and disabled children and in the afternoon I attended Loreto Sealdah and played with the ‘Rainbows’.  India has this crazy way of putting life into perspective, my eyes where opened to new experiences and my heart was filled with love from strangers.   Mother Teresa quoted “we can do no great things, only small things with great love”, I whole heartily lived by this quote whilst serving, and forged very special relationships with a few of Kolkata’s little angels.

When you first walk into Shishu Barvan the overwhelming smell of bubbling curry for the children’s lunches, tea tree oil to keep the nits away and dirty sheets and clothes takes your senses aback.  But then you take a look around the small room that is lined with cots, chairs with pieces of cloth acting as makeshift cots and beds all with giggling children eagerly awaiting the morning songs, you realize that your morning can only be filled with rewarding experiences and deep affection.  The first part of the morning is spent with the Sisters on the rooftop washing, rinsing, straining and hanging out all the children’s linen and clothes.  I formed a very close bond with a little 7-year-old boy called Raj.  He’s body was the size of a typical 2 year old, yet his ability to sit up and grab allowed for the two of us to have lots of cheeky fun. He had a very quiet nature about him and never once cried- he only ever smiled and laughed.  He was extremely fascinated by the curve and feel of my nails, something he’d enjoy whenever I held his hand.  Whilst there are the not so nice jobs like changing nappies and washing dirty clothes, all the disabled children at Shishu have a spirit and light about them that is infectious.

Loreto Sealdah is a prestigious Catholic Girls School in the heart of Kolkata; amongst the school of girls are a group of 90 girls known as ‘Rainbows’.  Outsiders pay for these girls to attend school as they either have no family or would otherwise be too poor to receive an education.  I spent my afternoons with these clever, dedicated and affectionate girls who live at school.  Neha*, a 14 year old who was left abandoned by her mother at a train station when she was just 2 years old, spoke openly about the harsh world outside the walls of the school and about how she became a Rainbow.  She wants to become a teacher and educate the children of the slums when she finishes school.  She was very mature and knew so much about hardship yet still had such a positive outlook on the life.   Celia a close friend of Neha, is a bubbly 11 year old who had the most beautiful smile and longest eyelashes, she lost both her parents and was now ‘mother’ to younger Rainbows.  She loved to skip and her English was so clear.   I loved sharing in conversation with her about my life and her extended family that lived so far away.  Her passion for education inspired me to value my opportunities mores.   Little Lidia, a charismatic 3 year old who stole my heart.  She was always on the hip of Neha and had this crazy cute little smile.   One day little Lidia was playing in the courtyard of the school and a man at the gate tried to bribe her to come with him with a chocolate; the true harsh nature of Kolkata hit me then and there as I cried for Lidia who could have so easily been taken if fellow Rainbows hadn’t been looking out for her. She has a band of sisters who will help her grow to become a strong, passionate young woman.

The bittersweet nature of Kolkata had me crying, laughing and loving all throughout my volunteering journey.  The little angels taught me that love can transcend all and that these friendships are for life.  So young yet so wise, my Rainbows will continue to shine bright in my soul as I remember their cheeky laughs.

Rosalinde travelled to India to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s organisation with a BUiLD General Grant in 2013.

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Kenya VOICE

DAY 1 KENYA

After feeling as if a week has passed (in reality, 2 days) we finally got off the plane, with a new found appreciation for modern planes, and arrived in Kenya!

We then pilled into a mini bus which barely fitted all of us inside. Poor bags were forced to ride up top, keeping a keen ear out for any crashes off the roof as we drove though pot holed, rule lacking roads of Mombassa.

Had a quick explore of the area including the Forth Theives bar and Diani Beach where we had a quick snack before dinner.

The night followed with a wary trip down the pitch black main road with a security guard as backup to the closest restaurant.

A quick introduction to African time meant several of us were falling asleep at the table but with food eventually in our bellies we all stumbled home and into the comfort of our beds. Not forgetting our mosquito nets!

DAY 2 KENYA

Having a shower is proving to be quite difficult as once you get out, drying is incredibly hard due to the constant humidity.

Had an introduction to the program and quick brainstorm of what we wanted to do on our days off. Had a tour of the local area to gain our bearings and make sure we had some sort of direction…There’s one road. If we get lost it must be a new record of some kind.

Public taxi type vans called Matatus drive up and down the main road costing 20 shillings (approx AU$0.20). Anyone can get on if there is a seat (sometimes even if there isn’t!).

DAY 5 KENYA

Was the first day of volunteering today at our first school, one of the 4 schools we shall be working at throughout the program.

The kids are absolutely amazing. They were so excited to see us and chased after the van on the way into the school. They were fascinated by our cameras and so much time was filled by taking photos and showing photos to the children.

Jess managed to create a new handshake that spread through the school like wildfire and pretty soon we were shaking hands with every child that came me into our vicinity.

The morning session was run from 11am-12pm with the lower classes of the school. Games played included ‘the numbers game’, ‘touch and go’, ‘break away’ and skipping. We joined in with these sessions and enjoyed running around and playing with all the kids.

The LSO (Little Sports Organisation) staff took the opportunity in this break to teach us about the games we had run in the previous session and also teach us some useful Swahili words that would come in useful over the program.

The afternoon session ran from 3:10pm-4:30pm with the upper classes of the school which included a warm up game called ‘turn over hut’ which was then followed by a game of football.

The volunteers worked with the children that weren’t playing football and played other games including relays such as ‘over and under’ and tunnel balls. We introduced the game of bullrush to the children and then also played the classic game of duck duck goose.

Had the most wonderful first day of the program and I am looking forward to meeting another school tomorrow.

DAY 9 KENYA

The day began with practicing our haggling skills with shopping for souvenirs. Emma is definitely the expert in this area and is very handy to take shopping with you.

The first day of our 3 day weekend was spent at the Colobus Monkey Conservation and Primate Rescue Centre. This was just a quick Matatu ride down the road from home. The organisation has been running since 1997 and is designed to promote the preservation and conservation of the threatened Colobus Monkey that lives in the Diani region.

We paid our entrance fees and a lovely lady took us around the centre, telling us lots of things about the Colobus monkeys, what they do at the centre and other information including the local flora and their uses.

The tour ended on a rather exciting and adrenalin filled rush when Betsy (one of the Colobus monkeys of the centre) ran and jumped up onto Sam, then moved on and jumped onto Kim. Betsy wasn’t intending to hurt anyone and probably just wanted to play with the visitors but this still didn’t reduce the shock! She continued to want to play and ended up leaping from person to person onto Sam, then Kim, then me! The trainers managed to settle her down a bit and we headed inside. Can definitely say we’ve been up close and personal with a Colobus monkey now.

For more information on the Colobus Rescue Centre head to http://www.colobusconservation.org/

The is an excerpt from the personal blog of Fiona who travelled with BUiLD Abroad partner VOICE to volunteer in a sports education program in Kenya. You can read about all 29 days of her trip at her blog Kenya VOICE.

This an excerpt from the personal blog of Fiona who travelled with BUiLD Abroad partner VOICE to volunteer in a sports education program in Kenya. You can read about all 29 days of her trip at her blog Kenya VOICE

 

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In the Plus Pod

Hey!

I`ve been here now for almost 2,5 weeks, and time really flies. I`m having the best time, India is such a beautiful country.

After a short tour, I headed down to Bangalore, down south of India. There I met all of the people I`m volunteering with [at 40K] and we went to our respective villages. I live in a village called Dasajakenahalli, in a tiny apartment shared between 6 people. I have to squat to go to the toilet and use a bucket as a shower. So far it`s been surprisingly easy to deal with and I am very happy with my roommates. The food here is super yummy, and I will most likely be rolling out of this country because of all the curry. I can usually handle the spices, but there has been a couple of times where I`ve struggled.

As most of you know by now, I`m working part time in what is called PLUS Pod. This is an after school program that runs every day for two hours (one hour for the younger kids, one hour for the older), which the organisation I`m working with; 40K, has designed.

When I sit down with the children to help them with their homework, I understand how much they need this alternative! The school system is really bad, and they are not taught much! Especially girls are overlooked by both teachers and parents because their education is not as highly valued. With PLUS Pods’ help they have the opportunity to break out of poverty, and I`m so proud to be a part of this!

The kids are adorable, and they are always so happy when they see us. Yesterday we were invited over to one of the oldest boys`house for tea, and he was really proud to show us his house and his family. The kids run up to us when they see us on the street, and wave to us from the bus. I have to admit I`ve got a few favorites, but it`s hard not to love them all.

This is an excerpt from the personal blog of Mette who travelled to India with the 40K Globe program in February 2014. You can read more about her experiences in India at her blog here.

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Jumbo! Final weeks in Kenya!

JUMBO! So we are now into our final week of our African adventure (Kenya believe it!?) and the general feeling is one of sadness that our time is up so soon!  Every aspect of this trip has been amazing so far and I wouldn’t change anything, even the unpredictable showers and the occasional blackouts have added to the experience and made this trip an unforgettable experience.

So with the reminiscence out of the way, I will fill you in on the last few days. Last week we finished the school week with a social work class at the primary school which we actually got to participate in! We put our dramatic minds to the test and constructed a short and very simple skit demonstrating gender equality, as that was the theme of the week.  While it was quite a good effort, I think we were outdone by the children, who performed a small skit also.  The following morning was Friday, and we were lucky enough to spend the morning at a local village to get some cultural experience under our belts. It was great to see how the locals live and survive, often without many things we take for granted here and at home In Australia such as electricity and running water. The villagers were kind enough to perform a short dancing and singing display, as well as providing us with fresh coconuts as a beverage while we watched.  Afterwards, some of the group decided to visit the witch doctor, who advised them on various illnesses and remedies.

The weekend was a big adventure once again, with a trip to Wasini Island taking up most of Saturday. We took a traditional dhow boat out to the kisite marine park for snorkelling and then on to Wasini island for lunch. I personally was beyond excited to get in the water and do some snorkelling and I wasn’t disappointed. Beneath the crystal clear, blue water was no shortage of exotic fish and other marine life. It was defiantly an experience I will never forget and an unbelievable contrast to the previous weekend spent on safari in the dry heat. It is amazing that such different places exist so closely together.

Sunday was spent on Diani beach, relaxing and embracing our last weekend day here before we leave. I went for a camel ride which was a great was to end the day. It is now Tuesday, so we only have three more days of school left and then home time. Luckily we get to visit every school this week so we can say our goodbyes and thankyous to the children, their teachers and of course the LSO staff who have been incredible!

– Emma, Volunteer Kenya: Sport for Better Futures in Kenya 2014

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Lessons Learnt in Vietnam

When a scooter is riding towards you, keep walking

At first sight, it seems like there are no road rules in Vietnam but, in fact, they are just very different (sometimes the exact opposite) of those that exist in Sydney. Crossing the road is daunting, especially as the scooters’ constant beeping adds to their aggressive air. On busy roads, you have no option but to slowly inch your way across (silent prayers are optional). One member of our group, Marlena, favours a different to technique that I like to call ‘ignorance is bliss’; the idea is that you simply close your eyes as your cross the street. This works quite well once you’re comfortable with the fact that scooter drivers do actually ride quite slow and are (usually) skilled enough to dodge you.

Be courageous

Hanoi (and Vietnam in general) has a lot to offer, but to make the most of it, you will have to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t second guess yourself. The streets of Hanoi are so alive, so packed with goods and services to try. Eat street food, get your hair cut and your shoes polished, all without having to walk through a shop door.

Haggle til your heart’s content

Haggling (or bargaining) is a central part of the shopping experience in Vietnam. Most shops don’t display prices and every shopkeeper inflates their prices in anticipation of bargaining wars. To accept the first price you’re offered is to make yourself known as a gullible foreigner.

Take a local with you

Exploring the streets with Derick allowed us to the try the best, out of the way food shops in Hanoi, which are well-known to locals but rarely touched by tourists. It also allowed us to gain a greater understanding of what was happening around us. He was excited to explain the culture and history behind statues, paintings, and artefacts. The history of Vietnam came alive in stale museums and on bustling streets.

– Jacinta, Poverty Reduction through Microfinance program, Vietnam, January 2014.  

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Microfinance in the Field

The program consisted of three field trips to two different communities, Soc Son and Hoa Binh (which is Vietnamese for ‘peace’). Our workshops in Hanoi introduced us to the theories and complexities of microfinance programs, while the field trips translated these into practice. This combination allowed us invaluable insights into this area of development and inspiring glimpses of rural Vietnam.

During the field trips, we observed the communities, farming practices, and interviewed locals to learn about their experiences. Every farmer welcomed us into their home and was happy to share their story with us.

One of the interviews stands out for me. During our first field trip to Hoa Binh, we interviewed a young, female farmer to understand the levels of access to sanitation in the community. During the workshops, we had discussed the complexities of poverty and how it can be split into 3 levels: the poorest poor, the moderately poor and the richest of the poor. This young woman was in the first of these categories.  She was married with two adorable young sons. They all lived in a small concrete house consisting of one room, in which there were two beds and a chest. Walking into her house, we could see the entirety of her material possessions, far removed from the luxury we are accustomed to. For some reason, her story of wanting to expand her crops resonated with me. Maybe it is because she is one of the poorest farmers we interviewed. Maybe because she is 21, the same age as me, which exemplifies how entirely different our lives are. To me, the most inspiring aspect was her resilience; she had a positive view of the future for her family, and plans to increase her income through hard work.

This is where microfinance comes in. Bloom provides small loans to farmers who prove that they will use the money to increase their capacity to earn income. These loans go up to US$400 (although the average loan is US$100) and provide farmers with the capital to buy things such as fertilizer and seeds at the start of the season and repay the loans using the profit they gained from the harvest. We encountered so many struggling families during the field trips, whose only income may come as infrequently as every 8 months. Making that income last is a struggle, creating a cycle of poverty that prevents them from investing in new crops or livestock. Microcredit loans provide farmers with the start up capital to escape that cycle. It is not an instant gateway out of poverty. It involves risk, careful planning and patience, but slowly it can make a difference.

The various interviews throughout our field trips showed us success stories as well as the issues that exist with the microfinance model. Overall, it was clear that microfinance and education programs were giving farmers in these communities a wider range of choices for their futures.

– Jacinta, Poverty Reduction through Microfinance program, Vietnam, January 2014.  Jacinta Vietnam