Cambodian Arts and Culture: January 31st 2015 – February 4th 2015

I signed up for the Cambodian arts and culture BUiLD program because I wanted to learn how to apply the skills I have learned at university in the real world. I also wanted to learn how I could use these skills to make a difference in the world because when I leave university I don’t just want a career to make money, I want to be able to help others. In reality I learnt this and a lot more. The trip involved four weeks of working to develop a social enterprise called Lightbox in the small town of Kampot. Lightbox was developed to regenerate Cambodian arts and culture and provide a sustainable source of funding for a local not-for-profit organisation called Mayibuye that offers free creative education to children in rural areas of Cambodia.

My trip began with one of the most stressful plane flights of my life. Being a nervous flyer I had difficulty getting onto the plane to being with so, the 8 hour flight was going to be challenging. Once I got onto the plane I was seated between two women who were both incredibly friendly. However, the world runs on irony so naturally one of the women was terrified of flying. From the beginning of the flight she was crying, grabbing her seat and swearing. This made me feel a thousand times worse but in my nervous state I knew I had to do something to manage the situation because other customers were looking around rather concerned.

I introduced myself and started to talk to her about my fear of flying and how I dealt with it. I spent the next 8 hours explaining the various sounds and movements of the plane, holding her hand and silently freaking out to myself in my head and hoping I wouldn’t die in a plane crash. Much to my surprise, my strategy helped and while I was struggling internally, the rest of the people on the plane were able to relax. The rest of my Cambodia trip involved many of the same themes as that terrifying plane flight; massive challenges, facing my fears, communication, leadership, learning, experiencing things I never had before and meeting new friends.

The first week involved meeting the group, learning about social enterprises in Cambodia and the Cambodian genocide (which wiped out almost all of the intellectuals and artists in the country), running arts and craft classes with the children from Mayibuye and learning all about Lightbox. Week two was all about market testing. This involved cleaning the Lightbox premises and preparing it for our market testing event, promoting the event and sourcing everything we needed. The event we held was called StepUp Cambodia, it included traditional and contemporary dance performances, dance classes and a bar (which we had to set up because the Lightbox premises didn’t have one). We made flyers, painted, cleaned, launched a crowd funding campaign, bargained with locals, networked and promoted our hearts out. In the end, our hard work paid off as the event was a massive success and was an incredible learning experience for everyone involved. By the end of the week the group was completely exhausted and well and truly ready for our three day weekend.

Our persistence in week two set us up well for week three which was incredibly intense. It was focused on developing a massive (80+ page) business plan, branding for Lightbox and a pitch to sell our idea to investors at the end of week four. The final week (week four) was just as intense as we had to finalise our business plan and we found out we would not only be pitching to investors from around the world but also, to representatives from UNESCO. As the finish line loomed all-nighters became a common theme and with many tired people the amount of tension and conflict increased. In spite of this, our group continued to communicate effectively and produced an incredible business plan and pitch.

What I have outlined above is only a tiny snippet of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My journey involved everything I have written and a whole bunch more. It’s something that’s so hard to explain unless you’ve lived it, everyone should experience something like it at least once in their life. I left Cambodia a changed person, found a piece of myself that had been missing for a long time and took with me friends, lessons and experiences that I will have for life.

Photos:

Week 1:

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Exploring Kampot for the first time

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Visiting Lightbox for the first time

4.jpgOld bridge, Kampot

5.jpgMeeting the kids at Mayibuye

6.jpgCraft time!


Week 2:
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Cleaning Lightbox

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Our poster

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The event

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Firefly Cruise

9 people in a Tuktuk!

Week 3:

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Working hard

19.jpgExploring Bokor mountain

2021Cooking class

Week 4:

22More hard work

23A group of people I will never forget 🙂

Mia Nestler – 11390061

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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