Friday
Mar142014

VOLUNTEER BLOG: HILARY STUBBS & EBONY WARD 

Good Morning Vietnam!

Hilary

After a successful border crossing from Cambodia, the group arrived in Vietnam! The first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, where Hilary rejoined the group (and brought with her the highly desired supplies of dairy milk and tea bags!) and we spent our first night all back together in style – we went to the Hard Rock café (with not so hard rock music; a lot of Tina Turner and Miley Cyrus which suited us just fine!)

Ebony

Then we went to the Mekong Delta, where we tried a lot of “interesting” traditional local produce; the coconut sweets were nice… not so sure about the wine with a whole snake floating in it! We were then taken on a boat ride by the local people through the river, which was so peaceful and picturesque…until the boats got stuck in thigh-deep mud and we had to be rescued by the locals! The next day there was a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, an amazing place where we learnt all about the Vietnamese guerillas’ attempts to defeat the Americans during the Vietnam War; their warfare techniques were ingenious(“The Seesaw” – a trap with hidden bamboo spikes that impaled people - wouldn’t exactly be suitable for a playground!) We even got the chance to crawl through the tunnels themselves, and even though they had been widened for Western tourists, we still ended up on our hands and knees!

 Our next stop was Mui Ne, where we visited the beautiful white and red sand dunes. Standing on top of the dunes we had the chance to take in the breathtaking surroundings; every type of landscape seemed to merge into one place - crystal clear waters on one side, towering woodland on the other and the dessert beneath our feet. Then we took to our boards and raced down the dunes; a couple of us even hired quad bikes – a great experience (despite getting stuck in the sand and having to be rescued!) and then a stroll down the Fairy Stream was a fitting end to a fairytale day!
 
Our final stop of the first week, the beach resort of Nha Trang, was a hive of activity. A few of us visited a waterpark on an island that was only accessible via the world’s longest sky lift over the sea and then we all headed out on a four island tour (aka booze cruise) where some of us had a go at karaoke and the more adventurous of the group tried parasailing. After all the exertion of the past few days, we treated ourselves to a much-needed spa day, complete with mudbaths, waterfalls and mineral pools!
 
Our first week in Vietnam has been incredible- packed with amazing activities, hilarious memories and beautiful sights…with only one week left nobody wants to go home!

By Hilary Stubbs and Ebony Ward, Volunteers

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

Tuesday
Mar112014

VOLUNTEER BLOG: SOPHIE STOCKILL & LEILA OSMAN

Teaching in Siem Reap was an experience not to forget. Smiling hearts association for children (SHAC), and Changing and Hoping for Lives organization (CHL), despite their sickly sweet names, were amazing places to teach! We learnt a lot from the short month we spent there, from navigating our way through crazy Khmer traffic, and acting as the chicken pest control squad in the classrooms, to actually teaching some English!


After our first experience clinging to our lives and bikes on our first morning ride to school (rush hour), for which the advice was “just close your eyes on the roundabouts and you’ll be fine!”, we were introduced to where we’d be teaching for the next month. Situated down a painfully bumpy rollercoaster track, near the heart of Siem Reap, it was small and cheerful and we were welcomed warmly by the director Aly. After a morning of training and observation we were thrown in the deep end, being allocated classes of 15-25 children and told “ok, you teach now…” Although this was daunting at first, we soon found our feet and realized that the small children weren’t as scary as we initially thought. Some of the volunteers led spelling bee classes while the others were spread out among different grades. At breaktime we were witness to some spectacular feats – it seemed the students could have led an acrobatic show in their spare time! One game consisted of 2 students holding a rope above their heads while the others somehow hooked their legs over one at a time, whilst flying through the air (we still don’t know how such small children could reach such a massive height).

The following afternoon 3 volunteers (Heidi, Ebony and Leila) were whisked off to the director’s husbands’ school in the country, which with very bumpy tracks, was an interesting experience in a tuk tuk. The daily task of getting out while the tuk tuk driver did a run up, and pushing it through sand pits was definitely a highlight. The country school was very different; being much more secluded and deprived, it was a lot smaller than the city school, with one in three of the students being orphans. Here, there was an adult class as well as two classes of children, all refreshingly eager to learn. It seemed that by the end, there was one class of Yorkshire children (courtesy of Ebony’s accent) and one Welsh (Heidi).

As for the highlights and lessons of our time teaching, there are too many to list in full, but here are just a few!
1. Being greeted every time the bell rang with an adorable chorus of chanting children (which was so catchy that it got stuck in our heads like a very weird song!)
2. World war III between the American and English teachers on who would teach the children to spell aeroplane or “airplane” (wrong), correctly!
3. “helping” the director with IT admin and managing to permanently crash the website! … oops
4. Teaching the hokey cokey to screeching, over excited country students.
5. Receiving adorable drawings, flowers and handmade bracelets from the kids.
6. Seeing the improvement over the course of the month, such as kinder garden knowing all the colours!!!
7. Mutant chickens (with no legs and massive feet) flying into kinder garden classrooms on a daily basis and creating havoc, even flying into a very surprised 8 year olds’ face!

Saying goodbye to the schools was sad, but we received enough small bear hugs to make us feel our time spent there was well worthwhile and appreciated!

By Sophie Stockill & Leila Osman, Volunteers

Find out more about Cambodia Teaching in Siem Reap.

Thursday
Mar062014

Assistant Trail Leader Blog: A Sobering Day.

The trail has travelled to Phnom Penh where we were all reunited this weekend. The atmosphere along the way was great, there was a buzz of excitement as everyone shared stories of the last month at their respective projects. We’ve had an excellent time in Cambodia and felt very welcome everywhere we went by the wonderfully friendly people. This has not always been the case in Cambodia though, and in Phnom Penh it was appropriate for us to understand this darker side of their history a little more before we moved on.

Skulls from the Killing Fields

During a four-year regime known as the Khmer Rouge, in a bid for ethnic cleansing a brutal genocidal regime was inflicted upon the people of Cambodia with an estimated 1.7 million people killed.

This Sunday, we visited the Tol Sleung Genocide Museum. It was previously a high school that during the Khmer Rouge was turned into the notorious S-21 prison where thousands of innocent people were tortured, interrogated and finally executed. Of the 20,000 people believed to have entered, only 7 survived. Inside the gates it was at first hard to imagine the atrocities that happened there as it looks like any other high school. The difference being that the Khmer Rouge documented prisoners’ interrogations and stored a shocking photo archive. There was a solemn feeling amongst the group as we walked around the interrogation rooms and saw fist hand the steel beds and shackles used to torture prisoners.

I found the wall of photos particularly disconcerting, there were rows and rows of faces staring back at us of the prisoners soon to meet their fate – photos taken to prove to the Khmer Rouge leaders that their orders had been carried out.

We then went to the Choeung Ek genocidal centre, (known as the killing fields) which followed the route the prisoners would’ve taken on the final journey of their short, tragic lives. When the truckloads of frightened prisoners arrived they were escorted to a small darkened room and their names were checked off to check no one had escaped or missed. They were then led in small groups to ditches and pits that had been dug by a team based at the site. They were told to kneel down and then they were clubbed on the neck with tools such as cart axles, hoes, sticks, wooden clubs or whatever else could serve as a weapon of death. They were even stabbed with knives or swords to save using bullets, which were deemed to be too expensive.

This resulted in mass graves of victims from every background, the young and old, teachers, politicians, women and children, no one was spared.

It was a sobering, insightful day into the destructiveness and cruelty of some members of the human race. As we drove away and back down the bumpy country round it was a time for reflection on how lucky we were to be leaving the killing fields, a journey which few made during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

By Kelly Lovick, Assistant Trail Leader 

 

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

Thursday
Feb202014

Trail leader blog: Cambodia Marine project

As the Eco Trail Leader my days in Thailand and Vietnam are jam-packed with planning itineraries, booking bus tickets, arranging accommodation, hunting out tasty places for dinner, organising excursions and guiding the group through jam-packed pavements, weird and wonderful smells and chaotic noisy scenes that are the epitome of Asia’s charm.

Koh Rong Samloem

But on the paradise island of Koh Rong Samloem, I sometimes have to pinch myself, realise and then feel lucky… that this is work! As a scuba diver and a surfer I am in my element by the sea, but there is something truly special about living on a beach camp for a month. My typical day is a million miles from that London commuter life I used to have…

I generally wake up around 7.30am, but it’s no struggle to get up here! The first person up boils the kettle and I eat a breakfast of noodles and tea in a hammock with my book and a view of the sea.

Today my first work session will be testing one of the new volunteers on their fish identifications. In order to log data about the reef, volunteers must be able to easily identify 63 different fish, so I will don my snorkel and mask, my work clothes (a bikini!) and swim through the reef pointing out the weird, wonderful and beautiful creatures that make our house reef so rich and colourful.

After the morning session we break for lunch during the hottest part of the day. We gather in the shade of the porch with a noodle or rice dish and watch the island boat come in and out at the pier. After lunch, I will be joining up with one of the other volunteers to collect data on a full survey. Working on a selected portion of the reef, we will record the fish, the coral and the little critters that live there.

After showering (with a bucket of water from the local well) I like to dry off on the back decking where the sun sets over the trees and palms. We cook lunch and dinner on a rota system and some nights I will be cooking a vegetable curry or lentil burgers for everyone. Other nights I will be washing up, or like last night I will have time to get creative – fixing my trousers or making a cutlery drainer from a plastic bottle!

I love the simple life, and the evening is blissfully relaxing here. Sometimes we are all engrossed in our books, sometimes we play cards, have games nights, cuddle puppies, have long thought provoking conversations or go for a beer from a cool box at our local rustic bar.

We are starting to know the locals, get to grips with Khmer language and tally up rare sightings like rays, cuttlefish and black blotched porcupine fish. My family ask when I’m getting a proper job, but this is far more appealing!...

By Rachel Bradley, Trail Leader

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

Wednesday
Feb122014

Assistant Trail Leader Blog: Welcome to the Kingdom of Cambodia!

After another long bus ride through some incredible scenery and an incredulous border crossing involving a great deal of different paperwork and official stamps we are finally in Cambodia.



First impression are great, Siem Reap is a hive of activity with lots or great restaurants, street vendors and night markets. We all ate out last night in the night market and caught up on the stories of the volunteers' first days of teaching. Everyone seems to be relishing the new challenges that they are facing including teaching their own classes early on which may have seem daunting at first but they are taking it in their stride. Tara explained how she had been given her own class today for 45 minutes and despite being unsure at first she quickly found her inner teacher and taught them about proper nouns with satisfying results. Heidi, Lelia and Ebony had the chance to go to a more rural school yesterday which they loved as it gave them a chance to see another side of the teaching experience. Here they noted the children were still just as eager and willing to learn but they had far less resources, which means they will have to be even more imaginative and resourceful with their approaches but I'm sure they will be excellent at it and look forward to hearing their stories over dinner tonight in the shared volunteer house.

Finally, just a quick mention that we are four members lighter than the last time we wrote. Amanda, Hilary, Leah and Mike left on Monday as they were only travelling with us for the Thailand section of the trail. We filled our last few days together on Koh Phangan with last minute shopping, eating even more Thai food and had the all important sandcastle competition! They were excellent, enthusiastic, funny members of our group and will definitely be missed as we carry on through Cambodia and into Vietnam. From all of us on the Frontier South East Asia Trail we hope your new adventures in Bali and New Zealand are going well, that you have started planning your next trip Mike and Hilary, see you in Vietnam we hope!!

By Kelly Lovick, Assistant Trail Leader

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.