Thursday, December 9, 2010

One of main advantages of learn guitar courses is that you can learn and play the guitar wherever and whenever you want. This is the magic of self paced learning, where your life and normal duties or responsibilities do not have to be on standby just because you want to learn a new skill. With traditional music schools, teachers and classes, everything is pre-set on fixed schedules.

With online learning, however, there is perfect flexibility in terms of when and where you want to learn. If you feel like getting into the guitar lesson at night within the comfortable confines of your home, you can do so without any hassle. One of the best resources for learn guitar tutorials is available at

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brain-eating parasites exist

I was actually going to close this blog, now that I have returned from Cambodia, but I decided to keep it there as a type of diary for when I feel the nostalgia set in. I feel, however, that there is one more post that I need to add to this. My brain-eating parasite.

As many of you who have followed my recent hospitalisation know, I have been seriously ill in hospital with possibly one of the scariest, but coolest-sounding diseases that I could have come back from Cambodia with - a parasite in my brain. It sounds like hollywood fiction, and its rather fitting that this all occurred the weekend after Halloween.

Ive certainly come back with a few stories worth telling, and Ive now told them to all of the hospital staff at Robina hospital as they delt with my migraine, nausea, memory lapses, disorientation, head spins and loss of muscle control.

I went to the doctors to get a certificate to get out of work because I had a headache, but my doctor feared something worse, most likely Dengue Fever. In retrospect, I wish I had dengue instead. They sent me home with a referral letter for the tropical diseases specialist the next day, but warned me that brain cysts could develop and that I may lose my eyesight any second and it wont come back until they treat it. I assure you that every time I so much as had a hair in my eye I started to think 'is this it, am i losing my sight'? Very scary.

Everything was fine, and I had done a sufficient amount of socializing on Sunday with my family, and then coffee and church with friends. That night, bam, I pretty much lost the use of my legs, and it was up to the emergency ward again first thing the next morning. This time, it was to stay.

I was visited by so many wonderful people in hospital - close friends and family. I appreciated it so much, because my company in the Acute Medical Ward were quite literally only 3 people, one who spoke no English but muttered to herself loudly in European languages, and all of these women were very sick, tired and over the age of 70. Not the best company, and I felt that my dignity was sacrificed when it took me about a minutes to go 5 metres on a zimmerframe to get to the bathroom. The parasite aged me.

Fortunately, the doctors were able to quickly and efficiently kill the little bug that I had affectionately nicknamed Gary, and take me in for a few more interesting head-scans before they were sure it had disappeared.

I am home now, and so grateful that the only long-term damage that I will receive is slowed memory, concentration and comprehension, almost like having a low-grade learning disability. The brain parasite could have left me with very severe permanent brain damage, or even killed me, so I am very grateful for the help of the doctors at Robina Hospital to fix me up and send me away with minimal implications.

They say I got this horrible brain-eating parasite from the jungles in Cambodia. I'm just lucky I was back in a place with stronger diagnostics and medical resources when I started showing symptoms. What about the people who LIVE in these jungles? They would get no such treatment, and literally just left there to have their brain painfully eaten alive by a parasite. It really is excruciating.

ps Dont let my story deter you from going to Ratanakiri, Cambodia, to enjoy the jungle and learn about the tribal cultures. I still plan to go back, all things considered. I was sick, but that doesn't mean Cambodia isn't one of the greatest places in the world. Do not be deterred.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

arachnids at sunset

It was a long journey back to Phnom Penh, but not unpleasant. I enjoyed watching the scenery change from dense forests, to agricultural lands, to the occasional small town. I enjoyed watching the bus struggle to get out of situations where it had bogged itself. I enjoyed kicking back with my chocolate wafers and watching people fish in the Mekong. I enjoyed playing my ipod for as long as the battery would last. And I enjoyed the arachnids I ate at sunset.

First, it was the tarantulas. They were crunchy, furry, and had quite a distinct, borderline unpleasant flavor. Moving on to the cockroaches was somewhat of a relief. This was followed by unrecognizable, blue flying bugs, and a stuffed frog. I know the poor kids from the village often spend their day hunting for these little frogs for their family to have some meat with dinner. They are actually quite pleasant to eat, but I can imagine it must get tedious eating them every night.

Then, finally, it was back to wafers and my can of Coca-Cola. Sure, I'm a western stereotype. But I looked around and saw many traditional old women eating the same foods, and many of the young people also drinking soft drinks at eating lollies. I suppose I was blending in as much as my pasty white skin would allow. Yes, I still haven't got a tan, and feel all the better for it. Cambodians find white skin very beautiful and I actually have strangers saying I'm pretty. Such a thing would never happen in Australia, and is rare even with the most beautiful of young girls. So yes, I find it flattering to have my ego stroked every now and then.

Is that such a bad thing?

Also, my Khmer has improved dramatically. I ordered curry with rice, asked how much, and even called for a drink and my bill in Khmer like it was the most natural thing in the world. Could I get used to living in Cambodia long-term? Absolutely. Will it happen? Hopefully. Some part of me wanted to turn the bus around and go set up camp permanently in Ratanakiri.

For now I was fine just to sit back and nibble on my arachnids at sunset.

Ratanakiri resources

The bus to Ratanakiri takes 11 hours, in the dry season. Some say its almost impossible in the wet season, and I can understand why. Parts of road had disappeared completely, and other parts made us feel like the bus was swimming, not driving..

Ratanakiri is about as remote as you can get in Cambodia, and contains only 1% of Cambodia’s population. one in four children die before reaching the age of five and three quarters of the population is illiterate. Infrastructure is poor and very few tourists can be bothered, or have the time, to make the journey. It screams Indianna Jones-style adventure and I knew I HAD to do it before I left Cambodia.

With prompting from a fellow solo backpacker, I learned how to drive a motorbike. I don’t mean a dirt bike, I mean a proper motorbike. I loved it! The rain was drizzling, but that seemed to make the scenery over the mountains more magical, as their peaks disappeared into the clouds. We drove out through the rubber plantations on semi-sealed road, on a journey to a waterfall. This road was challenging even to the best of drivers. I found myself bogged on one occasion, but was helped by the friendly passers by. The waterfalls was impressive, and crater lake is well worth being placed on the tourist maps.

The next 2 days saw me hike deep into the heart of the jungle, with a local English-speaking guide, my fellow solo backpacker and an Indigenous ranger. We slept in hammocks by a waterfall, and enjoyed local foods cooked traditionally by a campfire. It was magical.

The indigenous people of Ratanikiri are amazingly unique people. They have their own music, language, culture and religion (a type of animism). Most still live off the land, hunting for wild pigs and whatever they can find. Seeing this first-hand fed my inner anthropologist. Just when I was almost ready to pack in my Community Development studies and study indigenous languages for the rest of my life, I was hit with the confronting reality of poverty in the region.

Living off the land means they don’t have a great need for money, but many work wherever work is available to afford luxury items. Illegal deforestation is destroying communities, and even along the remote hunting tracks we saw trees that had been marked for logging. Losing these trees means losing the biodiversity of this unique region, and losing the food source for the tribes that need this region to survive.

Yes, its illegal, but this is a corrupt country and a few spare dollars being thrown around by Vietnamese logging companies will ensure that the local indigenous people will never get a say over the uses and abuses of the land that their people have inhabited for over 20,000 years. I would see these families in shanties outside of the main town in Ratanakiri. They have been stripped of their land, and now were being stripped of their food sources. The only hope to ensure the land is protected is Eco-tourism, and the environment may not last long under the strains of large influxes of tourists. They are trapped in a conundrum.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I was reminded by my drunk but enthusiastic tour company manager that Australian geologists are scouting through the mountains for gold, and that somewhere in the mountains there is the prospect of finding larger mines. At no point in history has there been a situation with multinationals searching for natural resources have resulted in fair and equal treatment for the local, poor, illiterate indigenous populations. Ratanakiri is becoming victim to this trend.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Andong in the news!

Those who are reading my blog regularly, or seeing my numerous facebook statuses, would have already heard of New Andong Village. If you haven't read it, please read the blog post called ''Andong''.

Today Andong was in the Phnom Penh Post, the English speaking newspaper that some people from Andong village scrape a living selling copies of near the airport.

Please read this article:

For those who can't be bothered, it says that all of the hard work done at a grassroots level to create livable homes in this community is going to be torn down, so that the government can build new houses (the same size and design) to sell back to the families at a cost unaffordable to most, trapping them in a debt cycle or forcing them into homelessness.

I feel a deep connection to the community and their struggles. Leigh and I have been fortunate enough to witness the ongoing grassroots construction efforts happening in the community. To read this news today was devastating for us, but whats makes it worse is how powerless we feel.

It is clear what the community want, and they have worked hard to improve their lives after the government forced them to relocate in 2006. Why is the government not listening to their people? Is this yet another attempt to reclaim their land? Unfortunately, I suspect it won't be long until the land title awarded to these people are actively revoked by the Cambodian Government, once again relocating them into a situation of desperate poverty and alienation from educational and employment opportunities.

I hope to visit the community one more time before I leave, because Andong will always have a piece of my heart.

There may be dark days ahead for Andong.

Monday, August 23, 2010

40 hour famine!

I had given up on the idea of doing the 40 hour famine this year. I HAD rallied a group of enthusiastic friends together to do the famine with me, but the participation pack never arrived from World Vision.

I suppose I needed a bit of a push.

I knew I could register as an individual participant, but the idea of ONLY being able to collect online donations seemed ridiculous. The majority of my friends are university students, who are too poor to have credit cards to donate online. At most, I reasoned, I would make about $15-$20.

Then, on Friday, I recieved the push I needed.

I decided to set up an online profile, and do a last minute push on facebook for donations. I was impressed with the response, and Im still recieving donations today even after the weekend is done! I have made somewhere around the $60+ mark, which is 3-4 times what I thought Id make in such a short time with only facebook as my means to beg off my friends. Sometimes its possible to be pleasantly surprised with people's genorosity. This is one of those occaisions.

On Friday night, I began the challenge of going without food, furniture and facebook. With election fever in the air, it was very difficult staying off facebook. At Saturday night's election party, it was difficult to pass up the kind offer of western-style food as a group of Australians gathered aroudn a Phnom Penh television set to hear the news. Not that there was any news to hear. Sleeping on the tiles of my hotel room floor on an empty stomach was, admittedly, pretty difficult, but the tuk-tuk ride from the election party to Takmau gave me a pretty strong reminder of why I was doing the 40 hour famine in the first place.

It couldnt have been later than 12:30am, but the rains were the heaviest I had seen them. My tuk-tuk driver had kindly unrolled a layer of waterproof protection between me and the elements, but I was still able to observe sites, even with nearly everything being boarded up for the evening. Then I saw a group of kids, probably around 7-9 years old, collecting garbage on the streets. They were all carrying garbage bags and reaching their bear hands into rubbish piles to see if they could pull out anything of value. Its 12:30am, these kids should be in bed. Instead they are collecting rubbish, in the pouring rain, unsupervised.

Somewhere out there, I knew that there were parents or carers who were somehow profiteering from the kids streetpicking. I knew that these kids will probably always find themselves risking exposure to disease and risking injury just to scrape over the poverty line, either to support their siblings or, as is often the case, supporting a parent's alcahol, gambling, or drug addiction.

I went home and slept on the tiles, on an empty stomach, without having updated my facebook status. It was uncomfortable. But so is poverty.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Full of cake and gratitude

Every village visit makes me feel a little more comfortable in rural Cambodia. The heat becomes less overbearing, the insects are less irritating and the people smile at you like a friend instead of a crazy white girl with pink hair and a strange enthusiasm for taking photos of everything in sight.

Or, maybe, I have simply learned to stop over-analyzing.

Whatever it is, I greeted Chen Chea's family with a polite bow of the head, a smile, and a poorly pronounced 'jum riip sou''. It is always impressive to see how far she is progressing in just a few short days. Outside were large squares of material covered in rice being dried in the sun. I had seen these in Vietnam and other parts of Cambodia, but hadn't yet had the chance to touch it, or ask questions to people who spoke good enough English to answer me.

Every few minutes, Chen Chea's mother would leave the team doing the casting and go to tend to the rice. I had always known her mother to be generous. On one occasion, she sent us back to Takmau with a few banana leaves full of sticky rice. Today, she had made for us some mouthwatering palm sugar cakes, similar to a banana muffin in Australia but much, much tastier. We were already full of cake and gratitude when she offered us another cake. I couldn't refuse.

Just when we thought that somebody couldn't get any more generous than that, she said that she would like us to take with us a bag of the rice that she has been drying out. Situations like this can be very difficult, because while it is amazingly nice of them, you also become aware that this is their livelihood. Joanna simply said that she wants to do what is most polite, because she didn't want the lady to feel as if we thought her rice ''wasn't good enough for us''.

After a brief translation, Chen Chea's mother explained that she will sell the rice for income generation instead.

Cambodian people are just so generous!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Normally we use a van to get to Chen Chea's village, but last Friday somebody had mistakenly taken the key with them to Battambang. We needed to get to the village, So, we did the most western-expat thing possible... we hired a tuk-tuk. Fair enough when we were on actual roads, but very soon these roads turned to dust, mud, and narrow paths through rice fields. There was a different vibe in the tuk-tuk.

Chen Chea's village is one of my favourite places in Cambodia. it takes an hour to get to in a tuk-tuk and is green, lush and completely untouched by tourism. Its the REAL Cambodia. When we arrived, the team did all the normal things... re-casting, standing excersizes, and got to see how well she has progressed.

The village visits are always the highlight of my week. Chen Chea is doing well, and fortunately she is off the steroids now so she will be regaining her strength with much more ease now (ironically). Her chickens have had chooks now, so there were PLENTY of baby chickens getting in the way of the casting, which was both inconvenient and adorable. Chen Chea was discovered because Impact Charities was doing work to make the community more sustainable by building wells and vegetable gardens. Like Chen Chea's mother was saying, she looks forward to seeing chen chea walk again so that they can both work again and live somewhat normal lives. Its so exciting watching her progress.

Then, it was back to Takmau for a very quick pack-up, then heading into Phnom Penh to get a share cab from the pineapple palace (the affectionate name given to the house that friends share in Phnom Penh) to Kampot. It took about 3 hours, and was really good fun. It was nighttime by the time we arrived at a place called the Boddhi Villa. Check it out:

None of these photos or write-ups really show how stunning this place was, or the vibe it has, particularly when the live music was pumping on Friday night.
When I asked Joanna what we were doing over the weekend, she said we would spent alot of time swimming in the river, having cake and coffee and maybe even go for a massage on saturday. We caught drift that there was a waterfall about 7km from the hotel.

It wasn’t 7km. We piled into a tuk-tuk, and started off down a normal road, that quickly turned into sand dunes. How a tuk-tuk negotiated sand dunes im still not quite sure. We were heading in the direction of the mountain and dealt with every terrain possible, and had to get out and push the tuk-tuk out of holes. It was good fun. Soon, we had reached as far as the tuk-tuk could go.

If a tuk-tuk had endured that much, you can imagine how bad the next road was. Well, wasnt. For the most part, there wasnt actual road, and Joanna and I were holding tight onto each other and the motorbike was jumping gaps where road literally failed to exist. We were all good friends with the perfect english-speaking workers at the boddhi who were driving and knew these roads well. It was an absolute adventure, for sure.

Then we headed up the hill (somehow) along a path not quite big enough for the motorbike and our legs became covered in scratches from jungle trees. When we reached as far as the motorbike could go, we had found ourselves outside a small house. The owners were really relaxed, and happy to see us. They picked some fresh passionfruit off the tree and let us wash our cuts and sores in the river rapids. It was a beautiful place to relax.

Then, once our mates had ferried all 10 of us to the house, we started off on our adventure. The mountains were incredible, and the jungle was amazingly thick. We all kept up a very fast pace, faster than anything I could have managed just a few weeks ago in terms of fitness. At times, there was not only no pathway, but no ACTUAL way to get through more dense parts of the forest, so you would find yourself using problem solving skills to hoist up a tree or boulder and grab the nearest vine and swings. Again, there were a few slips and falls, but feeling so remote, adventurous and intrepid of it stopped us from complaining. The climb was incredibly steep, and in retrospect im still not sure how we managed to get up some of the slopes from recent landslides.

The trek took AGES, so when we finally heard the boom of the waterfall, we all felt pretty damned proud of ourselves. It was STUNNING. The water was FREEZING cold, but after the hot trek, it felt incredible. We spent plenty of time relaxing at the waterfall, swimming, and hanging out.

It was a long, exhausting weekend. The people, the vibe made staying at the Boddhi really special. 3 days later I'm still trying to get the mud out from between my toes. Its been an amazing weekend.


Takmau is a strange ''city''. Its the capital of the Kandal Province, and other than passing through rows and rows of garment factories on the back of a motorbike, its hard to determine exactly when Phnom Penh stops and Takmau starts.

Nothing much happens here, though. VERY few people speak any sort of english, but the markets dont stop being facinating. I could take national-geographic style photographs in the market place all day, if I wasnt getting enough strange looks purely based on the fact that I am white.

I am working at Chey Chumneas Hopsital, which is a convenient 200m from the guesthouse that I am staying at for the entire 9 weeks, except on weekends when I set out to explore more of Cambodia. For those of you who want to read about the adventures of the organisation I am working with, Rose Charities, check this out:

The highlight of working here is definitely going to see Chen Chea (refer to blog link above) who has laid virtually immobile for 4 years until the amazing team around me have helped her to regain muscle strength. Seeing her moving around on her own, and even walking (assisted) has been REALLY inspirational. Definitely read her story in the blog.

I could write about this place all day.

The Southern Road to HCMC

It took us 2 days to get from Battambang to Kep, due to a compulsory stop-over in Phnom Penh. It was actually quite refereshing to return to a city we knew and eat at the same local resturant, ordering the only thing the language barrier would allow us to order.

The journey to Kep was stunning, but unfortunately most of our time there was spent in the rain. We stayed in a beautiful hotel on a hill that is part of a wider national park that the rain prevented us from exploring. We did, however, get to explore the wonderful abandoned colonial buildings and have fresh seafood from street vendors and a posh restaurant. Electricity continually cut out, but fortunately I carry a solar powered lamp around with me everywhere, so it was actually quite pleasant to be living in the wooden house that was more like a homestay than the backpackers accomodation we had become accustomed too.

Next it was on to the Hatien border crossing to vietnam on a minivan, where we happened to meet up with a couple we had met in Phnom Penh a few days earlier. We then went onwards to Chau Doc. We had full intention of staying in Chau Doc, but there were literally no rooms in any of the hotels, so we decided to go to the next step of the journey, Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. It was a thriving city. We could only find 1 hotel, with 1 room available because it was apparently school holiday time in Vietnam. The couple we had been travelling with, and an extra traveller from Scottland, all shared this 1 room and shared a boat the next morning for the sunrise trip on the mekong delta to the floating markets.

The floating markets are by far the most photogenic, enjoyable, inspiring and intersting thing to do in the mekong delta, and probably the whole of Vietnam.

The Mekong delta is surprisingly developed, but it is often difficult to navigate. We opted for the local busses from My Tho to Ho Chi Minh City, and we are glad we did. Sometimes adding a bit of guess work into a holiday makes it all the more enjoyable, albiet more expensive when you run out of budget backpacker options.

The last few days in Ho Chi Minh City were very enjoyable. We saw all of the major museums, art galleries and the palace. It took a little while, but HCMC really grew on me. Vietnam is culturally very different to Cambodia and I must admit I prefer Cambodia, but HCMC is certainly good fun with a little adjustment.

Saying Goodbye to Leigh was DIFFICULT. Suddenly, I was going to be alone. Completely alone. He was heading back to all the Western comforts that I didn't particularly miss, but also to the friends and family that I did miss. I was a little jealous knowing that it wouldnt be too long until he was sipping chai with friends and following the upcoming federal election like a sport. Still, we said goodbye...
and later that night it was goodbye Vietnam and onwards to Takmau.


I'm still not sure what the big deal is about Battambang. The city itself is extremely uneventful, busy, pushy and unpleasant compared to Siem Reap or, infact, any of the other cities I have explored throughout Cambodia. There are 2, sometimes 2 things worth seeing. The first is the famous Bamboo train. It is quite interesting and VERY fun to travel on, through some beautiful rice fields, and very much worth the $4USD per person to travel 20 minutes each way along train tracks of varying quality.

The second is an amazing trip to the Killing Caves, where the Khmer Rouge would literally push victims down a massive hole in a limestone cave, where they would die on impact if they were lucky. If they were unlucky, they would sit there in a pile of rotting human bodies, with broken limbs, until they starved or bled to death. The bottom of the cave has an eery feel, with a small box full of the skulls of the victims, some of whom had their skulls bludgeoned before taking the fall. It was very interesting, but very morbid, with a similar feel to the S21 prison and the Killing Field.

On a lighter note, there was a beautiful, active pagoda at the top of the mountain, with a Hindu shrine and a Buddhist temple coinciding quite peacefully. There was also abandoned Khmer Rouge weaponry and a stunning view over to the Thailand border, and we were told not to walk in certain areas of the hill due to landmines. To be honest, we were so shaken from the haphazard moto driving to the top of the mountain along a clifface that we were hardly up for a landmine-dodging adventure anyway. Going down the hill on that motorbike posed a greater threat than any landmine. It was a genuine relief to be back on the tuk-tuk, where we stopped to take a photo of a world vision sponsored school. I think I will always have a soft-spot for World Vision, especially knowing that this specific area relies purely on rice farming, and I know what effect the global food crisis is having on rice farmers.

Every mention of the Khmer Rouge, especially such a clear reminder like the killing caves, makes me more and more enthusiastic about seeing his country repair itself.

Angkor Wat and Siem Reap

Siem Reap is a beautiful city, with plenty of French architecture and lots of luxuries, clean cafes targetted at the 2.2 million tourists that past through Siem Reap last year alone. They come for a good reason though... to see the famous Angkor Archaeological Park, home to Angkor Wat.

We can thank the Angkorian empire for delivering facinating architecture, a unique history, and a beautiful blend of Buddhist and Hindu culture. It is IMPRESSIVE.

Leigh and I spent the first day with a new friend from the Phillipines as we shared a tuk-tuk around the major temples, including Bayon and sunrise at Angkor Wat. The next day we tumbled through the Siem Reap markets and soaked up the atmousphere of the city, preparing ourselves for a LONG bike ride to the Angkorian temples ony accessible by pushbike. The ridiculous heat, the blasting sun, and the constant threat of being caught in a sudden monsoon puts most people off hiring a pushbike, not to mention the amount of time it takes to get between temples. Since we had a 3 day pass, plenty of enthusiasm and an intrepid spirit, we spent $1 hiring awfully basic bikes and had many of these difficult-to-reach temples to ourselves. The final day was spent in a tuk-tuk visiting temples even further outlaying, but not impossible to reach by tuk-tuk.

For anyone in South East Asia, visiting Angkor Wat is a MUST. I have seen plenty of historical must-sees in my life... the colleseum, the parthenon, the Pyramids, Teothuican... and I would say that Angkor Archaeological park ranks right up there in the top few. DO IT.


1,500 families, forcefully relocated from their inner city slum, to an area with no access to healthcare, education, sewage pipes or clean water. It sounds like a nightmare, but it was very much a reality. These families were moved to a plot of land that became known as the ''new Andong Village'' and is about an hour from the city in a Range Rover over bumpy roads and dirt tracks. The families lost their major sources of income as day-laborers in the city. Sure, most of them made only just enough to feed their families, but at least they had enough corrugated iron for a roof, and enough rice. So why would the Government do that? Because their existence is an eyesore to the tourists, businessmen and upper class of Cambodia.

This is possibly the worst excuse ever to reclaim valuable land near the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. We visited the land they came from and yes, now its just an empty field of grass surrounded by barbed wire to stop desperate families from Andong trying to become squatters in the patch of land that used to be their home

Land title is a major issue in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. People were given the right to live wherever they settled, but never given a piece of paper saying it is theirs. These families owned the land, but couldn't prove it, so the Cambodian Government took full advantage of it by forecefully relocating them, using teargas to force them onto buses to be shipped off to a new block of land, where they were given a 3m x 3m block of land per family to build a house. They were given land, but no materials, no money, no access sanitation infrastructure, no school, no electricity, no running water etc. These families lived under tents for years.

We were fortunate enough to be in contact with Abraham, who has become something of a hero to me, as he has worked with the village to create a basic school, get electricity for the village, build houses, and ensure that international medical teams do outreaches in the community. There is a sewing school for the women of the village, and they are working on getting pipes put in to deal with the flooding problem, some of which have been built in time to help Andong cope with the wet season. This time last year, the village flooded, but in some parts of the village new piping has resolved this issue.

For a few days, Leigh and I helped with the construction of the new school, and teaching English at the temporary thatched hut school. The kids suffered from various diseases, including major skin diseases. Health and Sanitation was virtually non-existent, and the 3 water pumps provided water from a pond covered in slime and waste.

It was certainly an interesting case study in holistic development, and reminded us that we cannot focus simply on ''education'' or ''health'' or ''employment prospects''. It was also interesting to see the divide between rich and poor that already exists, even though all families started with literally nothing just 4 years ago. Some families have a motorbike to get in to the city for work, and even a small radio or tiny second-hand tv, while some people still lived under a piece of tarpaulin.

Clear disparities exist between those who are given the opportunity to go into the city, those who received micro loans for selling basic food in the village, and those who are too sick or unable to work for various reasons. In a community like Andong, poor sanitation and minimal access to health care means its not hard to be too sick to work quite often.

The few days we journeyed to Andong challenged us culturally, linguistically, and emotionally.

For more information, check this out:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Morning Vietnam

I was in a plane above the Nullibor when our pilot kindly paused the terrible in-flight romantic comedy to tell us that Julia Gillard was our new Prime Minister. For a split second, I wanted the flight to change its path and head back to Canberra so that I could continue the Survive to Five lobbying adventures in the fallout of the Gillard take-over, but instantly reminded myself that in a few hours I would be landing in Ho Chi Minh City.

The city is a strange one. I don't know what hit us harder, the humidity, or the eagerness of the Vietnamese men to indulge my eyes in some foul erotic gestures before they could be averted. After some well-needed sleep, we went for a long walk through the major downtown area, not seeing anything particular, but soaking up the chaotic vibe followed by a roof-top dinner in District 1. I can't say that I hated it, but when we arrived in Phnom Penh the next day, the city paled in comparison and I found myself complaining about it to other backpackers.

Phnom Penh is a much more enjoyable city, but with its share of challenges; terrible smells, crazy moto drivers and beggars. The first few days were spent visiting all of the major tourist sights, such as the National Palace complex, Pagodas, markets and the more impacting sites such as the Killing Fields and the former school-turned-torture-prison, S21.

Note: My camera decided to stop working, so all of the photos were taken on Leigh's camera and for those who have been watching my facebook, you would notice I am yet to upload any photos of my own. For now, flick through Leigh's photo album. There are some beautiful photos in there, because while urban Cambodia is by no means the most beautiful place, it is certainly one of the most interesting.

Operation Survive to Five

It was like greeting an old friend when I signed in to my blog this afternoon. I had been to busy scribbling songs, poems and thoughts into my travel journals, known as the ''red books'', to take the time to make an electronic copy. So now I am backtracking, to Operation Survive to Five.

Aid and Development is a big topic, and often so deeply associated with an altruistic optimism that it seems more like a nieve aspiration than a concept supported by leading economists, businessmen and politicians. However, the Millennium Development Goals are a set of realistic goals that could see rich governments (including our own) end extreme poverty in countries affected by the global food crisis, the aftermath of genocide or war, the effects of climate change or lack of basic infrastructure. They have more money and resources than many of the people who fit the mould of my fellow survive to five delegates... poor university students and high school students with hardly enough resources to sponsor one child, let alone the 8.8 million children under 5 die of preventable causes like birthing complications, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.

So we need the Government to commit to giving 0.7% of its Gross National Income to Aid and Development, just like it aspired to back in the year 2000. Australia weathered the financial crisis, and a few intense days of training in Canberra taught us that yes, we CAN afford it!

We heard from some fantastic speakers, including Tony Abbot, Kevin Rudd (in his last 24 hours of Prime Ministership), Senators, AusAID workers, leading Government lobbyists and, my personal hero, Tim Costello. It could have been easy to be overwhelmed by the titles and experience of the speakers, or even the magnificance of Parliament House, but hitting the streets on the campaign trail with 40 other Vgenners ( to see members of the public sign to see a greater commitment to Child and Maternal Health brought our heads out of the political clouds, and provided the creative edge that we, as young people, tend to be particularly useful at.

Meeting with MPs, protesting, hearing empowering speakers, and informing the public about our mission helped us gain new skills, new understandings of the greater challenges of MDG 8 (
Develop a Global Partnership for Development), and meeting like-minded young people was both an incredible experience in itself, and the perfect platform to launch into my 3 months of learning first-hand about life on the field in Cambodia and Vietnam :D

Monday, May 24, 2010

Welcome to my Blog

Welcome to my blog! It is now 3 weeks until I head to Canberra with World Vision for Operation Survive to Five. I will be in Canberra for 5 days, then early the next morning I fly to Ho Chi Minh City! My departure date is set for the 24 June. Leigh will be returning on the 25 July, but I won't be back until the 27th September!!

We have plenty of things planned, such as visiting the famous Angkor Wat temples, chilling on a boat down the Mekong, seeing rice fields at sunrise, volunteering in a slum, visiting an orphanage, taking innumerable photos in war museums in Vietnam, and visiting Khmer Krom temples in Vietnam. Then Leigh flies home, and Ill be working for Rose Charities in Takhmau, just outside of Phnom Penh. For those of you who are interested, I will be working here:

At the moment I am flooded with visa applications, passport renewals, vaccination lists and other things on my 'to do' list.

My next blog will be in 3 weeks during Survive to Five so you can hear about the way the Team and I are lobbying to get the government to stick to its original commitments of 0.7% GNI to international aid and development by 2015. The Government made this commitment, now they should honor it. MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY :)