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Blog 2015

Thailand Week 2

Communications Officer

Spending a week at the Chaing Mai Elephant Nature Park (ENP) proved a physically exhausting but rewarding experience for the team. Undergoing tasks such as preparing hundreds of watermelons for the elephant’s food, cutting corn and cleaning out the shelters helped to build the team spirit. Watching the elephants interact and the younger elephants playing proved a highlight for many members of the team. After hearing a talk from Lek, the founder of the ENP, the team became inspired as they realised how important and life changing their hard work was for the elephants.

Visiting the local school enabled the team to gain an insight into teaching Thai children and allowed us to prepare for teaching in the hill tribe. The children were very eager to interact with the volunteers and show us around their school.  Leaving the ENP today proved upsetting for members of the team but enthusiasm has been raised by a talk from Marcia about teaching in the hill tribe. On Tuesday we leave for Pa Pae, a remote hill tribe to spend two weeks teaching, farming and renovating the school.

India 9

Communications Officer

Sunday
We woke up to the sounds we've grown used to over the past week: of beeping horns and cooing pigeons- a stark contrast to our peaceful mornings in Palampur.

Being our first full day in Amritsar, we dedicated Sunday to visiting the Golden Temple - which thankfully was only a two minute walk from our hotel. After sleeping in our air conditioned rooms, we were well rested and eagerly dressed in our traditional Indian suits - a strategy we thought would help us be the crowd.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as we could, dressed in our Indian suits, covering our heads and giving in our shoes, we entered the Golden Temple. Photographs can't describe the experience of the music, the chattering, the people greeting us with 'welcome to our holy city'. 

Unfortunately we couldn't see the central Golden Temple itself due to the long queues which were split into male and female and we decided we couldn't bear to part from Joey.

Following this we headed to the largest Hindu temple complex in Amritsar; Duargiana Temple.

We spent early evening chilling in our accommodation and enjoying air conditioning. Before bed a few of us decided to return to the Golden Temple to see a departure ceremony called 'Palki Sahib' while the rest of us decided to have some last moments of rest.

Highlight of the day was definitely seeing how many of us we could get into one moving tuk tuk. Seven!

Monday
Still awed by the Golden Temple, we took a morning visit while it was cooler and the crowds weren't out. After repacking our now bursting rucksacks, we had one last chance to sample Amritsar.

We then prepared for the long 18 hour train journey to Jaipur. 12 hours to just outside Delhi then less than 2 hours to get to New Delhi station for a 4 hour train journey to Jaipur. I quickly irritated the group with my constant reminders of timings and seats after having a less than comfortable experience on our last sleeper train.

Arriving with over an hour to spare, we soon found our train and settled into our beds. We managed to unintentionally get an early night with some of us asleep by 17:00.

Tuesday
After stopping at what felt like nearly every railway station north of Rajasthan, we arrived safely in Jaipur. We quickly unpacked in the beautiful hotel Rachel had booked for us and set out to make the most of our day despite our lack of sleep. We decided to not do anything too strenuous and opted to pay to use a nearby hotel's swimming pool for the afternoon. We also took the opportunity to get some quick massages. In the evening we conducted our own night city tour, as none were running as it wasn't tourist season. We discovered that we could enter the City Palace by night and found out that we were the only visitors. The staff switched on a 25 minute light show on the history of the maharajas of Jaipur against the backdrop of the city palace walls followed by a guided personal tour of the palace. We were all particularly interested in and horrified with the armoury which included knives that opened up while inside their victim. The guides were very keen to see us hold the weapons!

 We had a relatively early night after our long day and enjoyed the comfortable beds!

Wednesday
We had booked a whole day NGO tour for the Wednesday, organised by Lily. We set off at 9.30 without fully formed expectations. To our excitement we first visited an animal shelter called 'Help in Suffering' which was set up in the 1970s. The charity takes in all animals from cats and dogs to cows and monkeys. As well as relying on charitable donations (part of our tour costs went to the charities we visited) they have a full time vets to treat locals' pets for a cheaper price that the private vets but with a donation to the shelter. We got to meet the main vet surgeon who'd moved here from the UK over 17 years ago and discovered the charity was responsible for rabies eradication in Jaipur by vaccinating and marking all strays. We took the opportunity to cuddle the dogs after having to stay clear of any strays all trip.

In the afternoon we visited two children's homes, a girls and boys, and found out the history behind each one and the background's the children are from - some have been taken out of child labour whilst others have run away from abuse. The girls were keen to show off their henna skills after returning from school and wrote designs and their names in Hindi on our arms. At the boys home we found out more about their routine after school including activities and dedicated homework time. One boy was keen to tell us his achievements in national long jump competitions, supported by funding from several organisations.

After the tour we decided to visit the famed Amber or Amer Fort. Based in the former capital of Rajasthan, the royal family resided there for centuries.

Once again we aimed to get an early night, this time for the 2am water call to catch the train to Agra!

Meg

Cambodia 6

Communications Officer

Friday flourished before us- another week escaped into the whir of memories. It was a remarkably rewarding day - inspiring a classroom of excitable young children. Alisha's shining moment of recognition came when a chance funeral encounter ushered a real life teaching aid into the school playground - in the form of a cow. Next - an impromptu photo shoot eclipsed our objective of teaching in a frenzy of Pepsi hysteria.

That night we headed to sky bar for some cheeky cocktails. Chloe took to the stage to inform the adjacent table of Cambodian revellers that she is 'Spartacus'. The next day we ventured to the river with a tour guide, an exotic elfish beauty with a tendency to speak in riddles. We played cards, caught some rays and almost got carried away by the potent undercurrents of the Sangke.

That evening we went to the lonely tree cafe, run by an NGO. The whole ethos of the establishment was incredibly inspiring, a tree standing tall and resolute, mirrored the strength and determination of the volunteers, a quality we sought to take with us on our personal journeys. The next day we went to our cook, Davit's, housewarming in the countryside to share in food, prayer and songs with friends.

Thailand Week One

Communications Officer

Following a tiresome 30 hour trip to Chiangmai, consisting of two flights and a ten hour VIP bus journey, the team arrived at the Whitehouse hostel in Chiangmai. Two days in Chiangmai, comprising of visiting various Buddhist temples, a waterfall and the popular Sunday market in Chiangmai, has allowed the team to acclimatise to the Thai culture.

On Sunday, the team travelled to the Elephant Nature Park filled with adventure and enthusiasm. The serene and scenic landscape filled with roaming elephants is a breath-taking sight. Over the last two days, the team have undertaken multiple tasks from walking and bathing the elephants, planting grass and preparing food for the Elephants. We have further demonstrated our commitment towards the project by cleaning the Elephant enclosures, highlighting the less glamorous side of volunteering.

The team has fully immersed themselves within the culture and workload, setting an amiable yet fatigued group atmosphere.

Borneo 5

Communications Officer

This was the week they all told us would be the hardest. And certainly when we stepped off the dodgy propeller plane onto Kalimantan soil we all did so with butterflies in our stomachs - or was that the food poisoning?? 

Although it can't be denied that the past week has been tough in more ways than one, I think everyone has found the project in Ketapang enjoyable, satisfying and have learnt something about themselves in the short space of time. Who knew that Rachel. P was a machine with a saw, that Emily was a mean brick-layer or that Ben could wheelbarrow 100 times his body weight in sand? Just kidding, but it is heavy!

We have been helping out with two main projects: building a rainforest nursery for saplings that need shade to flourish, and building bridges to the forest covered island that DUCK helped purchase last year, where the juvenile orang-utans can frolic and learn the tricks of the trade.

Every day, we've been working roughly 09:00 – 17:00 in 35 degree heat and needless to say by the end of each day we are all desperately in need of a shower, or a "mandi" in our case, a tub of cold water which you pour over yourself, more refreshing than you might think! At this stage, it's become hard to discern what are tan lines and what are dirt lines and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't daydreaming about English mizzle and non-rice based meals! I look forward to the rest of the project, the glimpses of baby orang-utans being carted around in wheelbarrows and working with the best team in the world!

Uganda 2

Communications Officer

On Sunday 23 of August most of us did the bungee jump over the Nile, all choosing to get plunged in. We all had a great time, although Lucy won the spoon for the hilarity of her scream.

On project the playground started to come together. New jobs included sanding, bolting and cementing. At the weekend all but the grannies (so called because they have graduated) went white water rafting and stayed on an island called Hairy Lemon where we all found ourselves. Funny events included Harry melting from sun cream, Heather getting hit by an oar, Eren rafting with 5 big German lads and me accidentally making a child cry...

Last week on project we started painting and by now we are almost finished. Parachute games with the kids went down really well on Thursday afternoon. This week we have final touches to do and cleaning up the building site. We have high hopes for winning the competition for the best painted shops.

This weekend we went on safari which was an amazing experience. We were really lucky and saw lions, elephants and giraffes. There were many hippos as well, one called Gloria we met wandering through our campsite... Eren's breakfast was also stolen by a baboon and Heather worried the camp with her frequent screaming due to bugs. We finished off with a trek to the beautiful Murchison Falls.

India 8

Communications Officer

Monday
Any excuse to wear our Punjabi Salwar khameez suits. We gathered around the breakfast table dressed up and ready for national Teachers' Day - an annual celebration recognising the importance and hard work of teachers across the country. India has been celebrating Teachers' Day on the 5 September since 1962. The day commemorates the birthday of Dr Radhakhrishnan, a philosopher and inspirational teacher, and his contribution towards Indian education system. The birthday of Dr Radhakhrishnan came to be celebrated as Teacher's Day when, one day, some of his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday. In reply, Dr. Radhakrishnan said, "instead of celebrating my birthday separately, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is observed as Teacher's day".

Several slices of scrambled eggs and toast later, we headed to reception for a last minute rehearsal of the cup song, which continued during our journey. We definitely kept the taxi drivers entertained. Upon arrival at the school, the principal escorted us upstairs where the intricately dressed infants were being seated. The first floor of the building was an explosion of colour with everyone embracing the occasion. The day was organised by the children who had prepared many performances including interpretive, contemporary and traditional dances. The principal asked us to judge the fancy dress competition, short listing three of the best which proved to be quite a challenge! Approaching midday, we were given centre stage and the cup song seemed to go down well with the audience. Lunchtime in the staff room was a first - putting our finger feeding abilities to the test, shovelling what was effectively a soup using rotis was not so successful for us all. The performances resumed and speeches were given. Kathryn had prepared a compilation of Disney songs as part of an after school singing club she has been running in recent weeks. The day finished with a music game where the children were asked to guess the name of the teacher which each song was describing. All members of staff were fully immersed in this exercise, chanting and giggling at every opportunity. The winners of the fancy dress competition were announced and awarded their trophies. Before leaving the school, we were introduced to Monika, the vice principal, and took advantage of a group photo opportunity featuring her 1 year old son, one to be framed potentially.

Tuesday
Excited about being able to wear our flip flops to school again is probably an understatement, although this probably wasn't our best idea as some of us plodded through the guest house gate at 16:00 with green feet. We arrived at the school at 09:40 ready to go head first into a painting marathon. With three external feature walls on the first floor needing attention, as well as the interior of class 4 and the nursery class, we had our work cut out! Previous DUCK groups who have worked at the school, have created a stimulating learning environment by painting inspirational quotes in all corners of the building. We decided to simulate the quote wall downstairs using a variety of fonts and illustrations to improve the aesthetics of the first floor. A personal favourite of mine now features on the central wall upstairs 'Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever' - Gandhi. For another prominent wall, Meg suggested we enlarged the India stamp which is printed on the rear of our stash, an idea which the principal was very excited about!

After lunch our focus turned to designing a cartoon freeze frame for the nursery, a challenge which Ashley, Jen and Sophie took head on. The theme was agreed - under the sea featuring Dory, Nemo and Crash the turtle. Meanwhile upstairs, the rest of us began painting the outline of the bark and branches ready to add our handprints to create a personalised handprint tree inside class 4. Little did we know how much fun the hand printing process was going to be. After getting paint pretty much everywhere and salvaging many dripping prints we decided to call it a day. Back at the guest house the cup song had now become the theme of the expedition thanks to Lucy. Lounging about in our rooms with whatever we could find resembling a cup and tapping along to any and every song, was becoming second nature. Opting for an early night was definitely one of our better decisions in preparation for our penultimate day of project!

Lily

Peru 3

Communications Officer

This week has been the start of project. We started project on Monday morning and we are carrying on with Globalteer next week.

We started by having an introductory day with the children before starting the maintenance work at Picaflor House.

So far we have painted two classrooms and are decorating them tomorrow. The classrooms look good as new and we are hoping to start painting a mural next week.

Chris, a Globalteer Manager, has talked about the good work we have done so far!

Everyone is representing DUCK incredibly well and I couldn't ask for more!

2015-DUCK-Peru4.jpeg

India 7

Communications Officer

So on Thursday we went into school feeling refreshed after a break day due to the transport strike. The day started quite slowly with people alternating between painting, teaching and taking breaks (which involved sitting out in the sun and quite leisurely reading!) However, after lunch, the three plumbers arrived and set us our penultimate manual labour-centred task. The aim was simple- to unearth a water pipe which was currently supplying the school with water in order for it to be replaced by one that would lead directly to the new water tank. You may think that this would be easy to undertake but there was one catch; we had to avoid hitting the water pipe at all costs or else it would burst. Rachel and I had dug up about six metres of the pipe before the first leakage arose. I accidently hit into the pipe when trying to remove a stone from on top of it. At this sight, Meg ran over with some duct tape and tried to salvage what water she could by taping up the hole. The calamity of the situation attracted quite a large crowd. At this point, Ashley, Lucy and Lily came and relieved me of my task and I went off to do some painting, which was somewhat more relaxing. On returning, I noticed that the pipe was now taped up in not one, but six places. The worst, however, was yet to come. I took to moving back the dirt once more. Warily at first after the previous incident(s) but with every harmless hit I grew more and more confident that I could uncover the pipe without bursting it. Alas, it was not to be. I hit at the ground and heard the crack of plastic and the water began seeping out from beneath the soil. We tried desperately to mend it with what little tape we had left but it was too late. The damage was irredeemably done and the pipe had been split in half. At the sight of this the plumbers (slowly) came to the end of their tea break and cut the water supply off. We then finished off rather a stressful afternoon by re-filling the trench we had dug up, after which we were all ready to go home. Of course, it goes without saying that at this point I had pretty much been assigned the spoon for the following day.

On Friday we arrived ready to start digging the trenches for the new pipes. Which we proceeded to do almost immediately. It took until just after lunchtime to complete the digging; the fact that we knew that it would be our last task which involved any form of manual labour certainly helped hasten the pace. After finishing, two of us left early to go into town (of which, I was one) to pick up sarees while the rest stayed on to continue painting the doors and windows. That evening we all prepared for our weekend trip to Dharamsala- a place where the Dalai Lama himself once lived.

The next morning we woke up in time for our 08:00 breakfast, following this we all piled into two cabs and travelled for an hour and a half to Dharamsala. The journey, albeit uncomfortable, particularly for the five of us crammed into the four seater, was very beautiful. We first arrived at our hotel at about 10:00. It was a lovely place, with king-sized beds and mountain views. We dropped off our belongings and headed straight into town. The town was small but bustling with both locals and tourists. Its Tibetan influence meant that it had quite a different character to Palampur. We popped into several shops along the high street and bought trinkets upon trinkets. We then went and had lunch at a little restaurant on the main square where the staff were all very proud to have served Pierce Brosnan once, however random this may seem.

Following our lunch of mainly pasta and some curry, we wandered up the main street to the Buddhist temple at its top. Visiting the temple was a fascinating experience and the highlight of the weekend for me. The floor on the first level of the temple was overlaid with mats, on which the monks were practicing some form of martial arts.  On the top level, there was a shrine to the Dalai Lama. Here, some information was given about Buddhism and how it is practiced within Tibetan monasteries. This gave us some insight into their way of life. From the temple we went to the Tibetan museum. Here, I was able to learn a lot about Tibet's history and persecution which I otherwise would not have been aware of. The whole afternoon was a really interesting experience. After this, we very gradually made our way back to the centre of town. I say very gradually as we were 'forced' to stop in multiple shops on the way back in order to keep out of the monsoon as much as possible. We also stopped at a bakery and got some delicious doughnuts and muffins. We then settled down to have dinner and a few drinks at a hotel bar. This was a great experience as it gave us the chance to see some live Indian music. Well it started off as Indian and then the band began playing songs which one could only imagine being featured on a 'Christmas number 1s' CD. The general atmosphere of the place was great though, lots of people were laughing and dancing and it was a really good evening out. During the course of which, Joey gave himself immunity from the spoon by eating two chillis* at once, which cannot have been a pleasant experience. After dinner, we all headed back to the hotel, everyone was absolutely exhausted and we all fell straight to sleep.

The next day we woke up early in order to go to a Hindu temple. The Temple was next to what appeared to be a holy bath for men. We walked about it for a bit and noted the different offers that were being made to the god and the fumes from the incense which were thick in the air. We then walked a very, very steep walk to the waterfall. Although the journey was taxing, it was well worth it. The waterfall was stunning and we were able to paddle about in the (freezing) cold water. After this, we walked further up the mountain side to a café. The café was absolutely beautiful. Because it was quite a bit further up and people couldn't be bothered to make the climb, it was quiet secluded and it had the best views. It was here that we all thoroughly enjoyed a late breakfast. I had a honey porridge, which I had been craving since I first arrived in Delhi! The others had Nutella pancakes, which also looked amazing. After this, we lazily headed back down to the centre of town in the midday heat. In town we went to yet more shops! We bought what little we could with what money we had left or, some, myself included, simply eyed up the little gifts which were everywhere around us, unable to buy anything. We then went back to the same restaurant that we had lunch at on the previous day. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and awaited our taxis to Palampur. When we got back we had our dinner and crashed, in preparation for the busy teachers' day which was to take place at the school the following day.

Jen

Cambodia 5

Communications Officer

On Sunday we spent the day kayaking down the Sengkee River, taking in the beautiful sights of rural Cambodia, as well as seeing the locals in their natural environment fishing and swimming. On Monday we started the second half of our project: painting class rooms. First, we had to clean said class rooms, which proved to be a lot more difficult than previously anticipated because they were riddled with spiders the size of ours palms along with dark clouds of black dust.                            

In the evening we went to the Battambang circus. Their performance was not only increibly acrobatic, but also conceptualised the effects of Cambodia's civil war in an artistic manner.

India 6

Communications Officer

12 days into the project and we've not only impressed the principal and teachers of Dhauladhar Convent School (DCS), but I'm pretty sure we've all impressed ourselves. Monday morning; we were all relieved to see the water tank hole being covered up by the contractors with wood, steel poles, and cement; meaning the main water hole has now fully been built (!!!). Though the water tank hole had to be left untouched overnight to allow for the cement to harden, thereby meaning there would be less construction work over the next few days, we were assured that plumbers will be coming into the school soon to further direct us on where to dig trenches for the water pipes. The blisters on our hands have started to heal and I think we've all missed the therapeutic side effect of digging, so we're looking forward to having more hard work thrown at us soon.

For the time being, on Monday and Tuesday, we enjoyed having more relaxed working days; continuing both with our teaching of English classes, and after school clubs of maths and sports. After being told that the walls of class 1 and class 4, respectively, had clean wall spaces for painting- we decided to get stuck in with that. First sandpapering, second applying a white base layer, and thirdly another white layer; we were soon able to start painting shapes onto the wall of class 1, as well as planning the wall design of class 4. For class 4's wall mural, part of our preparation involved stencilling the outline of our handprints- which Lily had covered. Meanwhile, Rachel and I had started on painting the doors: first a pink primer, then a dark brown. We really have started making the school look more colourful and neat. Rebecca, Rachel and Jen went into town after school, coincidentally arriving in town as heavy rain began. Though the other six of us were clearly glad to have missed that fiasco, I think we all wished we saw Rebecca chasing after her flip flop downhill as a flood of rainwater washed over the three of them. I probably don't need to mention that Rebecca was later handed the spoon for it.

Despite waking up 08:00 sharp on Wednesday for breggfast (which you'd realise is a very accurate term for our 19th day running of breakfast eggs), we were told that a nationwide strike meant we wouldn't be heading into DCS today. Though it seems some schools remained open, no transport was available for the commute, which is usually 30 minutes in a taxi- so, of course, we had no choice but to have a day of rest. Most of the team sat outside in the sun whilst reading books all morning, followed by a game of cards and a trip into town. Thankfully, it stayed sunny and warm all day as we had lunch and also managed to witness a group of locals marching through town for the strike. After walking home, and a discussion of travel plans in our last week in India, the whole team seems to be healthy, well rested, and excited to get back to DCS tomorrow to see what the remainder of our project will bring.

Ashley

Peru 2

Communications Officer

After a few days of relaxing in Cuzco, we set out on our trek along the Salkantay route in the Andes to Machu Picchu. After meeting up with our guides Edgar and Maruja, along with a host of horsemen and chefs, early on Sunday morning in Mollepata, we set off on the five day trek.

The first day proved to be a particularly grue;ling day, where the group had to acclimatise not only to the altitude but also to the frosty weather that greeted us. By the time we arrived at our lunch stop, thick snow coated the ground, freezing everyone in the team. We decided not to move on further that day, shivering ourselves to sleep in the less than comfortable conditions.

On the morning of the next day, many people felt worse-for-wear due to the harsh conditions, but by foot and by horse we managed to get everyone over the highest point of the Salkantay pass at 4629 metres above sea level. From there, the descending altitude and improved conditions made the trek somewhat easier, however many were still suffering from the night before. Luckily, Wayki treks made our time as easy as possible, with lots of enthusiasm and huge portions of food at all times!

The third day was mercifully warmer and more pleasant- we knew that the worse of the trek was over! Many people were spurred on through the day by the promise of natural sulphur hot springs in the evening, and these most certainly didn’t disappoint. The group had some much needed relaxation time before returning to the campsite.

2015-DUCK-Peru3web.jpeg

The next morning, the group began the day with a fantastic experience zip lining over the Andes in the cloud forest. At more than a kilometre off the ground and travelling at speeds of up to 70km/h, at times in a Superman-esque pose flying over the valley, this was a fantastic experience which even the more height-adverse members of the team thoroughly enjoyed. Following this, we took a short trek to Aguas Calientes, the self proclaimed Machu Picchu pueblo, wherein we prepared for an early start the next morning to arrive at the famous old Inca town.

Machu Picchu itself was stunning, with members of the group walking up either Machu Picchu mountain or Huayna Picchu mountain for a spectacular birds-eye view. After exploring the ancient ruins, we returned to Aguas Calientes where a train took us back to Cuzco after a fantastic trekking experience.

Borneo 4

Communications Officer

After leaving the luxury of Basaga we headed off on our next leg of the journey to Matang, a wildlife sanctuary in Sarawak that is the only one of it's kind to accept absolutely any animal that they are given! After a tour of the grounds, seeing sun bears, orangutans, crocs, gibbons, hornbills and so much more, we set about on some enrichment work for the monkeys. We used newspaper, plastic bottles, leaves, string and egg trays to concoct puzzles in which the monkeys can get food out of. It was then incredible to watch the orangutans get their packages - some were more delicate than others it has to be said! Many of us were extremely shocked at how human like they are, some of them separating each element in to piles, and playing with the materials! Whilst at Matang we had the upward struggle of the Indonesian embassy to try and get visas - something which also you would think was simple, proved to be incredibly challenging! We all got them in the end however!!

From Matang we headed out to Bako National Park which involved a lovely boat ride across the South China Sea - we even saw some wild crocodiles! This park is famed for it's probiscus monkeys, and we were not disappointed! We also took park in a night walk which treated us to many a spider and even a little tortoise! 

Kubah national park was next on the list and this offered a nice refreshing trek to a waterfall - a great place for some photos! This was the start of our next 4 days of vegan meals - they were SO delicious, much to (some of) our surprise!

After travelling back to Matang for a long weekend of enrichment activities and night-time hardcore jungle trekking to see a sloe lorris, we headed out to Ketapang, the project down in Indonesia, and the main part of our trip. It was an interesting 9 hour bus journey with blaring dance music and lots of requests for photos from the locals, but we made it, although some looking a little peakier than others! Our last night of luxury in a hotel before the project and some real manual labour! 

India 5

Communications Officer

After our usual breakfast of toast and eggs on Thursday, we headed to the school and continued helping the contractors build the wall inside the hole. While we were doing this, a group of students started walking around the playground information and holding signs, practising for some sort of event. After speaking to the principal, we found out that they were going to a rally attended by five local schools. In India a significant number of people use ultrasounds to find out the sex of their baby and then terminate the pregnancy if it turns out to be a girl. The government have therefore banned the use of ultrasounds for this purpose, but selective abortions of girls still take place. The school children were therefore taking part in a rally to raise awareness of the issue and to highlight the importance and benefits of having girls in the family. I think I speak for the team when I say how proud we were of the students and how privileged we felt to be working in their school.

After school we carried on with the sports club and the maths help club, both of which were very successful. While some of the girls were waiting for their parents to collect them, they taught us their favourite hand clapping songs and routines, some of which we remembered from our own childhoods. 'A sailor went to sea', 'boom, snap, clap' and many others were a fun and relaxing end to a great day. The principal even filmed Rachel and his daughter doing 'soul sister number nine' and is going to put the video on YouTube. Ashley had been at home ill, but still managed to get the spoon for accidentally turning the shower on while fully dressed.

There was a melancholy mood at breakfast on Friday as we all knew Emily would soon be going home. After getting ready for school we all gathered in reception and said our goodbyes - Emily would be getting a plane to Delhi later in the day. As soon as we got to the school we realised how strange it felt to have a person missing from the team, even though we'd always known Emily was going to leave half way through the project. Now we keep checking we've got everyone because it feels like the group isn't complete.

It turned out the contractors didn't need all of us to help mix concrete and build the wall at the same time so we decided to help out in as many lessons as we could. During the day we ended up teaching English and assisting in maths, science and music lessons. I think we all enjoyed the more varied work when continuously switching between construction and teaching and are looking forward to next week when we're on the timetable for more lessons. We also taught some lessons when the teachers were busy doing other things around the school so classes were left with no teacher. I found these classes the most challenging as we had no plan at all and had to try and come up with an interesting and informative lesson at a moment's notice.

By the end of the day we were all exhausted and ready for the relaxing weekend ahead of us. Over dinner we decided that the spoon would go to Rebecca for filming a millipede crawling around for two minutes.

Saturday was Raksha Bandhan, a celebration of the relationship between brothers and sisters. The buses were all free for women so they could go and visit their brothers and give them gifts. The brothers then give their sisters gifts in return. We all thought this was a really sweet celebration, but didn't realise that it meant a lot of women had taken the day off work and that meant there were not enough staff at the spa we wanted to go to. However, we walked into town and managed to find a spa which was open. We spent the day getting pampered with papaya facials, head massages and much more. It was a lovely relaxing oasis in the middle of a busy town centre. However, I do want to apologise again to Joey who waited patiently for us all to finish our treatments, although he did get his own head massage and a slightly different hairstyle.

After going back to the guest house to freshen up and change into our suits (and take just a few pictures in front of the mountains), we headed to The Lounge. The volunteer group we met at the start of our trip had recommended it as a restaurant which served western food. Although we are all loving the food here, the pizza and pasta was a change from our usual curry and dahl and was appreciated by everyone. Lily received the spoon for deciding she didn't like the long sleeves on her suit and altering it herself.

We had a lie-in and a relaxed day on Sunday. Everyone was happy to just walk around town and visit a few shops before returning to the guest house to prepare for another week's volunteering at the school.

About the school

Speaking of the school, we've realised that we haven't actually said that much about it. Dhauladhar Convent School (DCS) is a co-educational school for students aged 4 - 16 in Bhawarna and it takes us approximately 25 minutes to drive there from our guest house in Palampur. The school has been supported by DUCK for the past three years although we are the first year doing construction work - the previous groups decorated and painted the classrooms as well as teaching. Here are a few words from the principal about the work we're doing in his school this year:

"The volunteers in DCS this time are very young and don't seem muscular, but the project this time needs some muscular volunteers.

“Before the beginning of digging the underground water tank and lifting/carrying material from outside the road to the school which was really a very tough job, I was really worried if these people could do it; would they be able to do all of the physical work. But they proved me wrong.

“Oh my God, what an enthusiastic and determined team they are which is led by Meg. Each member is mentally very strong without carrying about their wounds (which they get while working) and tiredness; they are working continuously and achieving their goals.

“The school will never forget these beautiful faces even after their departure and we will always be thankful for their great help in sorting our water issues.”

Sophie

Uganda 1

Communications Officer

We have been on project about a week now, arriving last Sunday to Bodondo school just north of Jinja near the river Nile. The journey over was a little challenging with most the group missing a flight connection but getting a free stay in Istanbul Hilton Hotel courtesy of Turkish Airlines.

When on project we stay in a school classroom, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. We wake at around 06.30 for a 07:00 breakfast followed by chores before starting the building work at 08:0. The building has been tough so far - we first had to dig holes in the ground but the site given to us was very rocky with some holes hitting bedrock only a few inches deep. This was challenging and meant we tired quickly. However we had extra help for locals in the community and even youngsters aged 11 were showing us how it was done! The last few days of the week we spent sanding the apparatus (which was welding whilst we dug), did a little painting and began cementing on Friday - the hottest day yet adding an extra challenge to the manual labour. Since the first swing frames have gone in their holes, the whole group is beginning to feel a little proud already of the playground as its beginning to take shape!

Aside from the building there has been the opportunity to interact with the local community by running arts and play sessions from 15:00 – 17:00 in the afternoon, which consist of cutting, gluing, painting and making toys with the children and playing games such as duck duck goose, stuck in the mud and traditional Ugandan games. This is a fun part of the day where we learn more about the children and they learn about us - they have become particularly excited whenever someone begins taking photos and have the tendency to crowd round the individual demanding more selfies of themselves!

We have just had our first weekend off where we had the chance to go into Jinja for some great milkshakes and massages - to relieve our sore back and shoulders and also been able to take part in activities such as kayaking, tubing (floating down the Nile in a rubber ring), horse riding and bungee jumping. So far the trip is going smoothly and speaking on everyone's behalf an incredible experience.

India 4

Communications Officer

Thursday morning- after all waking up still slightly achy from our construction work over the past couple of days and another breakfast of toast and eggs, we headed to the school. As we arrived we were greeted by a towering stack of approximately 2500 bricks and it suddenly dawned on us all that we would have to move them, along with the two piles of grit and sand we started on earlier in the week, along the 70m path to the actual schoolyard. Not an ideal start to the day but motivation still remained high. I think the fact that so many people had their doubts and suspicions as to whether we would be able to do all the construction work (slightly understandably when a group of white girls and one boy, some fairly small in stature, turned up to do labouring in humid conditions) also had the effect of spurring us all on even more to prove them wrong. We all decided that it would be best to focus on the construction work and stop teaching for the time being in order to get as much done as possible so that we could focus more on teaching in the future.

Throughout the day we all fell into a routine of switching between digging in the pit, to shifting the grit/sand in buckets and this time also transporting the bricks using stretchers. Despite only working 10:00 - 14:30 with a lunch break it was a long, hot and tiring day for all, but I think I speak on behalf of the half team when I say that seeing our progress so far makes all the effort worth it and keeps us all going so that we can reach the end goal of providing the school with a way of storing water over the dry summer months.

Many teachers and locals, I think it’s fair to say thought that we were slightly mad at first but luckily, they also appear very impressed and grateful with our work. People passing by often stop to stare in bemusement at our work or to ask where we are from and how much we are getting paid giving them a shock when we explained that we were volunteers at the school. One local man stopped as he passed by to say “I like you. You work very hard. I am very proud”. Atul, our in-country co-ordinator even told us later that one man stopped to ask if we could build his house too! This, along with getting high-fives from the school children at the end of each day is so rewarding for the whole team.

After everyone had a well-deserved rest and shower when we got back to the Guest House, we all changed rooms, something we are going to do weekly from now on, in order for people to have a chance to share with different members of the team.

The next morning we headed into the school again to see an even more daunting sight than the previous morning - MORE BRICKS!! With all of us only managing about 8 bricks in one go between two people using a stretcher we knew this was going to be a long process. Thankfully after a conversation with the headmaster we agreed that it is unrealistic for us all to dig the hole, move the bricks, teach and run after school activities all in the four short weeks that we are at the school. As a result, it was decided that over the weekend someone would come in with mules to transport the bricks which will be a great help. So after another day of work during what was probably the hottest day we’ve had so far, we finished having done a large proportion of the hole with one side being about 6ft down and the other about 7ft down because it is on a slope. Once our make-shift soil step was dug out we had to be careful to put the taller ones of the group in so that they could climb back out again! This progress means that hopefully next week we will be able to start doing more teaching and running more after school sports and homework clubs which everyone is very excited about.

In the evening we headed into town to the tailors to collect our Punjabi suits, trying them on in turn and admiring each other’s - there were so many vibrant colours and beautiful patterns and no doubt we look the part now! The perfect end to the week was being served chicken for dinner at the Guest House - the first meat any of us had eaten since leaving England 10 days ago so you can imagine the excitement amongst the team, leaving everyone in a very good mood which was only made better by eating mangoes after given to us by the Superintendent of the local schools in the area who had grown them in his garden.

On Saturday morning, we woke up earlier than usual to set off to Manali, a rural city situated in the Salong Valley. We expected it to be about a 5 hour journey in the minibus, forgetting that the bumpy roads here add so much time to a journey. We travelled through the Himalayan Mountains - quite literally once when we drove through a long dark tunnel carved into the mountain - going up and down windy roads alongside the River Beas with occasional dogs, cows or even monkeys staring at us from the side of the road as we passed by. Despite a rather uncomfortable journey, the beautiful views more than made up for it with rolling mountains covered in greenery followed by even taller, rocky and snow-capped mountains standing proudly behind. We passed towering waterfalls that rushed down the mountainsides and many small rural villages.

Arriving in Manali, we did a quick change into our Punjabi suits - although the photographing process was somewhat longer after many different combinations of people, angles, positions and backgrounds all to show off our beautiful purchases, with Joey not being left out wearing his Indian tunic. We then headed into the city to first visit the Hidimba Devi Temple, a place of worship dedicated to the Goddess Hidimba in approximately A.D 1553 built with delicate wooden carvings on the outside. We then headed to the local market to be classic tourists and buy souvenirs which of course everyone enjoyed. Manali is noticeably more touristy with more Tibetan influence making it great to see somewhere different in this vast country. For dinner we headed to a more Western-influenced restaurant for cocktails and food such as pizza and pasta - not that we aren’t loving vegetable curries and rice but it was a welcome change and a perfect evening to treat us all.

The following morning, after a well needed lie-in we visited the site where we would have done paragliding if the weather had permitted us but unfortunately the monsoon season came a month later than usual. Despite this disappointment, the views were still fantastic giving many photo opportunities. Our next stop was more temples, Rama Temple and one which had some hot springs and pools traditionally used for bathing in. Our final stop was Nuggar Castle built in the early 16th Century and historically used as a royal residence until the British took over, another interesting sight to see before the long journey back to Palampur. We all thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away seeing new places and now look forward to getting more work done at the school tomorrow.

Lucy

Cambodia 4

Communications Officer

By the middle of week two we were starting to make real progress with both the construction and volunteering. One kitchen was pretty much done, whilst the other was a having the roof and flooring put in. It felt very satisfying to leave each day seeing how much progress we had made in such a short space of time. The experience was made more rewarding by  the huge improvements made in communication between us and the two families. We picked up a few Khmer words and even the families' youngest members learned a little English.

By this time we had gotten into the swing of teaching and were getting to know the kids. After a full week of teaching English, the 'fun Friday dance off' felt very well deserved for both kids and teachers alike.

On Saturday morning, after a much needed lie-in we headed to the world's only bamboo train; a 3km long train once used to transport rice which now takes tourists through the beautiful green jungle surrounding Battambang. In the afternoon we visited the Killing Caves where atrocities took place during the Khmer Rouge Regime. Sunday was a more relaxed, on which we took a Khmer cooking course. We made spring rolls as well as traditional fish amok and beef lok lak.

All in all, it has been an enjoyable yet tiring week but luckily our leader Aoife's wise words were there to guide us through the gruelling heat, reminding us at all times to 'not let the fear of hitting your thumb stop you from hitting the nail'.

Borneo 3

Communications Officer

Sunday night brought our first chilled beach bar adventure. After a very windy trek through the forest with only our torches to guide our way, we arrived on petani. Dulcie and one of the ecoteer interns Brian cracked out the guitar and sang some country tunes, while we all sipped coconut juice and listened to the waves crashing against the shore. Our journey home was adventurous as Lydia, who was leading our way home, was bitten by a giant ant and chaos ensued. The sight of all of us jumping up and down and screaming in the dark, trying to avoid the ominous ant nest, definitely deserved Jainka's I told you so! 

Monday brought our first day off and our last day on the Perhentian Islands! We had a lie in (until 9.30!!!) and had a welcome change from rice with roti for breakfast. After obsessively suncreaming we made our way in dribs and drabs back to the beautiful Petani beach. We played 'under the sea mafia' and catch trying to avoid stepping on the hoards of sea cucumbers - not a pleasant sensation! Lunch was exciting, with our first taste of western food since we left England! A small group of us ventured to Mira beach, the next beach along the coastline which looked like the beach from lost, with crystal blue waters and a white sandy beach. The Wilson jokes were rife. We saw a blue sting ray in the shallows which was pretty cool and tried our hand at hailing a passing boat as a taxi. We ended our day off with a presentation from the ecoteer staff and lots of unflattering photos of our short taste of island life.

Saying goodbye to the ecoteer staff was an emotional affair, with lots of hugs and promises to keep in touch, and even a few tears (Lydia). We're not sure if any of us will ever visit this little beach paradise again, but we'll never forget how welcome the staff and community made us and how special our first week in Malaysia was! 

Now on to the next adventure with the Great projects in Matang and Ketapang!

India 3

Communications Officer

After a good breakfast and nights sleep on Monday we left for our first day at Dhauladar convent school. When we arrived we were welcomed by principal and about 25 children. They painted a tilak on each of our heads and threw rice and petals over us before pressing bunches of flowers at us. It was great to have such a warm welcome!

We then had a tour of the school and saw the carefully painted walls of the last DUCK group to visit the school. The school itself has 12 classes ranging from kindergarten and nursery up to class 10 and has around 240 students in total. We then met a couple of other volunteers: Catherine is teaching music for six months, Alex is spending a year film making and Sahil is teaching maths. It's been interesting to learn about their experiences and great to get a few tips before we start.

During lunch break the children gradually got braver and we ended up swarmed by them shaking our hands and asking for our names.

After lunch, we found ourselves joining in with a class 4 music and singing lesson. We ended up singing our way through I am a music man!

During the day we kept getting doubts on our ability to dig the necessary hole for the water tank (6ft by 6ft by 6ft) in the 4 weeks we had. This just made us more determined to get the job done so after an evening of discussing teaching ideas and an early night we got straight on with the work.

On Tuesday we alternated between observing lessons, digging and carrying material from the road. The work was incredibly hot and sweaty but we were all really impressed with every member of our teams effort and commitment to getting the job done. We also saw various classes throughout the day and were impressed with the level of English shown by each year group. The main thing we noticed was that lessons often seemed repetitive and just involved reading from a text book. So our aim is to bring a bit more fun and interaction into their English lessons. To finish the day we split into pairs to plan lessons to classes from all ages in our first day of real teaching.

Today passed similarly to yesterday but as a team we had grown in confidence and knew what we were doing from the start so made even more progress than yesterday. By the end of the day we were proud of our efforts and our determination can be seen from various muscle pain and numerous blisters. The principal was really impressed with us and now has faith in us finishing with plenty of time to spare!

With all of this in mind we're all looking forward to the rest of the project and to see what the rest of the week throws at us.

Joey Wynne

Peru 1

Communications Officer

We have spent our one night and Lina and we embark on our 20 hour bus journey towards Cusco which is where our project is based. Condor's House in Lima was lovely. They welcomed us with open arms and many different European languages.

We soon went out for dinner as it was getting late and tasted the local delicacies.

We are all super excited to get onto project but I think at the minute everyone just wants to get to Cusco!