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We woke to the sound of our 5:30 alarm, packed our bags and headed for Yangon airport for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. When we got to the airport and checked in we found out that air Asia charges money for checked bags, it ended up costing us $160 American for our bags to make it to our destination. After saying aloud that I would never take Air Asia again, Jesse tells me our Australia flight is through Air Asia too. I guess that explains why it’s often so cheap. We checked our bags and got on our plane.

We had a few hour layover in Bangkok so I went to exchange our Myanmar money. When we got to the counter we find out that not one exchange booth would take it. It was 112,000 kyatt which is around $82 America’s dollars. I began checking gate numbers for flights that were leaving to Myanmar, there were two close to us. My only option was to walk around and ask random people if they wanted to exchange at a better rate. We were willing to take a price cut in order to switch currencies

I went to the people that I thought might have American dollars in hopes that one of them could help us out. The first few people were a little confused and scared at some random person asking them for money and a few people didn’t have cash on them. It wasn’t looking so promising for us, but I decided to go up to one more man. It turned out that he was going to Myanmar but only had a hundred dollar bill. I was willing to exchange with him for $70 instead. Neither Jesse nor I had change so I went upstairs to the exchange booth again and asked if they could break a hundred for smaller bills, they wouldn’t because their policy says they can’t. I went back downstairs to find the guy and he disappeared so I tried one more person and sat down, no luck.

We decided to go get something to eat since we had a little time. We saw a Subway upstairs, it’s nice to have familiar food once in a while. When we got back downstairs I tried one last time and I found a couple that we’re going to Myanmar and we’re willing to exchange 70,000 kyatt for $50. That’s all they had in American and it would normally be about $51 so we weren’t losing much. Unfortunately, we were still stuck with 42,000 kyatt but we were grateful to get a portion of it exchanged. Hopefully, somewhere down the road, we can get rid of the rest of it. So the lessons for the day are: Don’t fly Air Asia and don’t forget to exchange the currency you have before leaving that countries airport.

We get to the Laos airport after a short flight, pay for our Visas on arrival and head out the door. I love that some countries have e-visas or visa on arrival. If you’re traveling from country to country, sending your passport off in the mail isn’t an option so this quicker visa process is great.

We hopped into our taxi and headed for our guesthouse. When we’re in the process of traveling from place to place, putting our bags down as soon as possible are our first thoughts. We have everything we own in them so currently, they are pretty heavy, probably heavier than they need to be. When we get to Australia we’re going to rethink what is necessary to be traveling with and get rid of the rest. Jesse and I both often wear the same clothes every other day or for a few days in a row. I’ve always been an over packer so it will be nice to get rid of what I haven’t used in months.

As we get into Luang Prabang we immediately notice a change in the air and overall vibe. The air seems cleaner and smells fresher. Since many countries still have the open sewage along the roads you often get a whiff of unpleasant smells if you are walking. We are surrounded by mountains and right along the Nam Khan river. Our beds at our guesthouse were dorm style, Jesse on top bunk and me on the bottom. These beds were probably our most comfortable beds in Asia so far, they were bigger than a twin but smaller than a full, with a soft puffy blanket and a soft pillow. It’s rare to have everything on the softer side while traveling so we were really living it up.

We sat down for a little while then decided to get some dinner and head to the night market. We found an all Vegan buffet right in the market. It was basically a table with a bunch of pans filled with different items. Then you fill your plate and give it to the cook to heat up in a wok for 15,000. You can pile the food as high as you can too. This was the cheapest meal we’ve found so far in Luang Prabang. It’s funny you think that a country will be cheap and it is but since tourism is growing things are becoming more expensive. It seems to work for the people traveling on vacation but those that are long-term traveling, the cost really adds up. That’s why volunteering is a win-win for everyone. It saves us money and we get to help others on an assortment of projects.

Right in the city, there is a restaurant and bar called Utopia that has a beautiful view of the river. There were cushions on the ground for floor seating and numerous other cushions just for lounging. It was nice because some were in the shade and some were in the sun, you could even nap there if you wanted to. Almost everyone there was a foreigner, you wouldn’t see the local Lao people spend their money there, its too overpriced. Regardless of the price of the food, this place was beautiful and the owner really took their time putting Utopia together. They also have a net set up for volleyball and have other games you could play, or you could simply go there and relax with a book without even buying anything. It’s definitely a place to check out during the day to relax, and at night to party.

 We spent a few days at the guesthouse and then headed to our next volunteer experience. When we got into our Tuk Tuk, in the back there was a small hammock stretched across. I peeked inside to find a little girl sleeping. I really love how different cultures have different modes of childcare. This little girl was so content with just laying there, even when she woke up she was just calm and quiet. It’s likely that she does it pretty often so she’s probably used to it. In 2017 so many children are just given a screen to look at to keep them busy and when nothing is there they don’t know how to entertain themselves. I had so much fun playing outside as a child with no electronics, but times seem to be changing pretty quickly. I can see myself telling my grandchildren…”Back in my day…”

Finally, we arrive at Nam Khan Eco Farm where we will be volunteering for the next 3 weeks. It’s based on the banks of the Nam Khan river. The volunteering is a mix of building projects, gardening, eco-farming, and teaching. The land is very beautiful and relaxing with 9 greenhouses and tons of fresh veggies growing in the garden. Its pretty great to be surrounded by fresh locally grown food, you can really feel the life of the plants. I never thought I’d be amazed at how beautiful a head of lettuce is while still in the ground. I’ve been wanting to tap into my green thumb more and begin Learning more about gardening so this experience should be a perfect beginning. Nature is a healing and we look forward to helping at the Nam Khan farm.

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Once again we’re on a bus for a long journey to Bagan, around 10 hours we are told. After our first bus trip, we always add a few hours to the time they tell us because it’s likely to be different. We decided to do the sleeper bus there and on the way back to Yangon to catch our flight to Laos we will do the daytime bus so we get the views. This time we decided to travel in luxury and take the VIP bus which isn’t much more than an average bus. We got on the bus not knowing what to expect but it turned out to be pretty nice! At first, I looked at the back of the bus to see that there was no toilet. Every 3 hours or so the driver stops to get a stretch break and you have the opportunity to get a bite to eat, but being on a 10-hour bus ride it’s not fun waiting to go to the bathroom. Although there was no toilet in the back I turned around and magically a toilet appeared in the middle of the bus on a lower level. I’ve never seen one like it before, directly in the middle. The bus has outlets, blankets, pillows and complimentary water which is a huge step up from our last bus experience. There were quite a few empty seats and they shut the lights off soon after we all sat down. Score!

Once 3 AM came we were tired and fell asleep, we woke to the driver saying we’re here, Bagan. It seemed so quick and I was having some wild dreams so I woke a bit discombobulated. It ended up only being 9 hours instead of 10 which was shorter than we originally thought. We stepped off the bus to a bunch of guys, as usual, trying to get us to take their mode of transportation. This time horse and carriage was an option and cheaper. We decided to try the horse out for the experience. I’m such an animal lover that every time I make a choice like this I instantly regret it. It seems like a lot of weight for a horse to carry. With two heavy pieces of luggage and 3 adults on a wobbly carriage next to cars and buses speeding by it doesn’t sound too pleasant. The horse’s hooves were slamming against the hard pavement and it just sounded terrible. I would say it was more the size of a pony rather than a full grown horse, but I could just be feeling bad so my perception is off. We stopped at a place on the side of the road to pay an entrance fee and then we were off to our hostel. What sounded like a relaxing ride turned out to be a somewhat stressful time because we were both clenching our teeth for the poor horse who clearly was not enjoying the position he was in.

When we arrived it was about 6 AM and we were exhausted. We decided to lay low for the day and not explore much until the following day in order to get our moneys worth out of the e-bikes. In Bagan everything is a distance away so renting an e-bike is essential. The sun is hot during the day and we didn’t wake from our naps till the afternoon, so our first day in Bagan out of 5 we spent sleeping, eating and catching up on the Alien movies Jesse got me into. When you’re traveling it’s necessary to take those days to recharge, shut out the outside world and engage in a good sci-fi film. It was a gentle reminder of how small we really are.

We woke the next day just in time for breakfast, ate and headed next door to rent an e-bike for the day. I’ve never used one before so we got a 2 person bike to share the first time till I got the hang of how it runs. It is really easy and similar to riding a normal bicycle, with your occasional minor wipeout in the thicker soft sand. We marked a few potential sunset destinations and went out searching for them. In Bagan, there are 3 main areas, Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U where our hostel is. On our first full day, we decided to go toward Old Bagan first, with a few sights in mind but mainly in search of a good sunset spot. We cruised around for about 3 hours weaving in and out and all around some of the 2,000 pagodas and temples that Bagan has to offer. While riding we crossed paths with a young Burmese guy who offered to show us a pagoda that we could climb to see the sunset. There are many great viewing locations that are secluded but some of the popular ones are swarmed by buses full of tourists. We decided to take him up on his offer, but before we followed him on his motorbike I asked if he was trying to charge us for his help. He responded saying he was a local artist and after we see the sunset spot he will show us his art. If we like his work we can purchase a painting, but there is no obligation to do so. He brought us to a dirt path that led further back from the road to a small pagoda. As we took off our shoes and stepped inside there was a small Buddha and a brick staircase winding to the top. This staircase was about 3 foot wide so space was limited and getting to the top required some bending, ducking and twisting, it’s definitely not for people that have back pain. I love when entrances require some irregular movements, it makes it seem more adventurous. We get to the top and you can see pagodas in the distance and when the sun sets there would be nothing blocking the view. After taking a look around we climb back down and walk out of the pagoda over to a bamboo table where the guy laid out his watercolor paintings. He went through one by one telling the history of some of the pagodas in the paintings, there were a few we liked but had no intentions of buying one. He was very kind and genuine and we wanted to support his work so we gave them a second look and negotiated a price. When we saw this black and white one, we had to have it, it is so beautiful. As we exchanged money for the painting I had a little laugh because as you travel from place to place you see the ways people sell their work and the different pitches they have. You can tell who’s genuine and who’s just telling a made up story, some people are really good at what they do. Although he said he doesn’t sell too much, you can tell a lot of time is put into his work and the fact that the table was created in that exact spot shows that he’s done this many times.

Now that we had a nice sunset spot we continued to drive around a little more before heading back to the hostel to eat lunch. After a good nap and some relaxation out of the blazing sun, we headed back out to see the sunset. When we arrived we noticed there were about 6 others on the pagoda. I knew we wouldn’t be alone so it wasn’t a surprise to me. We climbed back up and sat next to the others awaiting the beautiful sunset. It was peaceful and calm and the sunset looked pretty promising but as time went on the sun was engulfed by all the smog and what would have been a stunning sunset turned out to be just a quick fade into what soon would be darkness. We stayed a few minutes after the others left and then we headed back. On our way back to the bike we saw another young guy at the same table selling art. I spoke with him and asked him some questions. It turns out the guys selling them throughout Bagan aren’t the artists and it’s someone’s uncle. It made me laugh, but I’m ok with that. It’s still a locals artwork and it’s very well done, like I said before, they are sometimes really good at what they do.

The next day we planned to wake at 5 AM to catch the sunrise almost in the same location as the sunset. This is a beautiful time when you can see the hot air balloons rising in the distance, something I’ve seen in pictures and was excited to see in person. The alarm went off but we stayed up really late the night before so with 2 hours of sleep, the sunrise just wasn’t in the cards for us. We rolled over and went right back to bed with plans to do it the following morning.

In our near future, our intentions are to soon travel to Australia on a work and holiday visa, which allows us to stay 1 year working any job. We’re running low on money so we need to be working sooner than later. When we woke up I saw an email saying that in order to get my Australian Visa I had to have a medical examination and chest x-ray. I have no insurance and the fact that I’m in Myanmar made me panic a little. We have just a few days left here on our Visa and we planned to spend them in Bagan. The clinic is 10 hours back in Yangon. It was Thursday morning and in order for me to get the exam done before our flight to Laos the following Monday, our only option was Friday afternoon so we had to cut our Bagan trip short by a few days and rush on the long bus ride back to Yangon, just to go to the doctors. Australia has an agreement with certain clinics around the world so you have to go to specific ones in order for them to process your exam. The clinic in Laos would have been an extra $200 to get to not including the exam fee so we needed to make Yangon happen. Since I’d potentially like to teach in Australia I have a more extensive process than Jesse, his Visa was approved overnight. When you work with children just about anywhere it’s a whole medical process before you can be placed in a classroom. I have done this multiple times and I forgot how annoying the process is until now. Sadly, this won’t be the last time either.

We booked our bus back to Yangon that night and had the afternoon to explore a little more. We rented an e-bike and cruised around for about 5 hours. We stumbled upon this amazing vegetarian restaurant called The Moon, it was a hidden gem in a cute little neighborhood in New Bagan with wicker chairs and a relaxed vibe. Bagan as a whole is really a magical place, the vibe is so calm and peaceful. I’m kicking myself now for not waking up at dawn to see the sunrise, I thought I’d have another chance to but plans changed quickly.

If you ever get the chance to travel to Myanmar, Bagan should be at the top of your list. The pagodas and temples were beautifully imperfect which was a nice change from seeing all the golden pagodas in the city. The brick was often crumbling and decaying which somehow made it even more beautiful. Foreigners are only able to rent e-bikes, nothing else, but driving around on the bike weaving through the sand and dirt was so fun. There are many paths, pagodas, and temples, you could have a few specific ones in mind to see but in the end, it’s more fun to just get lost in them. In all my life’s travels so far Bagan is at the top of the list with regards to the beauty of the environment. The pagodas and temples were scattered everywhere with dirt paths leading around them. In most areas, no other buildings were near them just open space. It was nice to only see pagodas in the distance and not 20 story buildings. Each pagoda has some type of Buddha inside, either large or small and majority of them you could go inside.

It was about to be sunset and shortly after we had to catch our bus, so we headed home, returned our e-bike and waited for the bus back to Yangon. The benefit of taking the night bus is you can watch a movie on your laptop then sleep and before you know it you open your eyes and you’re at your destination.

So fast forward 10 hours. We arrived back in Yangon this time closer to the airport since we will be flying to Laos on Monday. Our hostel is also close to the clinic making it an easier process to get the medical exam done. After a whole lot of unnecessary stress, suddenly I was at the clinic, exam finished and paid for and although I haven’t been approved yet, instantly the stress was gone. Thankfully the cost was only $125 U.S. dollars, I thought an x-ray might be a little more but I was happy to be wrong. During the checkup, the doctor checked everything, urine, heart, ears, eyes, reflexes, stomach, chest, blood pressure, height, and weight. It felt so good to know I was 100% healthy! This was a reminder to me that it is important every few years to make sure you get a checkup similar to this. It was really cool seeing the inside of my body and knowing that I’m physically healthy from the inside out.

It’s funny that I needed a checkup because lately I’ve been drinking more sugary drinks and just the other day I had a moment of clarity prior to finding out I needed to go to the doctors. As I sipped my Pepsi I was reminded of the taste of chemicals and all of a sudden in my head I began questioning myself, “what am I doing?”, “what am I drinking?”. I love a sprite once in a while but things were getting out of hand, I believe it’s more the urge of wanting a cold drink more than anything. When you travel you can get filtered water for free from your hostel so you often drink it to save and it’s rarely cool. During the hot afternoons, there’s nothing more refreshing than drinking something cold. Ice isn’t really used here as much, there are places that have it but it just melts too fast to keep up with it. The medical exam was a reminder for me to continue to take care of my body now. Anyone can fall ill at any moment, but it’s important to try your best at living a healthy lifestyle so that you don’t feed any potential sicknesses. Although I was a little upset we didn’t spend more time in Bagan, I am grateful to know that I am healthy.

In a few days, we will be traveling to Laos for a 3-week volunteer opportunity. It’s a mixture of building projects and teaching which is good for both Jesse and myself. We land in Luang Prabang and will spend our time mainly along the banks of the Nam Khan river, but also exploring during our free time. Thankfully this time we chose to fly rather than take a bus or train. Laos here we come!

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At the center, there are different activities to do throughout the day to practice good deeds. Each night we met at 7 to decide which activities we wanted to participate in the following day. There is rice washing, patient care, patient washing, make them move (being creative with movement), physiotherapy, teaching kids/adults English, learning Burmese from a resident, cooking dinner for all volunteers, pagoda party (taking patients outside to the pagoda to pray), and ALMS (collecting donations). The center provides gloves, face masks, disinfectant solutions, etc. to protect the volunteers and the patients. Also, a volunteer coordinator is always present to show the right procedure and to answer any questions you might have.

The first day of volunteering, Jesse and I both signed up for ALMS. Where we go into town in the early morning with the monks and nuns and collect donations from the community. It’s pretty unreal to be sitting in a bus full of Burmese Monks. We had just watched this happen down our street in front of our guesthouse and now we’re being a part of it, hands on. As I rode on the bus full of monks, I had this image in my mind as if I was a reporter on the BBC channel about to do some wild story. Never would I have imagined being in Burma, let alone doing this, but that’s the fun part about not planning a trip too much. If you just go with the flow and take chances, you never know where you’ll land. An hour later I stepped off the bus into a town I didn’t even know the name of. I was given a large empty rice bag that would soon be used to collect an assortment of donations. Coffee, rice, fruit, cookies, vegetables, drinks, cooking oil, soy milk, and anything else locals wished to share, everything was accepted. Another volunteer was given a collection bowl to carry for the money donations. Jesse and I were separated into different buses, I thought we would end up meeting at the same place but he never came. It turned out that each bus went to a different town.

There was a small truck at the beginning just before us with a loudspeaker announcing to the community that we were walking through. We walked around town for about an hour and a half, barefoot. I found it very peaceful. I also learned that my feet are generally pretty soft on the bottoms, so if I stepped on a rock at the right angle, it didn’t feel too well. Jesse and I both witnessed many locals who clearly didn’t have a lot of money yet they donated what they could, usually, a bowl of uncooked white rice often topped off with a questionable amount of money. There were two ladies that came out of their houses with stacks of money giving some to each of the 15 monks. Some locals also donated cooked rice and other dishes. A spoonful of the rice was given to the head monk in the bowl that was carried around his neck. The rest would be placed in a bin which would later be eaten for lunch, same goes for the vegetables. As locals walked up to us first they took their shoes off and walked toward the head monk with their item in hand for a blessing. After having the item blessed by the monks, the donation would be placed into either the money bowl, empty rice bags or bins for cooked food. There were times when children would be the ones to hand over the donations, it was really sweet to witness.

This was very humbling to see the donations collected in just a little over an hour and the beautiful thing is that this happens daily in different locations. At the end of each ALMS session, all of the money is dumped onto the sidewalk and counted before getting into the bus. Often water, fruit, and other snacks are donated and when you get on the bus the monks hand you some goodies for yourself. Then we headed back to the center with all of the donations. The uncooked rice gets set aside for washing the next morning and all of the cooked food is served for anyone who would like free lunch. These are the donations along with uncooked food that all 3,000+ people at the center eat. Since ALMS is something that continues to happen daily, there is a constant flow of food coming into the center. We ate lunch the first day then decided to order from the local tea shop for the rest of our time at Thabarwa. In Asia often meat is hidden in dishes or fish sauce is used so when you have cooked food from many different people it’s best for Vegans to eat elsewhere. From what I’ve experienced through ALMS, Burmese culture is very rich in morals, traditional beliefs and their understanding of karma. Their actions are reflected based on their belief that what you do now will have either a positive or negative effect on both your present, future and your next life.

Physiotherapy is another activity I chose to do, it’s mainly helping the patients stretch, do movement exercises and walking. Some have lost the ability to walk on their own because of an accident or a stroke and they need you to slowly help guide them along by holding their hands and under their arms. The patients are very sweet and show so much gratitude for helping them. Somedays they can be very stubborn if they don’t want to do something you will know because they will throw a minor fit about it. There is a language barrier but you can use your hands more to communicate to see how they are feeling, thumbs up is good, when they hold their hand out sideways and move it back and forth in a rocking motion that means they aren’t doing so well. After doing some stretching we took two patients to the tea shop to relax and get them out of their beds. Many of the patients sit or lay in their beds all day and have nothing to do so even something as simple as walking them 20 feet to the tea shop to sit, drink tea and people watch is a special time for them. There are wheelchairs all around to borrow to push some patients throughout the center. Volunteers are encouraged to do this daily. There are some small hills so it’s often hard for patients in wheelchairs to go up them on their own. I really enjoyed this activity and realize how fulfilling it is to see the smiles on their faces when they push themselves to do the exercises and practice taking steps again.

Patient care is definitely the hardest activity to choose but the one that will stick with you the most. I’m going to go into details so that you can fully understand. There were 4 main patients to take care of. One man was paralyzed from the waist down with minimal use of his arms. Over time he’s developed bed sores so along with physiotherapy he also needs special care with changing the bandages, his diaper, and bathing. He is the sweetest man, his eyes are very deep and even though his suffering and pain he has a smile on his face and is very grateful for the help. The main problem with the bed sores is that he doesn’t have a long-term person there to push him to his side for a few hours and then roll him back to relieve some of the pressure on his sores. If you roll him to his side he doesn’t stay for long because his hip begins to hurt or he loses stability, so a constant check on him is necessary. There are nurses that apparently are very busy but every time I see them they seem to be on their phones. It’s sad that something so simple isn’t being done, his sores are taking much longer to heal because he isn’t being rolled to his side enough. The second patient is also paralyzed with mostly healed bed sores so the process is similar. The third was born with a genetic skin disease where his legs are permanently stiff and cannot be bent open, his arms are stiff but have a little more flexibility than his legs but it is often very difficult to change his diaper and get him dressed. He has bed sores and is full of lumps and bumps all over every inch of his entire body which is creating permanent pain. I think he’s in his 60s but the appearance of his skin could just make him look much older, I couldn’t imagine living 60 years in his condition. No matter what amount of pain he was in he still had a smile on his face. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of such a strong-willed person before. The fourth patient is a woman that had breast cancer. Both breasts were removed but there was an issue with surgery and her entire chest is burnt. I won’t go into details but it’s pretty severe and she isn’t receiving the proper care she needs. Since she’s living at the meditation center and it’s a Buddhist culture, pain medicine isn’t being used and she is in excruciating pain daily. It’s a little strange because we are told that meditation is one of the main solutions for her healing. Seeing her suffering you can clearly tell that she needs an actual doctor and it’s so hard to witness because you can’t do anything about it. At the moment nothings infected because it’s cleaned daily, but just using a simple water solution and a clean bandage are not going to heal it. I’m not so sure if she will ever fully recover and if it does get infected I fear there is a chance that it could result in her death. Seeing this woman along with the others has shown me how strong Burmese people are. In America, we’re so quick to go to the doctors for aches, pains, colds and other minor health issues. I don’t think I know anyone that would be able to handle the pain these people experience in their daily lives. I know one thing, I definitely wouldn’t want to get hurt in Burma. From what I’m seeing with both volunteers and patients their healthcare is not the best, but then again Thabarwa isn’t a legit hospital either.

Patient washing was my favorite activity. There are quite a few different buildings with groups of patients, some buildings are all men, some all women and some are a mixture filled with those that were once homeless. Each day we went to a different building, bringing wheelchairs, buckets, bowls, soap, cloths, and towels and we washed anyone that needed or wanted washing. I’ve never washed a grown adult before but it didn’t really seem weird to me either. My thoughts immediately were, someday this could be me, Jesse or someone in my family and I would want them to be clean and taken care of. Once you reach a certain age and your body begins breaking down or you develop a sickness, you become similar to a baby again. Helpless and in need of care in order to be happy and feel loved. The hard part is dressing them if you’ve ever struggled to get clothes on a child or baby, try a grown adult that can’t assist you. It’s a challenge, especially if they lost function in their arms or legs and they have stiffness in their muscles. It’s like trying to bend a wooden board into the sleeve of a t-shirt, there is a method though. There were many volunteers that wouldn’t try this activity, but to me it was very fulfilling getting patients who clearly needed a bath, washing them, clothing them, then wheeling them back to their bed with smiles on their faces. After bathing over 25-30 patients you are partially wet, sweaty and need a shower yourself. The shower after feels pretty satisfying, as you wash your own body you feel energized and cleansed. There are 100s of patients and without this, as an activity, many would go without being bathed for days, weeks, maybe even months. It really is needed and I have developed so much gratitude toward all of the nurses and people that work in human services or with people that have disabilities. I realize I would have been great going into a patient care type of field. I did this activity the most because it was needed the most in my opinion and I had fun. The group of women in the all-women building are really fun to spend time with and you always walk away feeling happier.

Jesse and I taught English to the children 1 day. They are very cute and eager to learn. Although teaching is my field I saw how important some of the other activities were that I decided to let the other volunteers do the teaching. Jesse mainly did work on fixing a few doors, getting the golf cart running again and fixing wheelchairs. I pushed him to step out of his comfort zone and he helped with patient washing 3 days in a row!

One of the days we were there we had the opportunity to travel 3 hours one way to go visit an animal shelter that the center owns. We were told there would be 100s of dogs, a few bears, elephants, and snakes, so I immediately wanted to do it. We waited out front our dorm for the bus, by bus I mean open-air truck with two long hard seats like bleachers, it usually seats about 20 or 25,  including the floor. We originally had 15 people interested but once some of them saw the riding conditions they bailed. There were about 20 large water cooler jugs to put in the back with us, along with 3 or 4 large rice bags filled with food and two large size garbage bins, also with food. At the time none of us understood what all that water and food was for but we would soon find out.

After everything was put in the truck there was enough room to fit maybe 5 people comfortably, we still left with 12 people. If only you could have seen Jesse’s face, he gave me the are you kidding me look. The trip reminded me of both a time in Haiti riding in the back of the truck through the mountains and the dust filled roads in Ghana with the occasional dust storm in your face. It might be strange to say but I love these type of rides. Although they are dirty, extremely bumpy and loud, there’s something special about listening to a good playlist and having the wind in your hair.

So after a few random stops, we make it to the shelter and we pull up to a building where there are over 100 people ready to greet us.  First, we parked and dropped off all of the water we brought then we got back in the truck and drove down the street to another building. One of the nuns did some talking and then we were off. We passed a bear and some dogs in cages and there was a monkey chained to the ledge of the building, but that was all of the animals we saw. Apparently, the bear was rescued from a bad situation but since this is not his natural habitat he can’t be let loose anywhere. It reminded me of when I was in South Korea and my school I was teaching at had a “zoo”, which turned out to be only a few deer trapped in a cage. When you hear animal shelter or zoo you get this general image in your mind of what you think it might be like, when in another country it seems best to just drop all previous images because you really never know what you’re stepping into.

We made our way back to the original location and the road was lined with people sitting on the ground. At first, we had no idea what we were doing there but then all of the bins and rice bags came out of the truck and items were slowly dispersed between all of the people of the village. There was an assortment of food, rice, sugar, potatoes, beans…the list is endless, even the children received something. There were lots of smiling faces and many people wanted their picture taken with their children. So, what we thought was a trip to an animal shelter turned out to be more of a missions trip to deliver donations, which was a wonderful experience but I was really looking forward to elephants, a bear and other animals like we were told. This was a great lesson about having expectations and having it turn out complete opposite of what you thought.

After making one more pit stop to cut up a watermelon to share, we were off on the 3-hour journey back to the center. Burmese people love watermelon, as you drive you can see hundreds of watermelons along the roadside. This experience was pretty interesting considering all 12 of us thought we were going to see some animals. It felt nice to hand out food even though I had nothing to do with the donations. It reminded me of being in Ghana and bringing all the school supplies, no matter what each person received it was all appreciated and they are eternally grateful.

Not one of these activities could happen without the help of the volunteers, especially the long-term volunteers that have been at Thabarwa for months/years. After a week I wondered how they could live here long term but then I fully experienced the work and good deeds they are doing and I understood. Without their determination and compassion, the patients would lose all of their individual care and would likely develop more sickness. It’s been a week since leaving Thabarwa and I think of the patients every day, I could see why volunteers go back again. The people you care for really leave an imprint on your soul and make you question what you are doing to lend a hand where it is needed. My gratitude extends to all of the people that work with individuals like these, you are highly valued and appreciated.

Our time in Thabarwa volunteering was more than I imagined it would be. I walked away feeling an even greater sense of compassion and understanding than I had when I arrived. I’m reminded of the story of Siddhartha when he left the palace and had a glimpse of old age, sickness, and death for the first time. When you’re around people that are ill or reaching the brink of death, you naturally reflect on your own life and health. I’ve been reading books on Buddhism for years and have been a believer in reincarnation since as far back as I can remember so I’ve come to terms with death and dying and understand that it’s just another transition. Thabarwa was created out of love and compassion for all beings and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to practice good deeds and spend time helping those that need it the most. These experiences will remain in my heart for many years to come. A special thanks to Sayadaw Ottamasara for being the light for so many others, your kindness is infinite.

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When we first arrived at the center we pulled up a roadway to what we thought would lead to a meditation building in a more secluded location. After arriving at the registration office we were guided on a tour around Thabarwa. We knew that many people were living here but it turned out that the center was pretty huge and there are around 3,500 people co-existing free of charge. They are given free dental, acupuncture, and healthcare and while volunteering you are given these benefits as well. The donations given through ALMS provide food and necessities for everyone. Over 600 pounds of white rice is cooked per day, making over 10,000 meals every day. You can read more about ALMS and other volunteer activities in the next post. The doors to Thabarwa are open to anyone and everyone, there are homeless, sick, dying, orphans and people whose families can no longer take care of them. Once the orphan children reach a certain age they become a nun or monk and at one point, they choose to continue their life as a monk or nun or go off on their own and live as an everyday Burmese person. Sayadaw Ottamasara is the Burmese monk who founded Thabarwa, his main purpose for creating the center is to have the opportunity to do good deeds and practice meditation. One night we were able to meet him, he is very humble and gentle. The fact that this center started with the sole purpose of just doing good deeds and taking care of each other truly shows the power of completing selfless acts. What was once a few small houses is now a large enough space to house thousands. There are also more of these same centers opening around the world with the same intentions. I was blown away by the fact that no one is turned away. No matter what your circumstance is, you are welcome at Thabarwa.

Volunteers are hosted in separate male and female dorms and provided with bed linen, mosquito nets, and security lockers. Breakfast and lunch are provided by the center and a kitchen is available for the volunteers to prepare the dinner together. Filtered water is available free throughout the center but a fellow volunteer guided us to the”cleanest” water at the center and told us we should only drink from that one. There are also several restaurants and tea shops in the center for any extra needs that you might have. Throughout the day everyone gathers to drink tea and watch the large television, even the monks. One night while Jesse and I were eating dinner and they had Titanic playing.

There are over 500,000 Buddhist monks in Myanmar. They wear saffron-colored or rust-colored robes and the nuns wear pink robes that represent sunshine. In order to remain a monk at a monastery, they have 227 rules to follow. I encourage you to research them, some are quite ridiculous. Many of the monks and nuns at Thabarwa are for lack of better word, rebels. They didn’t follow all of the rules so they were asked to leave their monasteries and since Thabarwa accepts all as they are, many decided to settle at the center. At first, seeing monks smoking cigars and watching T.V. made me confused, but over time it became normal. Even when Jesse and I did the ALMS you could see that during the actual act of collecting donations the monks were very proper but as soon as we got on the bus they became a little more like normal everyday Burmese people and their posture relaxed more. I began wondering what it might be like when they were altogether alone without volunteers around, just monks. A fraternity image came to mind of a bunch of guys just laughing and having a good time, minus the alcohol. Some of them even have nicer phones than all of the volunteers. With them having no income  it makes you wonder where they are getting the money for a huge fancy cell phone, but I am not here to judge, I’m just speaking my observations.

As you walk throughout the center you walk by buildings often hearing chanting from the nuns or meditation sessions going on with the residents. There are many buildings in Thabarwa, my favorite other than helping in the hospital buildings was the library. It was the only building at the center with air-conditioning and it was also the quietest. Since it is a meditation center you instantly think peace and quiet and a calmness that most centers have, Thabarwa is not like any place I’ve ever seen before. Between the dogs barking and the thousands of people that live there, there were only brief moments of quiet. Another perk of volunteering is that you can join in on meditation retreats for free, usually lasting about a week long. They are located in different cities in Myanmar and are focused mainly on Dhamma and meditation. So, if you are seeking silence that is a better option and transportation is provided.

Every night at the center there is a volunteer meeting where you decide which activities you want to participate in the following day. The number of volunteers changes often, people are coming and going daily but you can have anywhere between 25-60 volunteers at a time. People from all over the world come to Thabarwa to volunteer their time and we had the chance to meet many other travelers during our 2-week stay. Typically volunteers usually stay 3-7 days and often people leave and return at a later date. Each volunteer is free to participate in any activity they want, even if they have never done it before there is always someone in charge guiding and teaching you. The main idea is to practice good deeds and to push yourself out of your comfort zone to try things that you normally wouldn’t try, simply because its the right thing to do and its needed. Volunteers can also propose and organize new projects if they have any skills that can be useful for the benefit of the center and its residents. I was told that in Burma as a foreigner if you’d like to try out being a nun or monk you can in a matter of minutes. No long process, you shave your head and slowly learn the ways. When and if you decide it’s not for you, you can pack your bags and leave. I also heard that you can buy robes off the street and disguise yourself as a monk. Majority of Burmese wouldn’t do this because they believe in Karma but it has definitely been done before.

The dogs here have packs and at night they are either all howling together beautifully or fighting. Although, there are moments when it’s complete silence and everyone and everything is resting. If the dogs see you walking at night through their territory especially if it’s on the dirt paths they may circle you. They don’t like some of the Burmese people, most likely the ones that taunt them and they are still getting used to foreigners so they can be very territorial. It may be a good idea to keep an eye on the nearest stick just Incase you need to protect yourself. There are also some dogs that are very sweet. You can tell which ones are ok to touch by their wagging tails, smiles and overall posture. They are all very dirty, have fleas, scars and skin conditions but as long as you wash your hands after you have nothing to worry about. This center is a home for everyone, the sick, dying, homeless, lonely and poor and it’s interesting because even the dogs that wander in here seeking refuge may have cancer or other illnesses. Its as if they understand that this is a safe zone for them to live where they know they will be fed and taken care of. There are also some smaller puppies maybe a few months old and some newborn puppies. The momma dog with the newborns is very protective of them towards the other dogs but towards people, she is generally very sweet. They are in a special caged in area for their protection and there’s a hole in the cage that the momma can jump through to get out.

There are cats around but I rarely see or hear them fighting as much as the dogs do. They seem to creep around more and emerge from the shadows and corners of buildings. They often hang out in patients beds, locals rooms, and our dining hall area. Surprisingly I don’t think there are as many cats as there are dogs, but one is pregnant and one just had kittens not too long ago, so that could change very quickly.

There originally was one bull that wandered in but now there are a dozen large cattle. Apparently, a rich Indian man owns them, he must live nearby because they wander in often for watermelon, bananas, and rice. They walk down the road together and often eat out of the trash or designated spots where food is left in tires for them. They come in the morning, eat and relax in the shade and then I’m assuming they make the venture back home. Although they are very large and intimidating, they are quite friendly.

There’s one monkey, she’s chained up to a tree and throughout the day people give her food and water. It wasn’t until our third day here that I found out there was a monkey about 20 feet from our dorm. When I went to see her I saw that she was chained up and felt pretty sad for her. Apparently, the story is that she was once free and when the center began expanding she started going into rooms and throwing peoples personal belongings out the windows. They gave her one more chance and she continued, they knew she wanted to stay here at the center, probably because it was her home first, so they chained her up. I often brought her nuts, bananas, and water. Although she has her own tree house you can see that she is very bored, one time she tried taking my bracelet because it was shiny. She’s friendly but has her moments so you need to be cautious, she came at me once almost biting me after trying to give her a second drink of water. Her home is in a stressful location for her, at night and throughout the day the dogs often fight right at her tree so I think she’s beginning to have anxiety. I was so close to letting her loose, but this is one of those situations where unfortunately you have to detach and just walk away.

Whenever I see animals in other countries I am always hyper-aware of how they are feeling. In my opinion, there are way too many dogs at the center and more are being born monthly. I wish they understood the importance of getting dogs fixed, soon there will be 100s of dogs and I fear it could turn out badly for locals and volunteers, but I am happy they are all being fed daily.

My experience at Thabarwa had a huge impact on me, taking care of people in need filled me up with so much light and love and in a way it recharged me, reminding me even more that one of my life purposes is to help others. It’s hard to put this experience into words because it’s really something you need to experience for yourself. If you even get the opportunity and want to travel and do something positive for others I would highly recommend checking this center out, it will change you in all the right ways.

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Myanmar wasn’t originally in our travel plans but we had a month to keep busy before going to Laos so instead of staying in Thailand another month, we took a look at the closest countries to Chiang Mai and decided it was the best choice. Myanmar was formally called Burma so throughout this post I may use the two interchangeably, although I was introduced to the country by a Burmese woman as Burma, so I prefer Burma.

While waiting for the bus to Burma I was reminded of my Burmese students back in Rochester. A woman waiting with us had the same sweet smile that I remember. In the past, I’ve always had a hard time distinguishing different Asian cultures but as time goes on, I’m able to pinpoint the differences in facial features and overall presence, which are now clearer signs as to where a person is from. The overall service at the bus station was friendly and helpful. The bus ticket is mostly In Thai but the name of where you’re going and the bus number are all you need to find your gate. All of the signs are written in both English and Thai and are similar to a bus station in the US except it’s a more open, free-flowing air kind of environment. There are also food vendors and a few small shops. That’s one thing I love about tropical landscapes, the openness of it all. Countries with warmer weather almost year-round tend to have more of a natural air flow. I guess the downside is that it’s often a higher level of pollution. The open outdoor kitchens are a favorite of mine. You have to be smart about leaving food out but surprisingly you don’t get as many bugs as you’d imagine.

To get to Burma, first you take the green bus, the bus is similar to a US greyhound with comfortable seats, air conditioning and a crazy amount of reclining space which is great for you but terrible for the person behind you. I couldn’t believe how far they recline, your head is basically in the lap of the person behind you. Thankfully everyone is aware of this and reclines respectfully. There is the bus driver and a helper. The driver has a door that shuts behind him closing us all in the back end of the bus. Don’t worry there are numerous emergency exits. When we got on the bus the helper began handing out complimentary water and snacks as if we were on an airplane. For a 5-6 hour ride, you definitely don’t get this kind of treatment back home.

As we journey to leave Thailand I couldn’t help but feel like we didn’t do or see enough of the beautiful country, we probably should have stayed in Thailand another month but the wind was blowing us elsewhere. Thailand is full of mountains, beaches, islands and unlimited amounts of fun stuff to do, but when you have plans to see 10+ more countries you really have to be smart about traveling. Someday before leaving the general vicinity of Asia, we will return back to Thailand for some more exploring. I’d love to spend some time in a local school and teach or just observe their way of educating and also see more of the countryside. You can do a lot in a month but it really does go by fast and before you know it you’re on the road again. I would recommend staying a few months with a good mixture of both volunteering and pleasure, but if you’re wise the volunteer experiences could be the highlight of your time spent in a country.

Looking out the window and driving past all the mountains reminded me of how much I love being surrounded by trees and the high peaks. The air pollution is pretty high during the dry season so unfortunately, everything has this foggy haze. When I drive through the mountains I always get this moment where I take a deep breath and exhale this calmness and am suddenly filled with all this gratitude for being able to see the beauty that nature provides. Different landscapes definitely appeal to certain people and although the beach and ocean are unbelievably beautiful, I am definitely a hike a mountain, get lost in the woods kind of girl. I’m pretty sure I get that and my thirst for adventure from my Dad (Thanks Dad).

There are times when I look at Jesse and I’m like whoa we’re in Thailand. Now we’re heading to Burma, it’s pretty wild to be co-creating this adventure together. He is definitely the right travel partner, from experience I know I can’t travel with just anyone but our general outlook on life is the same making it almost effortless at times. When I need a break he takes control and vice versa and we join back in the middle to make the important decisions together. Not to mention he’s the brains when it comes to navigation, my sense of direction is non-existent and my internal compass seems to always be on standby. Geography has never been my forte.

After hours of driving, we arrived at the Thai-Myanmar bus station, right before the border. As soon as we got off the bus we were guided into a truck to be brought to the border, which cost 50 Baht each. The truck gets to the border and drops us right at Thai immigration. I must have accidentally thrown out my departure card but thankfully the woman just created a new one for me. Then we had to walk down a little further, fill out an immigration card and go to the Myanmar immigration office. They stamped our passports took our pictures and then we were free to cross the bridge into Myanmar. The bridge is about a half mile long and the only way to cross as a foreigner is by walking, although some have been known to hitchhike. The area right after the bridge is very busy and isn’t a place you want to settle for the night so once we got across we immediately looked for the bus station so we could go straight to Yangon. After asking a few people we were directed to a guy who had a little table set up with bus tickets to different places throughout Burma. We bought our tickets for 400 baht each which is around $12 American and had about an hour or so to wait for our overnight 10-hour bus ride to Yangon, arriving around 5 AM.

Since we had an hour before the bus comes and a long ride, I went in search of food so we wouldn’t be hungry. We’ve been carrying around a Tupperware container to store food in while traveling from place to place and I highly recommend it because it really comes in handy, plastic ziplock bags are great too! In the Burmese language, there’s a special word “Thatalo” which means ‘no living things.’ The guy that sold us the bus tickets told me how to pronounce it and said it’s meditation food, aka, vegan. Even though plants are living. I went to a food stall where I saw a woman serving noodles and tofu and said “Thatalo” and she repeated it and “I said yes no meat”. She served us some noodles with veggies, tofu and different sauces she put on. This word is well known throughout Burma so I can go anywhere and say Thatalo and BAM, delicious vegan food! I always say no fish, fish sauce or egg too because often fish sauce is in a lot of dishes throughout Asia and you know when its in your food because its a very distinct smell. While walking to find food everyone was so kind which made me smile even more. When I got back to the bus where Jesse was waiting a guy was there to pick us up to bring us to the bus. He was pedaling what seemed like half a bicycle with a small cart attached to the front where we put our bags and sat. It was extremely unstable and heavy so the 5 minute peddle to the bus stop must have been very difficult. We made it without tipping over and stopped at this side alley bus station which looked to be someone’s house. They pulled out some plastic lawn chairs for us to sit on and we waited to leave. After about 10-15 minutes we are told it’s time to go. The bus we’re taking through the windy mountain roads is an old sketchy tour bus from the 1980s, with cigarette trays for every seat. Thankfully smoking wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t in the best condition and our bags in the undercarriage were held closed by an old toothbrush instead of a padlock. You need to use what you have I guess, we hoped for the best. Jesse was having a hard time trusting we would be safe, having a mechanics mind he knew the bus had some major problems. I told him to just close his eyes and not to think about it and that they do this stuff daily, we will be fine. When I stepped onto the bus to see there was no bathroom, the 10-hour bus ride suddenly felt a lot longer. I immediately ran off quick and asked to use the bathroom before we left. I was led to a really run down squat toilet bathroom in the bus station building. When it comes to using toilets in Burma it seems that you can ask just about anyone and if you’re genuine about it, they will allow you to use theirs. It may not be the best quality or the cleanest but it’s a toilet and I’m pretty sure squatting outside like they often do in Ghana isn’t acceptable. There are so many pagodas and temlples in Burma that its likely that you may accidentally squat on holy land, so its best to find a public toilet or ask a local.

Shortly into our second bus trip, we were entering more windy mountain roads with dirt paths in the mix and little towns in between. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the border in time for the early bus so we were on the overnight, where you can’t see anything till sunrise. I was looking forward to the journey and seeing the landscape but I guess the universe had other plans. This was probably a good thing since Jesse was not at peace with the buses condition. At least now he couldn’t see anything to worry. I’ve traveled in worse conditions in Ghana so these comfortable seats are luxury for me. Even though my seat was broken, it was comfortably broken. I could do without the mothball smell though. There’s something about Burmese culture that they use moth balls all too often. When my student Eh Paw made me a traditional Burmese dress, I had to ask specifically for her to not use moth balls or else it would be near impossible to get the smell out of the clothes. The dress was beautiful and hand woven with a lot of detail. When we took money out at the ATM, the crisp bills also reeked of mothballs. It really is a strange distinct smell, I’m not sure how people can walk around smelling it all day.

The 10-hour bus ride turned out to be 14 hours. We stopped at a bus station and one guy got off, we weren’t sure if we were supposed to or not so we stayed on till the next stop down the road where everyone got off. Everyone crowds you when you get off the bus, they all want to be the chosen one, to take you to where you need to go. We grabbed our bags and a guy walks up to us asking us where we were going. We said we needed a place to sleep and he mentioned city center which is 1 hour away driving give or take with the crazy traffic. We were able to talk him down 2,000 Kyatt but I knew we got ripped off. It was a bit chaotic and we needed to get out of there so we agreed to the price. The traffic reminds me of a mix of Accra and the Philippines where everyone communicates through honking their horns. The look on Jesse’s face was priceless. So in total, the trip was 15 hours not including getting to the place we will be volunteering which I think Is another hour.

We didn’t have a hostel booked yet and unfortunately didn’t do too much research but our driver agreed to stop at three different hostels and we could choose one of them. The second one we stopped at was called Backpacker Bed and Breakfast. They had decent pricing, clean rooms, friendly staff, a rooftop restaurant, free breakfast and unlimited clean drinking water and juice. We were sold. When we stepped back outside to pay the driver he tried to rip us off even more, saying the original price he said was per person. I said no you never said that he then slapped his forehead saying that he forgot. Since we knew the price was ridiculous already I looked at him, smiled and said no. I couldn’t help but wonder how many visitors he’s ripped off with that routine.

Myanmar is filled with genuine smiles and kind people. We spent a few nights in the city of Yangon at a local guesthouse. Settling in with the culture a little before jumping into volunteering. We took the time to check out some of the local markets and pagodas. There was a night market close so we ventured to see what was being sold. We imagined it being a typical market with clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, and food, but we were thrown off by what was actually there. There wasn’t too much for food but there were 100s of cell phones, game systems, watches, sunglasses, chargers and tons of old electronics. We saw a few iPhones on sale really cheap so that night we went home and Jesse did research so he would be able to tell if It was real or not. Turns out it was a fake from China and the second camera on it wasn’t even real. From what he read, some Burmese get the fake iPhones even though they aren’t real because it makes them look wealthier. It was pretty wild to see all electronics, piles, and piles of electronics. I’ve been traveling before and needed a charger so although I’ve never seen a night market like this one before, I could see how it would come in handy.

There were many pagodas scattered throughout the city but we only saw a few of the popular ones. In the city of Yangon golden pagodas are very popular and they are beautiful but the more you see the more they all look the same. The pagodas were swarmed with both tourists and locals, but were filled with magic and radiated so much positive energy. There are certain Buddha’s based on what day you were born and a specific ritual you complete using the 4 elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) to show your gratitude and respect. I found out I am a Monday Buddha and Jesse is a Tuesday Buddha. A local guy that enjoys telling the history of Buddha, walked us each through the ritual pertaining to our specific day. It was a beautiful process. There was a woman at the Sule pagoda that fed the stray cats every night, 100s of cats show up at the pagoda around dinner time and she single-handedly feeds whoever is hungry. As you walk around the pagodas you can see cats throughout, climbing on the different statues and often just resting or playing together. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar and is believed to contain 8 strands of Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha’s) Hair along with a few other relics.

The city of Yangon is pretty polluted and many of the buildings are old and decaying, yet I found so much beauty in it. There are clothes laying over the railings 8 stories up, crows that sound like monkeys, and a beautiful view of the sunset from our guest houses rooftop. When its night time you can see the local families sitting with their children on their balconies, often eating dinner or just enjoying the cooler night air. Tourism is on the rise so it’s a perfect time now to be visiting Burma. I often wonder what it was like before 2012 when the majority of foreigners weren’t allowed in Burma. After doing some research I’ve read that the doors to Burma have only been opened for 6 years now after going over 50 years without tourism. The original visa process has changed significantly, now you apply for an e-visa online which is available to over 100 nationalities making it extremely easy to visit. It’s hard to believe that in 2012 internet wasn’t accessible and rarely did you see a Burmese walking around with a cell phone, speeds were so slow that most services would have been impossible. It was a place that was disconnected from the world. Flashback to the night market with all of the electronics we saw and you can tell that there has been a huge amount of growth in such a short period of time. I’m beginning to understand why my Burmese students were so grateful to be in the United States. They were sheltered for so long that now the whole world is opened up to them, literally. When we first arrived I could see that growth was quick, you felt it in both the air and environment as a whole. I was concerned with all of the tourists coming in and some of the changes happening. I could see now how tourism is benefiting many locals yet at the same time it’s changing their culture completely. The infrastructure here is very old, especially in the major cities and the sewer system alone isn’t designed well enough to handle the large influx of people. In the future I foresee a lot of rebuilding, I hope that over time, this beautiful country doesn’t lose the special charm that it emits.

After spending a few days exploring the city life, and learning more about Burmese culture, we were ready to go relax and do some volunteering at the Thabarwa Center, just 15 minutes outside the city, 1 hour with high traffic. The Thabarwa center is a meditation center with a twist. You get the chance to live among local Burmese people in a place where everyone is co-existing for free. We packed our bags and headed to the center to lend a hand wherever it was needed most.

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After a few days of struggling to find a place to volunteer, we lined up an opportunity in San Kamphaeng about 20 minutes South East of Chiang Mai. It was a breath of fresh air getting out of the city. The director of the project, Xavier, stayed at a resort in a different location but on the land where we lived, there were 4 Thai people and 3 from France. Everyone was very welcoming, kind and funny! Accommodation and food were provided, in exchange, volunteered 4-5 hours a day and were able to take a day or two off to ourselves whenever we wanted. We stayed two weeks in a tent behind the bungalow. This was the longest I’ve spent in a tent and surprisingly I didn’t get sick of it until around the 10th day. Spending 2 weeks in a two-person tent feels a little tight after a while. We put up a wall to block some of the sun and eventually we added a roof to keep the sun out even more. At night the temperature dropped so it was nice sleeping weather. We often woke to a damp blanket but we adapted pretty quick. We usually woke up around 7:30 for breakfast and soon after began working, which was a good thing because around 9 AM it started getting hot around the tent. There were mornings where the goats would escape and we would hear them chomping on some plants right on the outside of our tent. I’ve grown very fond of goats, they are very verbal and have quite the personalities. Each day I began feeding them some of the leaves that were out of reach to them and every time I’d walk by them to get to our tent they would all look at me and baa. Someday I plan to have a little goat family, they are so cute!

The project we are helping with is part of a Thai Foundation called Permaculture Children’s House. The project is off-grid, mainly powered by solar and the roof of the bungalow was made out of recycled milk jugs. It is both a farm and education center in the beginning stages,  located in the middle of the countryside with rice fields (rice paddies) and mountains in the near distance. There are many building projects in the works but in the end, there will be an academy and education center where children will learn hands-on about permaculture, dancing, cooking, language practice and so much more! The type of education will be more self-directed, giving the children the freedom to learn what they are interested in and its inspired by Montessori philosophy. Children are the key to a better future. One of the main goals is to teach them to care for the Earth and care for each other.

There was an assortment of work we did while we were volunteering. There are goats, pigeons, ducks and geese on the land so some of the work was making sure the animals were fed and also planting trees around the land. We helped with building the bungalow by laying bricks, hanging metal studs for drywall and putting up plaster. This was my first time ever doing plaster and it was a lot harder than it looks! Eventually, I got the hang of it and the wall was super smooth but it definitely takes practice to get quicker at it. The bungalow is being built for Xavier and his family to live in, along with a few others. We also helped with the creation of the terrace which was created with the intentions of having a larger eating area so everyone can eat together. This was a fun project, we got to walk in the cold, mushy clay with our bare feet. Jesse also spent a short time getting the 4 wheeler running again and another machine. He really is quite the handyman when it comes to fixing machines.

On the land, we had access to a bicycle and a tandem bicycle to go to the local market. Every few days we would go to the market to get fresh veggies and tofu. We took turns preparing food, most times we ate together and generally if you were to cook, you cook enough food for everyone. There was a small outdoor kitchen, very cute but a little crowded when multiple people were in there trying to cook. Over time when the bungalow is finished, the kitchen will expand. There was also access to a motorbike so we used that instead of the bicycles. We would often take it for a ride to the store to grab a snack or drink. On one of our days off, we took a ride up into the mountains to a local cave. The motorbike struggled a little to get up the hill and at one point we had to shut it off and give it a rest, but we made it. The cave was pretty sweet, the ceilings were tall and on a few rocks, I saw a crystal-like substance shimmering. Throughout the cave, there were Buddha temples and we saw quite a few people stopping to meditate and show their respect. Unfortunately, the camera we have isn’t the best so we didn’t get any good shots of the cave. After we stepped outside, we hiked up the rest of the mountain. It was nice to be at the top feeling the fresh breeze and we saw a few monkeys hanging out in the trees.

Another time we went for a ride on the motorbike we found this beautiful temple with a giant golden Buddha. We had to climb many stairs to reach it and when we got to the top we discovered that we were the only ones there. After being at some temples in Chiang Mai and being surrounded by so many people it was really peaceful and nice to have the place to ourselves. This is the peace you imagine while seeing a temple, in reality, the majority of the time the temples are overcrowded. It’s understandable, they are beautiful and everyone wants to see them but when there are so many people I feel it distracts me and takes away from some of the beauty. This temple we came across happens to be my favorite one so far. The giant golden Buddha is something we woke up to every morning, we could see it off in the distance near the mountains, so it was nice to see it up close. We had no idea how beautiful it was going to be, there were also many Ganesh statues and different animals. It was really cool to walk up all of the stairs with the giant Buddha right in the center, it was very peaceful and calming.

This was a really great experience because we were truly living on the land and helping with the everyday daily tasks. The washing machine was solar powered too and it had a dryer attached to it. It wasn’t a typical dryer though, this one somehow heated the clothes while they spun and after about 10 minutes spinning you open the lid and the clothes are generally pretty dry. A little damp but nowhere near as wet as when you put them in the dryer. It was a very cool process and the fact that it was solar powered was really amazing. Being out in the country we were able to experience a little more about Thai culture. At night 2 of the Thai guys would go hunting with their handmade air rifle and a headlamp. They are excellent hunters and often came back with random birds, rats, and frogs, which they would eat the next day. Many Thai people are very genuine and kind and are always willing to lend a hand where it is needed.

This was our first volunteer experience in our travels and although we did work we had a lot of down time to just relax in our hammock. In our free time, we also learned a new card game, helped make shampoo out of kerf lime and learned how to make hemp anklets. Overall this was a fun experience sharing some space with a great group of people who are working towards creating a beautiful future for both children and themselves. Living sustainably while reducing their footprint on the Earth and recycling to minimize the waste they produce. We thought about staying a third week but we felt it was time to leave and continue our journey elsewhere. We packed our bags, said our goodbyes and were off on the next adventure.

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We landed at the Chiang Mai airport and immediately felt more relaxed. The vibe is more chill and although it’s a busy city the environment was more appealing and it seemed like a slower pace. We got to our hostel, put our bags down and went to explore the area. The location we were in was pretty good, just a short walk to the night bazaar area with the wild nightlife and all the food vendors and shops. Almost every tourist you see in Chiang Mai wears elephant pants or harem pants, it was like seeing everyone walking around in their pajama pants. By the end of each day, we ended up walking around 6 miles. If you choose to walk rather than take a Tuk-Tuk you will get plenty of exercise throughout the day, which you will need from eating so much rice. Rice is good if you’re trying to eat cheaply and be full but it gets to a point where you need a break for a couple days.

There were many local food markets and night markets and the food seemed fresher and more healthy than it was in Bangkok. The Ploen Ruedee Night Market near Night Bazaar was a place we went to every night. It was an outdoor food court with tons of food vendors selling everything you could imagine. We found an amazing Vegan food vendor, falafel, burritos, grilled corn and so much more. There was a lot of fresh fruit in the area too. The fruit smoothies around the corner from our hostel were heavenly and we drank at least 2 a day. As you walk down the streets they are lined with shops, restaurants, and people selling everything and anything. Often people are wheeling carts down the street selling fruit or snacks.

We walked by one of the many places offering massages, but this one was unique. They were offering a foot massage plus fish spa. This is where they use tiny fish called “Dr. Fish”  that consume the dead skin off of your feet. First, you dip your feet into a fish tank for about 15 minutes. Then you get a half hour foot massage, then you put your feet back in the tank for another 15 minutes. This method has been used in many places around the world to treat serious skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. A spa in Turkey has been offering this service for more than 100 years. The fish don’t have any teeth, so they can’t bite off any healthy skin. They can only nibble at the dead, flaky skin with their lips. It’s an interesting feeling and at first, the tickle sensation is unbearable but after 5 minutes it feels relaxing. If you ever get the chance, try it! You will enjoy the experience.

In Chiang Mai, there are unlimited amounts of tourist excursions to do and every accommodation has pamphlets for you to browse. They will also set up everything for you and often pick you up right at your doorstep, making it extremely easy. The hosts are very helpful and kind and are compensated when they book for you through the company’s they work with. After browsing some of the pamphlets we decided to choose one touristy thing to do, zip lining in the rainforest. The one we chose wasn’t the popular Flight of the Gibbons, that one was way too expensive but we did have a great time and saw a few monkeys in that general area. We chose Dragon Flight. If you book zip lining my advice would be to go at the earliest time and bring a long sleeve, in the morning its pretty chilly. Normally there are groups of up to 10 people but we went first thing in the morning and it ended up being just Jesse, me and our two guides, lunch included. So it was more personal and fun not having to wait in a line for everyone to have their turn. There were over 26 zip-lines and 55 platforms, one after the other. What was supposed to be around 2 hours ended up being a little over an hour because it was just the two of us. There was one zip-line that was the longest and as you ride down you begin spinning around in circles surrounded by the lush trees and sounds of the birds. It was really beautiful and money well spent.

My vision on Thailand wasn’t entirely wrong, monks are seen often walking about the city, and temples are scattered throughout the cities and countryside, you can also see traditional clothes and dances at some night markets. If you want old school Thai culture you need to go out into the country, that’s where you’ll find the rice paddies, traditional farming, the hill tribes and for elephants you have the many parks and sanctuaries. I’m hesitant about spending money to go hang out with elephants, I’m not sure all are treated with the best care and it seems like they lack the freedom just to be elephants because they are spending so much time entertaining tourists.

After spending some time in Chiang Mai not working or volunteering but just traveling I couldn’t help but see how the swarms of tourists are flocking in and changing traditional Thai culture but I guess that comes with growth and expansion. All of the tourists flying in from all over the world are bringing in income for the local people so it becomes a supply and demand type of situation. The more we come, the more Thai pants, elephant clothes and Buddha statues will be sold. In my option and from what friends have said, the true gems are in the north, but there are also some less touristy beaches that are amazingly stunning. After seeing the touristy aspect of traveling we were reminded that it’s not what we want to be doing. Majority of people are traveling for a while on holiday or for a year or so with plans to go back home after and continue to college or go back to their jobs. Jesse and I are different, we aren’t planning on going back to the U.S. to live so our home is wherever we are in the present moment. This also limits spending money, so volunteering is essential in order for us to travel cheaply and at the same time its what we want to be doing. After a week in Chiang Mai just sightseeing we decided it was time to volunteer, so the search began.

The last week of Ghana was a countdown for me. I haven’t seen Jesse in a month and I was ready to be off traveling again. The morning of my flight I woke up early to eat a good meal before heading out. We had to leave extra early because the ride to Accra was 3-4 hours long and with the traffic and the condition of the roads you never know what delays will happen. I said my goodbyes and Makafui and we hopped in a taxi headed for the bus station. I originally was told that he would be joining me on the ride to Accra and then be riding back alone. I get to the bus station to find out I’m going alone. I pack my bag in the back of the bus and hop in the front middle seat next to the driver. Normally the ride isn’t so bad, dirty but the seating is comfortable. This time was opposite, it was clean cause the AC was on and the windows were shut but since I was in the middle seat in the front it was somewhat on a slant and extremely uncomfortable. I don’t think its meant to be a seat for an adult, but after shifting positions 100 times I made it to the airport just fine. Transportation in Ghana is different every time, you never know what you are going to get, one time it could be a comfortable experience and the next you could be stuck waiting on the side of the road for another bus cause yours broke down. I arrived at the airport about an hour early just in time to relax for a minute with a beer at the airport bar before boarding my flight. There were a few Thai people waiting also and I saw a guy take his shoes off under the table, a man came over and asked him to put them back on. Another Thai man took a video of some of the pastries being sold at the bar and the woman behind the register yelled at him and said that maybe it was ok in his country but it wasn’t acceptable here and that he needed to delete them. He said he would but the woman proceeded to take his phone directly to the security officer where the man spent about 20 minutes trying to handle the situation. Meanwhile, I was sitting at the bar legs crossed, shoes on the floor and I previously took a picture of the bar and not a word was said to me. It’s always interesting to see the different treatment given to certain ethnicities, neither guys were doing anything wrong yet both got confronted. It’s also interesting to see the different security measures within different airports. Every one is so different, some require shoes off, some don’t, some barely search you some are extremely thorough.

As I boarded and settled into my seat on Egypt Air I noticed there was no T.V. screen on the seat in front of me, I looked everywhere but only noticed a few main screens. Usually, for a long flight, the airline will have individual screens where you can choose movies to watch, not this one. They chose the movies and played them on the big screens for everyone to watch together. I find that watching a few movies makes the time go by much faster, luckily the movies they chose weren’t terrible. Before I knew it we were coming in for a landing.

When I first arrived in Bangkok it was a fairly large airport but easy to navigate. Online it claims you need a return ticket to show that you are leaving Thailand but we did research and decided it was unnecessary. So we both got our 30-day stamp upon arrival and were good to go. Although I was a little nervous going through customs everything went fine and they didn’t ask for the ticket. There are too many people in line for them to be concerned about asking everyone. I’m sure it happens occasionally but it’s unlikely.

I was about 10 hours ahead of Jesse so I found a local metered taxi and gave them our hotels’ address and would later go back to get him. If you’re ever in Bangkok airport be sure to look for the signs and go to the lower level to get a metered taxi. Don’t make the mistake of taking an airport taxi and pay double if not triple the price. Luckily I knew this already so I was able to get to the hotel cheaply. Driving towards the hotel there were some Buddha statues and alters in front of buildings and along the roadside where they present gifts such as flowers, food or open drinks. These are scattered throughout Asia, even in some of the most remote places.

I went to pick Jesse up at around 11 PM, we planned to meet outside the gate where he’d exit but somehow missed each other because there was another gate. Thankfully for Wifi, we found each other eventually. We headed to a hotel close to the airport to catch up on some sleep for a few days. Since I was coming from Ghana and Jesse from Seattle we wanted a few days to completely rest before really beginning our travels. We ended up staying up till about 5 or 6 AM completely wide awake. It took us a few days to get on a different sleep schedule.

Traveling to another country never seems to be a culture shock for me. After going to both Ghana and Haiti twice nothing seems to shock me. When you see true suffering and struggle of both animals and people it opens your heart beyond what you ever could imagine but also hardens you in a way where you become somewhat accustomed to seeing some things that others would be shocked by. It doesn’t change how you feel but it does change your reaction and your compassion just continues to grow. Going back to the U.S. effects me more, they call it a reverse cultural shock. Seeing all of the waste we produce with packaged food and going out to eat after coming back from Ghana the first time left me feeling disgusted. Products are way over packaged and at restaurants so much food is being thrown out. “Eh, I’m full I don’t need that perfectly cooked roll or the leftovers”. For a while, I began taking all the leftovers and literally just dumping it outside somewhere. My mind was still stuck on seeing all the hungry cats and dogs that it felt so wrong to throw it away when others would be so grateful to have any meal at their fingertips or paws. More restaurants in the US really need to compost, but I won’t get into that. Back to my point…When I travel somewhere my mind seems to put these images in my head of what a place looks like, I’m assuming it’s based on movies, TV, and pictures I’ve seen. It never looks as I imagined. I knew this wasn’t real but in my mind, I imagined Elephants everywhere in Thailand, temples throughout, traditional clothing and dances, unique handmade hats, monks everywhere, dirt roads and mountainsides. It’s funny what the mind does. For Jesse it was very stimulating in a different way, he was looking at all the different types of cars and vehicles and the sounds of all the diesel engines. His mind is very mechanical so while I’m looking at the cat hiding under the truck he’s looking at the actual truck and gears are turning in his mind trying to figure out the details about it.

Bangkok is a huge city and concrete jungle like NYC or Seoul with tons of shopping and a busy nightlife. When we were in search for some vegan food we found Central World Mall, it’s the tenth largest shopping complex in the world with 7 floors, including a 57 story hotel that’s attached to the side. There were a lot of name brand stores. The one store that caught my attention was Croc’s but unfortunately, we couldn’t find it and we didn’t see a mall map. It was so unbelievably big and overwhelming that we ate and got out of there!

I’m sure there are beautiful sights in Bangkok because I’ve seen them in pictures and videos but we thought our time in Thailand would be better spent elsewhere. My personal advice would be if you’re a nature lover like us, completely skip Bangkok unless it is a cheaper flight to go there first, which is usually the case. Spend your time north in the mountains or along the beaches and islands if that’s more your thing. We decided to spend a few days resting and then leave Bangkok. We had trouble finding Vegan food so that was one deciding factor to leave as soon as possible. We didn’t have much of a plan and I’ve heard good things about Chiang Mai so for the sake of time we booked the 1-hour short flight and were off.

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This year I traveled to Ghana for the second time, the last 2 weeks of my month was spent in Denu a small village outside of Aflo with the Atlantic Ocean in the backyard. A few days a week I observed at the local school. I met with the headmaster and he gave me free reign of whatever I wanted to do. Schools in Ghana love outsiders prospectives and will warmly welcome you to teach if you wish to and usually about any topic you want, but I decided to just observe rather than teach. Visiting the local school was hard for me this time and it brought out a lot of emotions in me that I wasn’t expecting.

The classrooms are set up with small desks, many are broken and being shared among 3 students. The windows are completely open with a gentle breeze coming straight from the ocean. The younger children learn more about their local language first through games, stories, and play, as they get older there is a focus on English, reading, and writing. They also have the other basic subjects like science, social studies, and math.  I observed almost all of the classrooms except the older children that would soon be graduating. This time it was much different. In this specific school, they still practice corporal punishment by striking the students using a thin branch, which they refer to as “caning”. I’m going to use the word whipped, not caned because that’s what it is, a whipping. The parents are aware of this and seem to understand that if their child was whipped that day then they probably did something to deserve it. I witnessed children being whipped to speed up their writing or for misbehaving. Usually, this was multiple times in the hand, arms or back. If the children didn’t remember what the previous days topic was about they all risk getting whipped, one by one. I saw this happen and I had to fight back the urge to grab the stick from the teacher. When you’re in a culture that’s different from your own there are certain things you can do and certain things you need to bite your tongue about. This is one of those things that I couldn’t do anything about. I should have walked out but I just froze and sat there in shock as I witnessed the teacher whip all 25 students.

One day while I was observing, all shoes were collected from rooms of the children that had taken their shoes off and were put into one pile in another classroom. Later I found out they had to go the whole day walking on the hot sand barefoot, this was their lesson in why they shouldn’t take their shoes off at school. Since the school is so close to the Ocean the entire school grounds are surrounded by sand so there is no escaping it and when the weather is almost 100 degrees the sand is hot like fire. Brooms that are used to sweep the classrooms at the end of the day were also collected and a man came in with a notebook announcing names. The children whose names were called went to the front board and he whipped them 4 times each in-front of everyone. I’m not sure why this happened but it was painful to watch. It was not a gentle whip, they were full force lashes like back in the slave days. I couldn’t help but think that the cycle is just continuing. The ones doing the whippings were once whipped themselves and the ones being whipped are likely to do it too if they become a teacher. Hopefully by that time caning will be a thing of the past.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness, the looks on the children’s faces were something I’ve never seen before. I locked eyes with one of them and it was as if he said please help me don’t just sit there, but I couldn’t do anything. The hardest part was seeing the teachers laugh after as if it were some type of comedy T.V. show. I began thinking about children in the U.S. and how lucky they have it. The worst that happens is getting expelled for a few days, which really isn’t a punishment. I spoke to a male teacher and asked him about the whippings. I told him how if that were to happen in America you’d go to jail and likely get sued by the child’s parents. He mentioned that they were asked to stop hitting the children but like anything it takes time to change the pattern that’s been going on for many years.

On a happier note, during one observation the male teacher was talking about the benefits of belonging to a good peer group versus dangers of a bad peer group. Some of the dangers he spoke of were the peer pressure of having sex before marriage, drug abuse, robbery, and prostitution. Although the children laughed a lot, many of the children in the class were anywhere between 9-15 and quite a few have already had sex. For them to stay on the right path it’s necessary to teach them these things because if they are on the streets they may easily get swept up with the wrong crowd. This was the only class I observed which didn’t result in any whipping so I was happy to see that not all of the teachers practiced the same punishment on a daily basis.

During break time the children step outside the classrooms and buy lunch from the women who are there daily to sell water, snacks, and food. They spend their break time eating, playing games and often kicking, punching and pushing each other around. Ghanaian kids love fighting each other and even if they are playing one of them always gets hurt.

If the teachers have babies, the women that are outside selling the food often watch them throughout the school day as if they were their own. That’s one thing that I really admire about African women, they openly take care of children that aren’t theirs for the sake of being kind and doing the right thing. Even Cha Cha’s mom has children that have been living under her care for years, none of them she gave birth to.

My second time in Ghana observing was hard for me and I’ve put off writing this post for a while now. I didn’t want to re-live the experience through writing it. I hope that in the future when I visit Ghana again, corporal punishment will be non-existent and another form of discipline will take effect.  Overall, it was a growing experience for me seeing the differences in both teaching and discipline styles compared to what I’m used to seeing in the U.S. It is a reminder that when mistreatment is happening toward anyone or anything, it’s important to stand up for what is right. 


In the Education section of the blog, I’ll be talking about my experiences in teaching or observing in different countries. My intentions are to work with kids at some point in every country whether it be in a school setting or small group, a one-time thing or multiple. Being a teacher it’s always really interesting to see how another culture educates their youth.

Many cultures have a way of life that as the children grow up, it’s very predictable as to what they will be doing, because it may be decided for them. Education is the source to breaking the cycle of poverty. English is a language that is being learned in even the smallest of villages. I wasn’t happy teaching in elementary schools in the U.S. so before traveling to Ghana I always questioned why I spent so many years in college working on a degree that I had no interest in anymore. Then I had the privilege of seeing what it was like to work with kids from a culture much different than mine. It all began to make sense, I spent 4 years of college to get a teaching degree so that I could travel and be guaranteed a job anywhere I went. Teachers are always needed and valued outside of the U.S, but I’ve come to find that children are the real teachers. I’m setting intentions now to attract all the right experiences to help me grow as an educator.

My first time observing was in Ghana back in 2013. In order for these children to have some type of success, education is key. Children need to be in school or they will be roaming the streets and getting into trouble. I observed at an elementary school right down the road from where I was staying. When I stepped onto school grounds a crowd of children ran up and surrounded me, touching my freckles while smiling and laughing. All of the children have to wear uniforms and are responsible for keeping track of and washing them. If they come to school without their uniform, they risk being sent home. Unless they go to a private school, their head needs to be shaved bald.

The classrooms have multiple windows on both sides so the air flows better because it’s often very hot when the sun is blazing. Daily there would be one or two classes being taught outside. I observed mainly in the primary classes, around 4-6 years old. The walls were decorated with hand-painted ABC’s and drawings and the back wall of the room was lined with food. There was one teacher per class and about 35-50 students. The teachers prepared songs that the students sang to me, welcoming me to their classrooms. It was the sweetest! When the children had break time they would all rush outside to bang around on the drums or play in the field with the balls. The children were generally well behaved and respectful.

That’s one thing I really love about Ghanaian culture, children want to learn and are grateful for the opportunity to.

I didn’t observe too much during my time in Ghana so I don’t know the curriculum that is taught but I do know that teachers do their best with what they are given. In one of the classrooms, there was one laptop that the children used to practice their typing, with 5 or 6 children surrounding the desk waiting for their turn. Understanding how to use the computer is an important skill to know and although they don’t have a computer lab with multiple computers, they make use of the materials that they do have. I definitely didn’t expect to walk into a room with a laptop, so this was a shock to me. There were no materials to use, but somehow there was a laptop at the front of the class which didn’t make sense to me. Later I found out that it was one of the staffs and they shared it between multiple classes. Children getting the opportunity to use a computer is very slim unless they are a bit older and can afford to go to a local Internet cafe, so they were very eager to get the chance to type. Depending on the money your family has and the resources the school has, you may or may not have books. In one of the rooms, there was one teacher holding up a book for about 40 students to see. I think the teachers have a harder time keeping children engaged due to the lack of materials they have to work with. This is probably why many lessons incorporate movement and song, because it’s easy and doesn’t require money. Children are given a notebook to write their homework and notes in, likely to be something that they have to purchase on their own. In between lessons they are often put into crowded cabinets.

We also took a short trip to Aklorbortornu, a rural village of 300 farmers and fishermen in Ghana’s Volta region. Currently, there is no electricity or running water. Other then the light of the sun, lanterns are used and water is fetched at the closest water source. If the children want to attend school they have no choice but to walk several miles to the closest village. This “nearby” school is falling down and lacks qualified teachers in addition to basic materials like pens and paper. Teachers are as unreliable as the government that pays their salaries. Sometimes they show up, and sometimes they don’t. Children from Aklorbortornu often carry their own chairs and desks on their backs on this long journey. Otherwise, they have to sit on the dirt floor. We came to the village with donations of school supplies to find that a local woman has been volunteering her time teaching the village children. They were learning under a wooden shelter created with sticks, logs and palm tree branches for the roof. If it rains, the children don’t go to school, which is a problem during rainy season. The materials donated were from the Western New York community, even the smallest amount of donations are appreciated in a place where they have very little. You can read more about the village of Aklorbortornu and other projects on the Ndor Eco Village website.

Getting the opportunity to observe was an eye-opener for me in many ways. Although I don’t agree with the American Education system, we do have many privileges that we often take for granted, mainly because of a lack of comparison. If all teachers, coaches, and school staff working in U.S. schools were to travel to a 3rd world country and experience education, their perspective on many things would change. One is how freeing it is to work with children that want to learn with more flexibility on curriculum and less paperwork. Secondly, how lucky we are to be given so many materials to work with and the ability to have access to anything that we do need. Many American teachers spend a lot of their own money toward items for their classrooms but I think after observing a classroom that has next to nothing, they would re-think what is necessary to have and what is a luxury. In my personal opinion, I would rather teach in a foreign country rather than a classroom in the United States. Teachers are not only respected more by students but also valued overall. I think our Education system in the U.S. is strong in content but lacks the human aspect of it all. I know many wonderful teachers that teach in American schools and they go above and beyond what is asked of them for the sake of the children. They are genuinely loving and teach kindness and compassion within their classrooms and as you can see by all the news stories, this is highly needed within our schools. Experiencing education in Ghana has revealed to me my own teaching path. I don’t think I fit in with a typical public school system, I’m definitely suited more for an alternative, think out of the box environment. I look forward to many other experiences in many different countries and am blessed to have been given this opportunity.

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