The Asian Circle

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KHTravels are working with The Asian Circle on a mission to support vulnerable women in India and South Asia. We are honoured to be assisting with their social media campaign raising awareness of the fantastic work that they carry out daily. Please help spread the word and follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!

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The Asian Circle is working together with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in North East India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Oxfam is helping the government, police and judiciary to apply the laws that protect women. This includes setting up support centres in police stations to provide shelter, legal advice, counselling and launching a state-wide campaign to raise awareness of and change attitudes towards violence against women.

Around the world, 35% of women and girls suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day dedicated to raise public awareness about this and other appalling statistics and that is what we’re doing!

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The last week at Our Home

It’s taken us a while to write this blog … we’ve been coming to terms with leaving Our Home and the last week was so emotional we’ve not known how to put it into words. However, having cried out all our tears and spoken to the children numerous times since leaving, we’re now ready to share our experience with you.

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The week was a beautiful one, filled with so many wonderful memories makers. We went on plenty of walks where the children picked us lovely flowers to “take back to England.” K enjoyed his last few football matches with the older boys, we sang songs and recapped over the amaxing few months we spent together. We took more photos and promised the children as soon as we returned to England we will print and send them as we did last time which gave them something exciting to look forward to.

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The children had many heart wrenching questions for us “when are you coming back?” “why can’t you live here?” “Do the airports check your bags? I was thinking I could sneak in and come to England with you.” It truly was so tough and we were just as upset as them, if not more. All we could do was reassure them that we would be back and told them that not a day will go by that we won’t think about them and that we will write, phone and do everything we can to stay in touch. It felt different leaving this time to before. It wasn’t just an orphanage where we volunteered at, it was family we were leaving. Our little bedroom became our home and we packed our bags whilst listening to music from the last few months that we had shared with the children… which probably didn’t help!

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To make things just a tad more difficult during the last few days there was absolutely no water or electricity. It was a really hard few days both physically and emotionally and the children needed a treat. We wanted to make our last evening as fun as possible and luckily during the afternoon the electricity and water finally came back. We brought some speakers to the dining hall to play music and H’s nan and granddad very kindly sponsored chicken biryani for dinner, the kids favourite! Although it was lovely evening enjoyed by all, we couldn’t get away from the feeling that we were leaving tomorrow, it felt very surreal.

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When the morning came around we woke up so heartbroken that our incredible journey at Our Home had come to an end. One of the boys was awake already at 5am and had come to our room to help us finish packing. That started the tears off and once they started they wouldn’t stop! It was by far the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and greeted us with letters, flowers and drawings. We said goodbye to each and every one of them although we could barely speak we were so upset. So much for keeping it together and being strong! We were so sad as as our car drove away and all of the kids stood looking on.

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We did however leave feeling content that we achieved more than what we originally came to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with the children that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it’s the end of this trip it is just the start for our future with them. We’ve made the best memories and together experienced not only the fun, laughter and love but we’ve also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children:

“You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only” … Until next time Our Home.

9 Top Tips on Volunteering

We’ve volunteered in five different countries and have a huge passion for travel, charity work and most importantly; change. We’ve therefore combined some top tips and experiences from our fellow travellers and volunteers to help you when planning your volunteering trip. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, who to trust and where to go so hopefully this will answer some of your questions.

1) Rox Oquendo; Former Director of Hands on Manila

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“You don’t always have to donate money to make a difference in small communities, your time can be much more beneficial. Contact NGO’s in the Philippines to find out how you can get involved with their ongoing programmes. If you have any special skills you think may be of benefit, for example if you’re a medical practitioner then make the NGO you are volunteering with aware, you may be able to help with specialist missions. By volunteering you’re exposed to the real Philippines and get to explore places off the beaten track.”

Our first volunteering experience abroad was with Hands on Manila and we can’t recommend them enough!

2) Skye Sandhu-Nelson; Community Champion

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“Each person has their own reasons to give or volunteer and you’ve got to have an affinity to the cause your supporting which will be unique to each individual. This needs to be taken into consideration before deciding on where is right for you to volunteer.”

Skye is an incredibly experienced volunteer and as has supported the YMCA, Salvation Army, The Citizens Advice Bureau, local schools and play groups, Womankind Worldwide and many more.

3) Emily Hudson; Explorer

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“All I would say is get stuck in as any little job goes a long way, get to know the locals, learn their ways and work with them to help your cause. Don’t forget to keep in touch even after your time volunteering has come to an end. It’s such a buzz to get updates and see how things are progressing when you’re back home. Also, do some research on how you can continue to support your project from home through online tasks and spreading the word.”

Emily volunteered at The African Impact, Marine Conservation Project in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

4) Sam Rees-Davies; Backpacking Biker

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We met Sam in February 2017 on our first day returning to Our Home Community. Unfortunately it was their last night volunteering there but although we had very little time together we instantly knew we shared the same passion about Our Home.

“Our first and most important tip when volunteering is always plan your route before you set off on your journey. Initially getting to Our Home seemed impossible as we were travelling by bike from Ooty with nothing but road signs! When we finally arrived we were mobbed by so many excitable children. One of the most refreshing things when you speak to anyone at Our Home is that they never refer to it as an orphanage, it is quite literally their home. The sense of community and family is breathtaking. Never have I seen so many children with such a zest for life, and if you need inspiration to volunteer, this is it!

We spent our days playing football, painting, cooking and also took the children on a trip to the local dam. Reflecting on my time at Our Home my biggest advice is get involved as much as you can and think of something new to introduce, cooking macaroni cheese was certainly a first time experience for these Indian kids and it was great I could give them that.”

5) Chloe Leach; Backpacker

“If I was to give any suggestions to someone wanting to volunteer abroad I’d say first and foremost – do your research. There are a lot of ‘volunteer projects’ that are scams, especially in SE Asia. They take your money and it doesn’t go to benefiting the cause they ‘stand for’. Please ensure you look for ethical projects.

I’d also say, GET STUCK IN. You’ll probably be given some tasks that aren’t as enjoyable as others. However, it is what you make it and at the end of the day you’re there volunteering to benefit the lives of others and not yourself.”

Chloe has volunteered at SchoolsWorldwide, a charity that runs volunteer trips through schools in Namibia, and Elephant Nature Park in Thailand where we also had a fantastic experience.

6) Sofia Candy; Backpacker

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Sofia volunteered with the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand in 2015 and has incredibly now adopted Sansa, a dog they fell in love with during their time there. Sansa has been living in the U.K. for almost a year and is loving her new family life.

“If you wish to volunteer at Soi Dog make sure you contact them in advance to arrange your dates as they get booked up quickly during busy seasons. Take some dog treats with you in a bum bag for when you walk the dogs, they love a treat! Wear comfy shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and smelly … Hanging out with the dogs and cats all day can get messy but it’s an amazing experience and you’ll hear lots of stories about how these animals were saved from torture and cruelty. It’s a fab life experience you will never forget.”

7) Thuy An; Community Outreach Coordinator; YMCA Vietnam

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“Vietnam is a great place to volunteer and have a life changing experience. To make sure you have the most enjoyable time possible and not too much of a culture shock, this is what I would recommend:

  • First and foremost make sure you participate in a voluntary experience that will excite you. This way you will be able to put 100% into everything you too.
  • When planning to volunteer make sure you obtain necessary visas and documents required before you arrive to avoid any problems.
  • Be prepared to eat all kinds of food in Vietnam … the infamous durian and fish sauce is typical for daily meals, if you’re a picky eater or dislike smelly food Vietnam might not be the place for you!
  • Most Vietnamese people are nice and friendly but always be aware of scams and rip-offs when shopping in local or tourist markets.
  • Don’t get run over by a car! The traffic is crazy. When crossing the streets be alert, confident and steady.
  • Lastly, equip yourself with some local knowledge about wherever you go. The Vietnamese people will love that you’ve taken the time to get to know their culture.

Thuy An organised our brilliant voluntary trip with YMCA Vietnam in 2015.

8) Swostik Pandey; Student and Entrepreneur

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“Whilst volunteering in Vietnam I often found myself being so thankful for the opportunity to give back. My main advice for volunteering abroad is to be as passionate as possible. Most people only volunteer once or twice in their lifetime so give it all you have and make sure you don’t forget to embrace the culture. Not only does this teach you about the local people, food and lifestyle of where you are volunteering but it also makes you appreciate everything you have in life. My second tip would be to be outgoing. Being able to create memories is great but always remember the people around you are the ones who help form those memories. Whether it is sharing a smile or attempting to speak an unknown language, every little thing will go a very long way!”

We volunteered with Swostik in 2015 as part of the YMCA Vietnam Overseas Community Project.

9) KHTravels; Blogging & Volunteering Couple 

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Our ultimate tip would be to prepare yourself for the hardships that go alongside the incredible experience you will have whilst volunteering. Volunteering isn’t easy and can be a very emotional journey.

Your accommodation will be very basic with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, no fans, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be daunting and you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so expect a mixture of responses. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place. We of course do not want to deter your from volunteering but you need to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for and if this doesn’t put you off, then you’re ready to go!

So there you have it, from some of our most trusted friends from around the world, we hope you’ll find their suggestions and advice helpful. If you still have any unanswered questions then please get in touch.

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.

Diwali, Moo & Chai!

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Our next destination was Punjab and H had been waiting for this all year, it’s where K’s family live so she couldn’t wait to meet them and see where he spent his childhood holidays. It was also going to be Diwali during our time with them making it extra special.

We spent our time between K’s Uncle and Aunties, the days were filled chatting, eating and of course drinking lots of chai. They live on a farm so we were in our element, spending time with the baby animals, learning how to milk cows, and even driving tractors. We made a special friend on the farm, Moo. A little stray puppy that had wandered in and befriended the baby cows. It was one of the cutest things we have ever seen, and we made a really special bond with him, feeding him and playing. Our only regret is that we couldn’t bring him home with us!

A trip to Punjab wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Golden Temple. On our travels we have seen some absolutely perfect things in our world but have also experienced heart breaking moments, and unfortunately at the Golden Temple we witnessed one of the worst. H was expecting marvellous things after the many stories she had heard from K and other travellers but was beyond disappointed.

When we arrived, through the hustle and bustle of busy passing people we noticed a small child, no older than three curled up in a little ball, no adults in sight with hundreds of flies buzzing around. We approached the child and as we got closer noticed she was a little girl and smelt awful. K gently nudged her, asked if she was okay but she didn’t move, continuing to nudge her our hearts sank as we actually thought this girl might be dead on the floor as people were just passing by. One well dressed, religious man stopped and said to us she is fine, he shook her as if she was a toy. Clearly she was not fine. K felt her skin and she was still warm and scooped her into his arms. This was when she opened her eyes and we have never felt more relieved.

punjab-7She did not speak and looked terrified. She had filthy, mouldy old clothes on, and faeces coming out from her trousers. We took her to a quieter area and tried to talk, she said nothing and wouldn’t drink any water that we offered. We got a towel and stripped the clothes from her, washing her with wipes, antibacterial hand gel and water. She was absolutely covered in defecation which was days old and needed scrubbing off. We were extra careful to cover her modesty as passers-by had begun to stare, some just looking, some smiling admirably and some confused. K was annoyed by this and questioned why they were looking, what did they want to see? They were quite happy to walk past this dying girl five minutes ago. We started to get the feeling they were looking at H as if she was a rich foreign woman doing a fantastic thing for this poor child, as they were smiling?

K bought her some clothes and when she was completely clean we dressed her and she started to trust us finally drinking some water, she was so dehydrated. Clinging to H she was obviously upset by so many people staring. We took her to the local police, did they care? No. They laughed in our faces saying you can’t help everyone.

punjab-8We then took her to eat before deciding what to do next. She ate but still did not speak, K went to see if anyone was looking for her or if the police had decided to do anything about this situation and he came across a woman crying, searching with other children. He approached her and discovered she was the child’s mum, informing her she was safe with H and the woman was hysterical with relief, she kissed H’s feet and thanked us. The mum had been begging whilst the little girl was sleeping outside the temple, and explained how the girl had been very unwell and needed to sleep and that she needed money for medicine. She presumed the girl would be safe outside this holy temple. Thank goodness she was.

We’re sure your first reaction will be to judge this mother for leaving her child, it was ours, and we certainly told her she should never do it again. However, before you do judge this woman please think what could have happened to her. Like thousands of homeless Indian women, she could have been raped many times on the street, she herself could have been an orphan growing up as a street kid. For these people there is no opportunity, no benefits, no council housing, no NHS for sick children… nothing. The rich stay rich whilst the poor will always stay poor. We watched so many wealthy, well respected religious people walk past this small child like she did not even exist, and then donate money to a temple made of pure gold? To us we cannot comprehend this at all. Something for sure is that travelling certainly was opening our eyes and experiences like this are the ones that will never be forgotten and truly make you realise how lucky you are.

On a brighter note, Diwali was beautiful. K’s mum took H shopping and treated her to a stunning pink Indian suit, as everyone gets dressed up for the special day. We ate delicious food as all of the family joined together. As the night fell we lit candles around the house and outside, and it looked like a fairy tale come true. Some of the boys lit of fireworks (to our horror with no safety precautions in place!) but looking back it was all great fun. We played with sparklers into the night and it was just as we imagined it would be.

Our time in the north was an emotional one, full of ups and downs, and plenty of different experiences. It was beautiful though and showed us yet another side to India. More memories created whether they were good or bad. Travelling is the best form of learning and we certainly learnt a lot whilst travelling here.

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Delhi Belly

2Following on from one of the most incredible experiences in Agra, Delhi was next on the list. We decided buses were no longer an option with K’s mum, once was enough! We hired a car from our hostel in Agra to Delhi where we had booked to stay at Smyle Inn, right in the centre of New Delhi and bang in the middle of Main Bazaar road. The car dropped us at the end of a tiny little alleyway and we made our way through with all of our luggage, passing outside urinals, sleeping dogs, spitting men, whilst attempting to not get run over by motorbikes. When we reached Smyle Inn it was a pleasant surprise and in fact we visited Delhi three times and opted to stay here each time. A very warm welcome, clean rooms equipped with everything you need; wifi, free breakfast, a great location (despite the alley) and most importantly, cheap! This place was perfect for us.

Delhi 3First up was a visit to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, more for K’s mum being a traditional Sikh, but it turned out we all really enjoyed it. Upon entering we passed an elderly man with a kind face and he was completely amazed when H greeted him with “Sat sri akaal mamaji” one of those moments that will always stick out! The temple was peaceful and we were able to completely relax, dipping our feet in the holy water and people watching the locals doing the same. A delicious meal was served of dahl, chapatti and kheer to finish. We had an unexpectedly good time here, in fact, better than when we visited the Golden Temple, but we’ve not got to that yet.

Delhi 2Something on H’s bucket list was to see a Bollywood show in India, and that we did. We booked tickets to see Zangoora, the BIGGEST Bollywood stage show ever and we were not disappointed! We took the metro and surprisingly it was a good idea. Definitely worth a try and much quicker than tuk tuks if you are travelling longer distances, however we must emphasise one thing; DO NOT travel during rush hour. Imagine being on the central line in London and multiply the people by a hundred! It was unbearable. The show was located in its own little magical world at the Kingdom of Dreams, it’s what you imagine India to be like. Filled with colour, food, bhangra and more, minus all of the bad bits! We loved walking round and exploring this unexpected place. Zangoora was in Hindi but luckily K’s mum was on hand to translate when needed. It was a fabulous show that we all immensely enjoyed. We couldn’t help but be immersed into Indian culture with the music and dancing and we jumped to our feet at the end when the finale was to Jai Ho. The show finished late so we decided to get a tuctuc back to main bazaar and eat local… which was a mistake. Nothing was open and we were content to just go to bed, but K’s mum was insistent that we ate and found a back street veggie place. Now don’t get us wrong, the food was good but little did we know we were all about to encounter the dreaded Delhi Belly!

H woke up after a few hours spewing her guts up and K and his mum came down with it a few days later. Trust us when we say it was beyond awful, we ended up having to go the hospital as K just couldn’t shift it! But anyway, what’s the point in going to Delhi if you’re not going to experience chronic food poising?! All part of the experience!

K and his mum had a day out visiting Qutb Minar and the Lotus Temple which was a strangely relaxing experience (something you don’t often get in India) whilst H was unwell in bed. The striking flower shaped building which is deceptively large is a place of worship which is open to any religion. It is simply a place for prayer which holds no judgements, a rarity when it comes to religion.

1The following day we went to The India Gate war memorial, it is very similar to the Gateway to India in Mumbai but not on the edge of the sea, and as well as being a good Instagram opportunity there is a lot of history behind the famous arch.

Other places we visited whilst in Delhi were Connaught Place, great for little eateries and shopping and we also found a Nandos! Saket Mall had a fantastic Hard Rock Cafe which we couldn’t get enough of, we really lived it up in Delhi trying all of the cultural food. The Jama Masjid temple (yes another temple) was a less peaceful experience than what greeted us at the Lotus Temple. We had a bit of a bad experience here with H, being completely covered up and respectable but still treated unfairly, told to pay a fee no one else was and asked not to take photos whilst everyone was taking photos of her! Unfortunately, this ruined what was meant to be one of Delhi’s top sights, but you just learn to move on from these experiences whilst travelling, it’s all part of it. One place we didn’t get a chance to visit was Rashtrapati Bhavan the presidential residence. We’ve heard how beautiful it was and just simply didn’t get time.

DelhiAfter one long visit to Delhi, and two shorter stop overs we became really fond of it, even the little alley leading to our hotel from main bazaar road started to feel like home. We learnt where to hold our nose and close our eyes and all was fine. Main Bazaar was also great for a bargain, with lots of traditional Indian gifts, cool clothes and very cheap silver, we did lots of shopping here for family gifts as India was our last stop before returning home.

As mentioned before the main cities in India get a lot of stick, and we can understand why, Delhi is absolutely crazy. You have to completely immerse yourself otherwise you will get lost along the way. It’s absolutely filthy, poor, filled with street kids begging in the middle of traffic and people who want to rip you off. However, if you are able to let go and take things with a pinch of salt, it is incredible. We guarantee you will enjoy it and learn so much about the culture and yourself. There is nowhere else in the world that is such an assault to the senses as Delhi, and that’s what makes it so special. We felt something that is pulling us back, drawing us in, and we can’t wait to dive in head first again!

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The realities of coming home…

2380Two people, two back packs, nine countries, twelve planes, ten months and then … home. Did that just happen? Did we really just spend the majority of 2015 living our dream, fulfilling our wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, and travelling the world… to now be home?

The harsh reality is coming home is harder, much harder than going away and this is our first really personal blog. We’re going to let you into our minds and see how we are feeling now we’re home. If you’re NOT a traveller the likelihood is you won’t have a clue what we’re talking about reading this, and if you ARE a traveller we know you’ll be able to relate to this more than anything else you’ve read today.

Our year travelling Singapore, Australia, Bali, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India came to an abrupt ending the minute we arrived back on home turf. As the plane landed in Heathrow we were a mixture of emotions; tired, sad, shocked, excited to see our families (we were surprising them) uncertainty, and most of all it all just seemed like a big haze, a dream, we couldn’t accept that we were now home. They say time flies when you’re having fun, well boy, we must have had a blast because it felt like we simply blinked and we were home again.

781After three months in India the journey in a black cab down the M25 was somewhat different to a tuctuc zooming around Delhi. All of a sudden we were being bombarded with being home; red busses, Ford KA’s, level roads, road signs, Costa Coffees, rain and we had to take all of this in as we made our way into Essex. Culture shock going to India? Forget that, coming home after so long is the biggest culture shock ever and you’ll either settle back in going back to your old ways or you’ll feel this now alien country is no longer home.

Our first few weeks home were incredible. Seeing the looks on the faces of both our families and friends when surprising them after so long was priceless, emotional and completely unforgettable. Sleeping in our own bed, the build up to Christmas, the welcome cold weather, the partying, it was good to be home. You know you’ve been away for a long time when you can feel yourself talking in slow, broken English to your mum!

However, as the weeks passed we both started to feel unsettled. Imagine being together 24/7 for nearly a year, just us in our own little bubble, doing what we want, when we wanted with no one to answer to and not being held back by the reality that is society. We feel it may have been easier if we came home and were living together, but we’ve both had to go back home to our parents, and we’re hugely thankful to them, but truthfully we just want to be together in our own little routine that we built whilst travelling.

671We’ve both had to adjust back in to our old lives, new clothes, hair and makeup done, nights out and expensive dinners. Gone are the days of 20p beer in the street with Pad Thai for dinner wearing anything we could reach for from our backpacks including the tops with international beer logos on (we would never wear those at home!) We found this really difficult, why can’t we walk around bare foot anymore?

As we’re writing this we don’t really know where we are going or what we are trying to say? It’s hard; it is really hard being home and we think people underestimate that. All we want to do is look for new and exciting opportunities, spend time on our blog, keep talking about the incredible experiences we’ve encountered and keep posting our favourite travel snaps. But the truth is no one really cares. At first this is hard to accept, but it’s true and you will soon realise that no one cares about the name of the volcano you spent a day climbing and were so proud of yourself for doing so. Yes of course everyone wants to know how it was… How was it? How was your year travelling? What was your favourite country? How can we answer any of these questions, have you got another year to listen to us? No not really, so you reply with “It was great, we can’t tell you our favourite country as they were all so different” If someone asks a question and you actually begin to open up and elaborate into your magical story, well to you it is, it’s almost guaranteed you will notice the person is not paying for attention, because they don’t care! And in all fairness why would they?

1051You experience all of these wonderful countries, with beautiful cultures and you embrace them throwing yourselves in head first. The people you meet become your family and you rely on them as much as you would your parents. We spent a lot of time volunteering so got to experience first-hand a lot of local communities and we fell in love with all of them particularly, Our Home Community in India. We now spend our days missing them and wondering why we aren’t there, we feel we could be of so much more use out in the big wide world, where we can freely express our love, passion and understanding that has become who we are.

We want to spend every minute of every day together because only we know what each other is feeling, but we can’t. That isn’t reality is it; we have to work to make a living so it’s back to our 9-5 desk jobs whilst our minds are still wandering to the days where what we would have for dinner was our hardest decision. We now realise the simplest luxuries that we took for granted, normal toilets and no more carrying around toilet roll? Much easier right? But so boring.

1118Travelling gave us a sense of purpose, and belonging that we can no longer feel here? And will we ever? It’s been three months since we returned and we still have the same hunger and desire to be waking up in the morning to something new, a different adventure every day. We miss the simplicities in life that is travelling and appreciating the treats when you get them! Our first Nando’s in Chennai was literally like heaven on a plate after six months. Being able to have it every week in Romford Brewery isn’t exactly the same. The excitement of having a decent Wi-Fi and being able to contact your friends and family for a real catch up is brilliant. So is being able to update yourself with the world of social media, not having it on hand every second of every day. Spending evenings watching countless friends episodes was a real treat, here they’re on Comedy Central all the time! The novelty wears off…

We were lucky travellers, only one case of bed bugs, a few Delhi belly occasions, a little bit of travel sickness, some sleepless nights. But we’ve come home with something much worse. We have a very bad case of the travel bug, and what’s the cure for that? To go again…

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YMCA Cambodia

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On our travels our aim has been to volunteer as much as possible, whilst exploring different countries and cultures. From the minute we arrived in Cambodia, we were exposed to such poverty and shocking homelessness including many victims of agent orange and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. This really encouraged us to do what we could to help.

After our fantastic time spent with the Vietnam YMCA, we decided to contact the YMCA Cambodia to see how we could get involved. After meeting with the Executive Director and seeing what a great cause this was, we decided to spend a few weeks a the YMCA Cambodia Learning Centre, a school for children of a local village, which funded community projects in Cambodia. We planned to spend our time teaching children aged 2-16 years old, as well as redecorating the nursery room, and redesigning the school playground.

On arrival to the school, the exterior of the building was quite simply a health and safety officers paradise. In the UK this school would have been closed down before even entering the building. Motorbikes parked in the children’s play area, piles of bricks stacked next to swings and dozens of mice and cockroaches running around. Once you entered the building it was actually quite a nice school, much more developed than what we have seen in other countries, however, cleanliness was a big issue. The older students had fairly nice classrooms with whiteboards and they had decorated them with their work and kept them tidy, but we were appalled by the nursery room which was for the children 2-4 years old.

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All of the children had fevers and it was no surprise based on the condition of the room they were sitting in five days a week. There was mouldy foam flooring which the children constantly tripped over, rotten curtains barely hanging from the window, dirty walls, ant infestations in every corner and the worst part, a bathroom that we could not even bare to enter because the stench was so foul. What we did notice though was the sink was blocked and had quite obviously been for some time as their was actual life beginning to form! Little tadpoles were swimming around, this may sound funny but it is no joke when this is what children were exposed too. We decided to make redecorating that room our key focus, as well as teaching the children English.

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For those two weeks we became full time teachers, and we can tell you it was no easy task! We spent the weekend before lesson planning and shopping for prizes, stickers and game ideas for the children, this was super fun. Their little faces were so delighted each time they won a prize or a sticker and it was a joy to see. For the younger students our teaching varied from nursery rhymes, colours, animals, comic strips and basic English. For the older students we helped with their pronunciations, grammar, new vocabulary, and even taught a bit of syntax and sentence structure to some evening classes of Cambodian Adults which we really enjoyed, it took us back to our uni days! The children were enthusiastic to learn and extremely happy to have us with them, but we must admit teaching seven classes a day was tiring and very hard to keep the smaller children entertained all of the time. Neither of us are teachers and after this experience we give our upmost respect to them!

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At the weekends we got an insight to these children’s lives when we went to do a bit of shopping at the local market, which has a name that actually translated into “dirty market.” This was where most of the children lived with their families who all had stalls selling meat, fruit, veg, toiletries and other general bits. The market stunk and the flies around the fresh produce was gross, we had to walk through holding our noses! The only good thing about this place was the fact we were greeted by so many of the kids from school with huge smiling faces wanting to introduce us to their parents. The children were filthy, still in their school uniforms on the weekend presumably because they had no other clothes and were all helping out on the stalls, doing what they could to help make a living. Again it was another moment for us that made us realise just how privileged and sheltered our lives have been growing up in the UK.

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So, with our mission being to completely freshen up the nursery room, we bought materials and paints and got to work. We ripped up the horrid old foam flooring to clean and disinfect the floor underneath, which was actually well tiled! We ripped down the horrid curtains and pulled off the peeling paint from the walls. After washing everything what felt like a million times, we painted the walls white which instantly made the room feel so fresh, we also painted pictures the best we could (neither of us are artists!) as well as sticking educational posters on the walls. Once finished and comparing the room before and after we are not shy to admit we are so proud with what a difference we were able to make. Unfortunately we could not sort the bathroom out, that needs professional work! But hopefully the nursery room will now be a much more enjoyable environment for the little ones to be in.

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Next we focused on the playground, which was of a decent size and location it just needed sorting out. We informed all staff at the school that bikes were no longer to be parked in the play area. We moved the bricks to the front of the school and asked for them to be collected, we picked up the litter and washed the floor and walls as best we could to try and ensure that the rodents stayed away. We then painted the walls with rainbows, weather and animals making for a brighter and safer environment. This is a playground after all and is meant to be fun!

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The two weeks quickly passed as we were so busy having a great time, meeting and teaching the children being our highlight. It was definitely the hardest voluntary activity we have participated in, but seeing the results at the end and knowing the children would be happier and healthier were well worth it. We can only hope that the staff at the school are encouraged by what we did, and amongst themselves decide to keep the school clean and continue to make improvements!

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YMCA Vietnam

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Throughout our incredible journey around the world, we have been trying to do as much as we can to help those less fortunate than us. After a fantastic experience volunteering in the Philippines, our next place of action was Vietnam and this time with the YMCA.

We contacted the YMCA before leaving the UK and organised to volunteer as part of an overseas community service project in Ben Tre, a small province south of Saigon alongside a group of students from the YMCA HKCC. Thuy An, a senior member at the YMCA, arranged everything for us and it couldn’t have gone smoother. She was an excellent host for the week and we instantly felt right at home and could get stuck in just how we wanted to.

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The aim of the week was to concrete a playground of a very small community school in order to give the children a safer environment to learn in. As well as this, we also spent time teaching the children basic English at various levels of ability.

When we arrived the playground was concreted in patches, with the majority made up of mud, rubble and tree stubs, definitely not safe for children! The school was small, dusty, and grey with no signs of any colour or learning tools. However, despite this we still found that there was a great atmosphere amongst the children. They were eager to learn, happy, all in uniform and in very hight spirits, The teachers here had clearly been doing a superb job with the little resources they had. Being such a small community hub, the children were delighted to have people from outside their province to help, having probably never met anyone foreign before, it was very exciting for all of us.

To say that concreting was hard is an understatement! The heat of the sun was almost unbearable and with facemasks on we were sweating absolute buckets. Our jobs consisted of filling containers with sand and rocks, lifting them to cement mixers and then laying the cement, it sure was a good work out! Everyone worked together as a team and we eventually got the job done through sheer determination and a lot of sweating!

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Teaching the little rascals was a lot more enjoyable but just as difficult! From songs and sports, to weather and animals these children went from knowing zero English to being able to hold a basic conversation with us and they were thriving on everything they learnt. It was a pure joy seeing them develop and probably the most rewarding work either of us had ever done.

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The children were so sweet and at the end of the week they presented us with hand picked flower bouquets as thank you gifts, this was certainly one of the places we did not want to leave!

We were able to present gifts to the teachers from the school, which was fantastic. They were overjoyed and we simply wanted to thank them for the great work that they had been doing. They were also so kind to us throughout the week, welcoming us into their homes as if we were family, feeding us heaps of food and even letting us do some Vietnamese cooking! For this we will be eternally grateful to them, as we experienced a part of their culture we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise.

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Our time with the YMCA ended with them putting on a cultural evening for us, where we ate delicious food and were entertained by a variety of different performances, it was an excellent insight to their wonderful culture.

Vietnam was the country we feel we’ve had the most fun in, and this experience added to that. Thuy An has now become a lifetime friend along with the wonderful teachers and students from Hong Kong. We will never forget the memories we have made in the little school in the Ben Tre province and would love one day to be able to do more for them.

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