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We love writing about our travels, whether that’s engaging our readers with tales of our adventures or helping out with travel advice from past experiences. Getting involved with other blog sites is something we’re hugely passionate about. Please see below a few blogs we have featured with:

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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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A tale of two Taj’s

So after exploring the less obvious areas of India, we finally got round to doing the mainstream routes starting with Mumbai and Agra.

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mumbaArriving in Mumbai we were back in another bustling city full of extreme heat, overcrowding and pollution and you know what? We absolutely loved it!

However, things did not get off to the best start as accommodation was hard to come by, especially for a backpacker! Paying almost up to £13 a bed in a hostel and £20 for a private room, Mumbai was one of India’s most expensive regions for accommodation but you did not exactly get what you paid for.

FullSizeRenderOn our first night after another long and uncomfortable journey, we were excited for a shower and a comfortable bed. The shower was decent enough (standard dripping taps and stained towels) we rolled into bed and drifted off. Before long we were tossing and turning and itching bites all over our body, we have had more than our fair share of mosquito bites in our time and were almost immune to them by now but these were different. After waking up in the middle of the night to check for gnats we turned the light on and found tens of lumps all over our bodies from bed bugs!

With no one at reception we laid the stained towels down and tried to sleep through the bites and come the morning K had a lump in his eye the size of a golf ball. We reported the issue to reception who were very apologetic and allowed us to change rooms. This was thankfully our first and last case of bed bugs from our travels and it was not an experience we wished to suffer through again!

IMG_3755Mumbai itself was a beautiful city, full of British architecture and incredible buildings, we walked from Central Station, past the Asiatic Society Library and military base and visited the ‘Prince of Wales Museum’, or to the locals Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay (definitely worth a visit to see the stunning grounds), before eventually reaching the Gateway of India. A major tourist attraction, the gateway was crammed with people and security but it was still a fantastic place to be. The usual fluttering of senses tingled you to your core as you immersed yourself into India’s culture. You look from the street stalls, families living on the streets and animals roaming the roads and then lift your head to the great Gateway of India. Extraordinary.

A stone’s throw away is The Taj Hotel, a lavish and grand hotel which epitomises exactly what India does so right. In spite of the extreme poverty, dangers and various flaws, India enables itself to offer the very highest of standards to those willing to pay for it. K’s mother came to visit us in India and met us in Mumbai in an emotional and long awaited re-acquaintance between mother and son. We decided to go for Tea at the Taj and were not disappointed.

IMG_3758As soon as the air con hits you and the doors close, you are in an entirely different place. A world of designer brands, gold and silver service greets you in such a way that even the most luxurious of Western brands would struggle to match. The walls are lined with marble and gold as you pass through the corridors before finding the grand staircase leading to the restaurant. The Taj Hotel really is all it’s made up to be and if you ever wish to try the finer things India has to offer then this is the place to be.

Mumbai is the perfect example of the wealth contrast and how extreme the casting is from rich to poor in India, going from the Taj Hotel, to the slums of the city…

IMG_3757Normally when you see a film set in another country you’re often told they are not an accurate representation or things are exaggerated. We took a slums tour in Mumbai with the fantastic “Mystical Mumbai Tours” (A great trustworthy tour operator… hard to find in India!) and actually visited the exact locations of Slumdog Millionaire where it looked like the movie was filmed yesterday. The word slum is thrown around a lot these days but this area in Mumbai was on another level. There were mountains of rubbish, children roaming riot, unbathed and underfed, animals around every corner and yet everything seemed to work. The alleys were so small, if you took a wrong turn you’d had no choice but to continue walking as there was simply not enough room to turn around. If you’re claustrophobic, then this place definitely isn’t for you!

slumsDespite the millions of people living in severe poverty the whole place just seemed to click. Everybody knew everyone and each had a role to play in this community. It’s not until you climb onto the roof of one of the seemingly collapsing buildings that you realise just how big the slums are. They go on for as far as the eye can see with each person trying to break through financial barriers in the home of Bollywood.

The main cities of India seem to get a lot of stick from tourists, but we threw ourselves right in and fell in love with Mumbai. Yes, it was sweaty, dirty and busy, but there was another side that we adored. The buildings, the people, the buzz, the food, and learning all about the culture.

Agra

JaipurTravelling with K’s mum we decided to show her a bit of the backpacker lifestyle we had now been living for so long and took her on a rickety old bus journey through the night to get to Agra. Flying round the bends at over 100mph, we must admit she handled it very well!

We spent a few nights in Gujurat, Rajasthan and Jaipur and we would love to tell you every detail but if we did that this would be more of a book and less of a blog. Watch out for the hardback version of KHTravels coming soon!

Agra is famous for one thing and one thing only. We had been looking forward to seeing this monument ever since we stepped onto that first plane when leaving Heathrow and now we were almost there. Stories have been told and a million and one pictures have been taken but until you’re there, until you see the sun rise over it and until you feel the marble beneath your feet you never really understand just how incredible it is. The Taj Mahal.

Hannah and Kieran TajArriving early for sunrise, our hostel was a short walk away from one of the new seven wonders of the world. The number of self-proclaimed tour guides almost outnumber the tourists but this is one of those places where you do your research beforehand and you just come to absorb the beauty. The whole place is huge, as you walk through gates and first set eyes on the marble marvel you gain a sense of accomplishment, like you’ve really done something and you’ve now seen something you’ll remember forever. In reality you’ve done nothing but open your eyes but this magnificent structure has stood strong for almost four centuries and still looks as awe provoking as ever.

The Indian sun is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, it sounds strange to hear that because the sun is the same anywhere in the world, but it really is different here. Rising over the dusty plains and shining through the pollution, it symbolises hope. That another day is here and anything is possible. Combine that with the wonders of the Taj Mahal and you create something that lasts a lifetime and goes beyond words.

 

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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<<<Our Home Country, The UKThe West End>>>

 

Elephant Nature Park

There are many opportunities to visit elephant sanctuaries whilst backpacking throughout Thailand and Asia, but we must start with a very serious matter. Do not just go to the cheapest one with the best salesman, please do your research and select an organisation that really does support the endangered Asian Elephant. So many places describe a safe haven for elephants but they are chained, beaten and abused into submission. If you are offered an elephant ride or see an elephant in chains please avoid it at all costs as this is a clear indication of an illegitimate sanctuary.  If all you’re after from an experience with elephants is a new profile picture and you don’t care how you get it then you are not welcome here!

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Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand and our time there was one of the most memorable days from our travelling adventure (we know we say that a lot!) We started the day with some background information about the organisation and were told story after story of how many of the elephants were now blind, severely injured or bearing scars from previous owners. Elephants are giants of the mammal kingdom but are such gentle and playful creatures. The stories brought a tear to your eyes, half in sadness but half in joy that these elephants finally got to live their lives in a world without chains and abuse.

Being as big as they are, there was only ever going to be one thing to start with; feeding! Standing on a platform nearly three metres high, we were surround by tens of elephants! Their muscular trunks reached up through the barrier to grab everything from melons to bananas. The first time you come into contact with these magnificent creatures, you realise something. They are alive! This may sound silly but they really are alive and it’s magical, you sense their emotions, their moods and best of all … they sense you.

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Moving on we explored the enormous grounds of the sanctuary and we were delighted to see that each and every elephant was free to roam as it pleased. No forced feeding sessions, no blockades, just freedom. We came across a pair of elephants in their 80s first, a real pair of golden oldies. They were just being themselves, no showing off with tricks and definitely no riding, just a bit of back scratching on the nearest tree trunk.

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Now, we have all seen the video of the two baby elephants playing in the pool, however, we had no idea just how much fun these gorgeous animals had in the water. With the larger elephants soaking up the midday sun in the river, large lumps starting appearing in the water … There were five adorable, younger elephants splashing and rolling around! It was an incredible sight and watching these elephants grow safely and happily is truly something special.

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There was a show of real collectiveness too as a few dogs turned up and decided that they wanted to join in on the fun. The dogs were eyeing up one of the younger elephants and the baby started yelping for help. The ground started trembling and another slightly larger baby elephant stomped over out of nowhere, blowing its trunk and the dogs soon scarpered.  It was so funny and cute to watch and after the drama, the elephants returned to their day of eating, back scratching and relaxing.

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The best part of the day came towards the end. With the sun setting, some of the larger elephants moved into the shallower river and continued to eat their array of fresh fruit. We stripped down into our swimwear and joined the elephants in the river and bathed them in the dimming Thai sunlight.

Whether you’re an animal person or not, we implore you to see reason and open your eyes when travelling abroad. If something is too good to be true, it invariably is. You get what you pay for in life and if you spend a little more, you can get the experience of a lifetime without adding to the misery of  these incredible, endangered animals which are subject to the horrifying tourist trade and temple rituals.

An elephant never forgets … 

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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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Hands on Manila

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The Philippines was one of our most favourite countries, with much of our time spent in the city of Manila. The Filipino capital is a wonderful city full of sky scrapers and mega malls but behind the mask of wealth is also a city draped with poverty and struggle.

We volunteered with Hands on Manila (HOM), a non-profit organisation that envisions “a community where people contribute their time, talent, and resources for sustainable development.”

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Before we arrived in the Philippines we made contact with the Executive Director of HOM; Rox. From then we immediately learnt what a fantastic organisation this was as Rox greeted us with a host of information and incredible enthusiasm.

We were working towards the Brigada Eskwela project partnered with TELUS. This project was a huge event in which more than 2000 Filipino and International volunteers would come together to completely renovate an old school in one of the poorest communities in Manila. The aim was to make it a safer, cleaner and more enjoyable environment for the children to learn in.

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Upon first visiting the school, we found a dusty, dirty and almost derelict site that looked like it hadn’t been used in years. In reality, this was just an end of term break from school and what you saw was what you got. Any Western government would have immediately deemed this school unfit for purpose with the classrooms filled with broken chairs and worn chalkboards and corridors lined with years of dust build up. There were also numerous hazards such as broken glass and nails protruding from cupboards and other furniture. We could not believe this was an active school just days from the start of a new term.

Leading up to the event we spent our time preparing for this huge day by readying classrooms and sorting materials. With a small team of around 5-10 people on site, we managed to successfully organise all materials and maps for the upcoming volunteering event. Rox’s meticulous planning ensured all went smoothly, alongside the rest of the HOM team. It was a great week but we can’t pretend we didn’t find it a struggle. After over two months of not working the 5am starts were certainly a shock to the system!

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On the day as volunteer leaders we were oversaw various projects in different areas of the school as well as participating in the manual labour too. The day consisted of mural painting, gardening, cleaning, painting furniture, and so much more. To see the school completely transform throughout the course of the day was fascinating, and there was something special about so many people joining forces for this small community.

This was our first volunteering experience on our travels and we really did love loved every minute. We are now registered volunteers and when we return to Manila in the future we will not hesitate but to work with HOM again!

To find out more about Hands on Manila or to register as a volunteer for this great charity please click here.

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