Summer ’17

The summer holidays are well underway and the children are used to their new daily routines without school, breakfast is a also a little later now which we must admit we’re enjoying and there’s lots of spring cleaning going on in the bedrooms!

The days seem a lot longer and we’re trying to think of different activities we can do each day to keep the kids entertained. Something we hadn’t thought of until now was downloading a film on our IPad. We bought some popcorn and arranged two screenings of our makeshift movie day, one for the girls and one for the boys. “Happy Feet” was our film of choice and first up was the boys. As they all crowded round to watch the small screen they were super excited for an English cartoon movie, we couldn’t believe how they all managed to slot themselves into positions to be able to see. We were buried in amongst them and after just 15 minutes we were literally melting due to the heat. We didn’t dare move though as the boys were all so comfortable and enjoying the film, laughing so much their stomachs were hurting!

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As always the girls were a lot more organised and balanced the iPad on a chair that they could all sit around to see. Their reactions to the film was much different to the boys and they loved the cute baby penguins and love story going on, some tears were even shed at the emotional scenes! Next time we return to Our Home we will come equipped with more movies for them, we really enjoy giving them some new experiences, and when it’s 40 degrees outside with no water, there’s not much else for them to do!

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The hot topic for this week was the upcoming “Tour” to Kannur Beach. We decided to take the kids on a day trip to the beach and hired a big tourist bus for the 7th April. Leading up to the day they couldn’t stop planning, from what they were going to wear, what time they were waking up and who they were going to sit next to on the bus. When it finally came around the day itself was incredible, we made the most beautiful memories and being many of the kids’ first time to the beach it was also really emotional.

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The next big day, 10th April, soon approached which was when the children were getting their exam results and I think we were more anxious than them! We woke up early that morning and went down to the school and were greeted with The BEST news ever. The longs days teaching and evenings spent on one to one homework classes have paid off as every single child at Our Home Community passed their exams and are moving up to their next year studying. Previously children have been held back one if not two years for not passing their exams. Surya was particularly overjoyed having been one of the children held back, he has now finished with the highest marks in his class! The smiles say it all and we’re so proud of all of the girls and boys for working so hard with us.

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This week Our Home had a group of German volunteers visiting and unfortunately this meant we had to vacate our little bedroom so they could all stay together. However, this did mean that we could stay in a local hotel only a short walk away from Our Home and to be honest the AC and warm water was a welcome change! We also used the opportunity to give the boys and girls some little day trips and took a few of them each day during our stay to explore the hotel grounds, order some french fries, fresh juice and relax in a different environment for a few hours.

As our time at Our Home is coming to an end we’re making the most of every single second with the children. Its been another two weeks that have flown passed, filled with emotion, joy, day trips and certainly one of the best school summer holidays for us too!

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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.

Happy HOLIdays

The last two weeks have been as jam packed as the others, however the school holidays have now started and we are all enjoying some time to relax, especially as the temperature is rising by the day!

IMG_0384Last weekend we had the opportunity to experience something new and very unique. There was a local movie premiere being held in the town close us, Kalpetta. Chacko and Avi, who run the Our Home, are good friends with one of the main actors so he very kindly donated tickets to all of the children. ‘Take Off’ was a Malayalam film but we were able to understand the storyline with a little help from the older boys. It was far from your typical Bollywood movie and instead focussed on real life ISIS events when a group of Indian nurses working in Iraq were stranded in the war torn city of Mosure. It was a very touching storyline that we thoroughly enjoyed, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does well as it’s being shown exclusively in Kerala at the moment but it has the potential to go big in India! Our first ever movie premiere was brilliant and we even got to meet some of the actors. A memory both us and the children will never forget.

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The onsite school has closed for summer now and the children all had mixed emotions. Some are excited but others are sad at the thought of not seeing their friends for two months. The last day at school was a busy one, the Science Exhibition was held as it had been postponed from its earlier date. They were all so enthusiastic to show us their inventions and we couldn’t believe some of the masterpieces the kids from local villages had created. Our favourites included real electric fans made from cardboard, batteries and tiny motors and clay volcanos complete with lava and dinosaur models! There were also awards to be given out from the sports and art days held earlier in the year and we were delighted to be asked to present these to the kids. It was a great atmosphere as all of the winners collected their medals and trophies.

We missed Holi Festival due to the exams so to celebrate the end of the school year we bought some powder paints to play with on the first day of the summer holidays. It was just as we expected having seen many photos of Holi Festival and the amount of colour was overwhelming. We ran about chasing each other with the paint for a good couple of hours and it was so fun! It was a really good activity to get both the girls and boys involved in and we were like big kids too. We got some incredible photos of the children playing and this day is such a special memory that will stay with us forever.

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Throughout India there is still a huge amount of work to be done before women will be considered equal to men. Having worked with the Asian Circle we want to do everything we can to work towards equality for women and girls of this country. An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and it’s shocking statistics like this that need to change. At Our Home the girls are treated exactly the same as the boys and they all receive the same education, Chacko and Avi are such an inspiration in the work they do with these children and we wanted to enhance that. We spent a day with the girls simply chatting about how important their education is, what they wanted to do when they grew up and motivating them that if they put their mind to it they can achieve anything their heart desires!

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Our meal this week meant an early start as we decided to change it up a bit and cook breakfast. We opted for omelette with plenty of chilli and onion served with bread bread, sweetened of course as we can’t find regular bread anywhere. This dish was an improvement on our attempt at sweet chilli noodles, and the children loved the taste … as did we!

All in all it’s been two weeks filled with a good meal, lots of laughter, celebrations and our first Indian movie premiere! There’s always something unexpected in store and that’s what we love about India.

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A weekend in Kochi

Kochi is a welcome break for most travellers in India with its European feel and abundance of restaurants to choose from, it’s definitely more that just “that place with the Chinese fishing nets”.

Where to stay:

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This was our second time visiting Kochi but unfortunately could not return to the excellent Bastian Homestay as it was fully booked. Instead, we stayed at Maison Casero homestay which was just as brilliant and if anything better. The one thing we craved most was a western breakfast so being awoken to tea, toast and eggs made to measure immediately out a smile on our face!

The rooms were very clean, had the option of AC, offered free wifi and a hot shower. You can’t really ask for more than that for £16 a night!

What to do:

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The beach is not so great and really rather dirty but you should definitely head down to Fort Kochi to see the Chinese fishing nets in action. We recommend avoiding the heat of the day and head down at sunset to enjoy the view of the sun descending into the Arabian Sea whilst the locals are bringing in their catch of the day.

Santa Cruz Basilica Church is one of Kochi’s most famous landmarks and although nice to see especially at night when it is all lit up, it wouldn’t be our top reason for going to visit however, there is something else close by that is a must see…

Kathakali is one of the main forms of classical Indian dance. A story portrayed through art, we watched a rather large man turn the whites of his eyes blood red before depicting a story of rape and death. Not the most uplifting of tales but certainly one you’ll never forget. It’s a very strange experience, but one not to be missed!

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On the bright side, if you’re after a bit of western life then Lulu Mall is the place to be. Take the airport bus from Fort Kochi directly to the mall and you get to ride through this quaint town in the comfort of air conditioning without forking out for a private car. The mall itself offers an array of shops to explore, a great cinema with English and Indian movies and best of all it’s very own answer to Nando’s; Galitos! We also experienced the best milkshake we have ever had in Bloomsbury’s cafe, which was reason enough for us to return to the mall during our second visit!

Where to eat:

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There are an abundance of great restaurants to eat in Fort Kochi. On our previous visit we headed down to The Old Harbour and despite being a bit pricey, they serve one hell of a steak! For a cheaper but equally exceptional meal take a stroll from the fishing nets to The Killians Hotel. If you’re in a pair or more we highly recommend getting one of the seafood platters, Kochi offers some of the best seafood in India and this place might just be the pick of the bunch. Despite many recommendations online, we would advice you avoid eating at the many stalls lining the beach as we found they’re often over priced and take an age to prepare your meal!

Finally, the Upstairs Italian Restaurant was like a mirage in the sun when we first visited Kochi and it was just as fantastic this time around. Seated with an open window view of Santa Basilica Church, this might be the only place in India that serves real prosciutto Ham!

So there you have it; where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Kochi. Just remember you won’t be able to claim your free whole chicken on your Nando’s card in Galito’s… it’s still india after all!

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Returning to Our Home

We’ve been at Our Home Community for two weeks now and thought it would be a good idea to write regular posts (if our limited internet allows us to) on what our life is like living and volunteering in India.

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Our Home is located in Wayanad, a very small village high in the mountains of Kerala. It’s full of natural beauty and we wake up everyday to a gorgeous view as well as going on some amazing walks after school. However, being located in such natural surroundings also has a negative… The first few nights in our hut were terrifying and we even contemplated if we could stay. As well as spotting a two metre long snake just outside our door, we heard constant noises throughout the night which were some of the loudest, strangest and scariest sounds we have ever heard! At one point H was literally crying and sweating with fear insisting K did not move a single muscle, so scared a lion was about to burst through the door! This happened for the first three nights. We think it may have been monkeys, but maybe we are thinking positively and are now slowly getting used to the noises.

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Adding to our animal encounters, but this time not so scary and instead incredible, we experienced something amazing on Day 10. Coming back from an evening in town, we spotted a wild baby elephant! Words cannot describe how beautiful it was to see this little one exactly where it should be and roaming free. We didn’t stay near for too long as we were sure mummy elephant was close by keeping an eye out!

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Our room is very basic but most importantly it’s clean and has a flush toilet which is always a bonus! Trying to shave without a mirror does not go down well so we made it more homely with some basic furnishings including; little plastic stools to use as bedside tables, washing baskets for our clothes, a kettle and a mirror!

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We’re not getting used to the 38 degrees heat yet and as it’s the start of summer it will only get hotter. Our Home is encountering a drought which could be very serious as the children drink this water. We go through periods of the day without water, which for us means no showers and no flushing. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for some rainfall very soon.

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Our days are spent teaching at the onsite school, going for long walks, assisting with homework and playing games and sports. We’re also teaching them the importance of hygiene and have started with brushing their teeth. Having given them all toothpastes and brushes, every night night after dinner we all brush our teeth together which is the cutest thing, they all look at us with their big eyes for approval asking if they’re doing it right! They’re thoroughly enjoying keeping their teeth clean which is such a joy to see.

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Something else we assist with is the cooking. We aim to cook  once a week to give the children a new experience of different food whilst making it as nutritious as possible. Our first cooking session was an experience to say the least! At the local markets we bought ingredients to make fish, mashed potatoes and salad, a completely new dish and such a change from their usual rice and dhal, we wasn’t sure if they’d even like it! Four hours later and for nearly 60 people we finally finished cooking, so hot, sweaty and stinky, but the result was beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. It was so emotional seeing the children enjoy such a nutritious and healthy meal so much that they went up for seconds. They couldn’t stop smiling and saying how ‘super’ it was. We couldn’t have been happier that the children went to sleep with full tummies.

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All in all we are settling in really well, it’s not easy and is taking a lot of adjusting but being with these children makes it so worthwhile. They really are the kindest, most thoughtful and caring kids we have ever met and every day we get to spend with them is so precious. Thank you so much to each and every person that donated to Our Home, you’ve truly made a real difference in their little lives. ❤