Our Home Community

We’re about to embark on our 4th visit to Our Home after spending a wonderful few months there earlier in the year. Those of you that know us will know just how passionate we are about the children and we’re planning to return on Boxing Day to deliver them Christmas presents and see in the New Year together, the excitement is real!

Whilst living at Our Home for the first part of 2017 we blogged about our unforgettable journey – you can read about our incredible experiences below:

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Where can we start with Our Home Community? There is so much to say about this incredible place that we really are stuck for words. Firstly, Chacko, Avi and all of the volunteers that make this place a home are now our family. There is something so magical about Our Home, and straight away we had a completely different feeling about being here in comparison to our other volunteering activities. Not that we haven’t loved and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them, but from the moment we stepped foot here, we felt this was where we belonged.

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During our three months in India during 2015 we actually visited Our Home twice, we originally found them when searching online to volunteer in India and came across their website. Being completely honest we were both a bit sceptical about volunteering in an orphanage in India, as we have heard horror stories about what goes on in some of them… Truly heart-breaking. So before arriving we both agreed that we would only stay for a couple of days at first, just to suss it out. From the moment we arrived we were, to our relief, completely put at ease. Chacko, who runs Our Home along with his wife Avi, is the most down to earth, forward thinking, beautifully souled, Indian man we came across throughout the whole of our travels. He instantly made us feel so welcome, and once we had met him we were so excited to get stuck in and help.

Our first introduction with the children was in the evening, so we couldn’t really see the land where they are based. We did however, get to visit the girl’s and boy’s homes, which are both fantastic and a lot more developed than we expected them to be. Clean, good toilets and beds for everyone. Yes, it was VERY basic, but these children were being provided with a roof over their head, and the facilities to sleep and live comfortably, unlike so many in India. After exploring the bedrooms, we went to the dining hall to be greeted with a completely fresh, delicious, healthy supper. It was amazing and we must admit, the food we had here was some of the best we have had in India. With what little ingredients they have and can afford, the women in the kitchen cook up some real tasty stuff! We met the children who range from two years to twenty-two years. The older ones do a variety of different things, some are studying, some help with the day to day duties and others no longer live there and have jobs in other towns in India which helps to support Our Home. The first thing we noticed about all of the children was how polite, well-educated and talented they all truly are. Their fantastic skills range from extraordinary artists, chess players, football players, readers, and their passion to study and do well is mind blowing. If they are given the right opportunity, we have no doubt that every single one of those children can make a good life for themselves, despite the awful start to their lives.

The children have lost their parents and been through traumatic life events very early on, witnessing things no child should have to. Some of them have life threatening illnesses including HIV, and if it wasn’t for Chacko and Avi, these kids would be on the streets with nothing.

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The next day we got to see the land that Our Home is on, and it is nothing short of beautiful. They have space to study, play, exercise, eat… whatever they need to do! They are in the middle of a beautiful little town, Vypaddi, which is not far from Kalpetta. Palm trees and mountain views, to us this was stunning; to them it was just their home.

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On site of Our Home they have a small school called the Good Shepherd Public School. It is for ages ranged from two to fourteen years, after that if the children are going onto further education they take a school bus to where they are studying.  The teachers at the Good Shepherd school do a superb job educating the children, who come from surrounding villages, and the funds received go towards the running of Our Home, it is a wonderful concept.

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Over the next couple of weeks we spent our time getting to know all of the children. We became completely relaxed and really felt like we were spending time with family.  We taught English classes, played football, helped with homework, went on walks, visited the local rivers, played games, and genuinely enjoyed every single minute we spent with the children. We grew to love each and every one of them, and as time went on we learnt about how they came to Our Home, it just made us feel so much more passionate about the incredible work Chacko and Avi are doing. The thing that made this place magical was that despite what these kids had gone through; they were all happy, smiling, and safe. The most important thing a child should feel is love and safety, and they have this here. We also became particularly close with a blind volunteer who lived and worked there, Reddy. He himself has had a hard life, and is the gentlest, kindest soul. We quickly learnt how intelligent he was and loved listening to his stories and teaching methods, it was a real joy spending time with Reddy, and we have made a friend for life in him.

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During our time with them we got to know their daily routines and how they dealt with day to day life, and once again it really, truly reiterated to us how lucky we are in the UK and what we take for granted. The boys washed their clothes in a dirty river; they all shared a bar of soap between them. They barely had any personal possessions, very few items of clothing and bits and pieces to their little names. No bed sheets or covers… All of the little luxuries we have here, we just felt we wanted to give to them. Simple things kids enjoy like watching films on a sofa with a hot chocolate on a Saturday night? Do these kids even know that Disneyland exists? No of course they don’t, and perhaps that’s why we loved them so much, they were so happy with the simple things in life, they didn’t moan about having to wash their clothes in the river, they took at is an opportunity to have fun!

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The time quickly passed and before we knew it we had to leave for Mumbai. It was the hardest goodbye we have both ever had to do, leaving these children we had both grown to love like our own family. Being completely honest it was harder than leaving our own families in London to travel the world, because we didn’t know if and when we would get to see these children again.

Over our next few weeks travelling around India we could not get Chacko, Avi and everyone from Our Home out of our heads. We eventually came to the decision that we just HAD to return. There was no other option. At this point we were in Shimla… North India, so we had to fly back to Kerala to make this happen. We wanted to spend our last week of our fantastic year with our family, at Our Home.

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Having told our friends and family in England this was what we wanted to do, before we knew it we were fundraising money so that we could surprise the children and give them an early Christmas treat! We didn’t tell them we were returning, and over a couple of weeks we made each of the 43 children of our home a packaged present and card, containing all sorts! From toys, card games, footballs, clothes, shoes, drawing materials, make up, jewellery and more, we put our heart and souls into giving these children a Christmas they deserved. As soon as we arrived back at Our Home, we instantly knew we had made the right decision. Seeing their faces when we turned up was absolutely priceless. They were SO happy to see us and the feeling was more than mutual.

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We told them we had a surprise for them after school, and with that they were beside themselves all day with excitement. Finally 3:30 came and we were able to give them all their presents. This was probably the most memorable moment of our lives. Watching them all open their cards and read them so intently, and the delight with the gifts they had been given. It was the best Christmas present we could have ever asked for in seeing them so happy. We were so content being reunited with the children, Chacko, Avi and Reddy we felt as though we would never want to leave.

The week flew by and we couldn’t think of a more amazing time to end our 2015 than with our new family. We’ve made a promise to the children and ourselves that we will visit them as much as we can, and do what we can to fundraise and financially support Our Home. These children are beyond incredible and deserve a real chance at life and we want to make that happen. If you’d like to be actively involved in making a difference you can visit their website here or for more information email us directly at khtravels15@outlook.com.

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Classic backpacking errors

We’ve all been a rookie traveller at some point in our lives. Whether it’s trying to get the best deal on your upcoming snorkelling trip or mistaking that your flight is in 1 hour instead of 12 …. We had a few nightmare moments on our first big adventure backpacking and whilst we can look back and laugh now, it wasn’t so funny at the time! Hopefully giving you the heads up will mean you don’t make the same mistakes we did!

  1. That guy at the station 🚂

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Travelling abroad, especially in Asia, can cost you peanuts compared to the overpriced tickets to sit on the delayed, overcrowded central line. However, as with most things when out of your comfort zone, it’s not simple.

You get to the train station and there is a ‘line’ longer than when queuing for your favourite ride at Alton Towers. No one speaks any English and you begin wondering why you ever left the tried and trusted underground.

Out of nowhere, a smiling face approaches you and offers you assistance in accented English. You feel you have found your saviour as he directs you to the “foreign tourist office” just outside the station.

Never be fooled by the tourist desk outside the station, it does not exist and is only a sure way of paying a premium to reach your desired destination or never reaching it at all!

Top tip: Always lookout for the English sign posts. There is quite often is a designated tourist ticket office within the station but will never be outside the station’s grounds.

  1. Don’t assume 💭🚫

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When you’re away from home you can’t help but compare how things are back where you’re from. Whether it’s the mannerisms of the people you meet or simply the colour of the road signs but everything isn’t always as it first seems. As they say; don’t judge a book by its cover.

On H’s first trip to India she was surprised to see so many of the men holding hands along the street. H said she never realised there was such a large gay community in India… she quickly discovered they weren’t gay and that’s just how things are in India! Men often link hands or cuddle each other along the street with friends and family.

When you’re in a new country and they do things a bit differently, it’s always good to wait for a second glance before assuming!

  1. Mixing currencies at the airport 💵💴💶

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Ever mixed up your pound coin for a euro when at home? Tried getting rid of it by unlocking a shopping trolley or hoping the shopkeeper doesn’t spot it? We went one further when trying to get shot of our final few Filipino coins … at a Thailand airport! It was all for a good cause though, we scraped together enough change to get one last Krispy Kreme just before our flight!

Using a mixture of pesos and Baht we managed to scrounge together enough money across two different countries in an international airport. Unfortunately after we had finished the doughnut our tactic was discovered and we were sought out by the Krispy Kreme crew…  luckily we apologised and got away with paying for the doughnuts by card (probably should have done this in the first place!) lesson learnt here? Don’t get tight in an airport!

  1. Mistaking times for tickets 🎟

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It’s midnight and we’ve had one too many Bintangs on our last night in Bali. We decided to treat ourselves with a bit of luxury on our final night with a nice hotel. We’re safe in the knowledge that we have a bit of a lay in tomorrow as our flight isn’t until 13:00 tomorrow… 1.00pm … 1.00 …. 01.00 … 1am!!!

This wasn’t the first or the last time we almost missed our flight and if there is anywhere you don’t want to be overstaying your visa it’s Bali. Our top tip for any and all travelers would be to double, triple and quadruple check your flight times, no matter how organised you think you are, it’s a very easy mistake to make!

  1. Researching the country you’re in 📝

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When you’re visiting a new country you’re likely to have done some research especially if it’s a one off holiday. After a few months of backpacking and making a new home every few nights the easy mistake to make is feeling too comfortable with your surroundings.

When we first arrived in the Philippines we did a bit of research on Google images and thought we knew it all and that the whole of the Philippines was going to be a mixture of Palawan and Manila!

Unfortunately for us things took a turn for the worst almost immediately. When leaving the airport we jumped in a cab and directed the driver to San Jose, he responded by asking why we were going there? This wasn’t curiosity in his tone this was confusion and when we arrived we knew why! It was a very intimidating environment with nothing of relevance anywhere near us. We soon moved on but this wasn’t the end of our naivety.

When on the outskirts in Manila we knew that this was one of Australasia’s largest cities. We could see the skyscrapers far into the distance so we again hailed a cab but this time we felt sure we knew where we were going. To the city we said! The driver gave us that same confused look and asked where exactly we wanted to go.

We literally responded by pointing to the skyscrapers asking to be taken to the city centre – not even knowing the district we needed to get to was Makati! We got in the cab and 45 minutes later were dropped off at a mall. Not quite what we wanted but looking back what did we expect was going to happen? Always research your dream adventure before it turns into a nightmarish reality!

6) Wet washing – not a good look … or smell! 👕👖

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Being a backpacker, having your clothes washed is probably one of the most important yet annoying things to do as it takes a bit of planning! In most countries we’ve come across our hostel / hotel could arrange a laundry service for you, which we strongly advise you to use! Washing in the bathroom sink and hanging your underwear all around the room is pure agg! However, a word of warning is you’re likely to need 2 / 3 days before your washing is returned, so don’t leave yourself too short on clothes and give yourselves plenty of time!

We once had to catch a bus before our washing was ready and asked them to return it as it wa… half finished. That resulted in a screwed up damp pile of clothes in a carrier bag which we couldn’t pack and took AGES to finally dry. When they did they had to be rewashed because they stunk!

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We could go on and on about more of the silly mistakes we’ve made whilst travelling, it’s always going to happen! We just hope pointing out a few of the more obvious ones may help you out even a little bit when you’re visiting a new country for the first time!

 

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!

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.

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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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.

A day at the beach

07/04/17 was an incredibly magical day for us and a memory that will last forever. Whilst staying at Our Home we decided that we wanted to do a day trip with the children during their summer holidays and agreed that going to the beach was the best idea.

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We hired a tourist coach to take all of the children from Our Home to Kannur beach, about four hours away. For some of them it was their first time taking a road trip and had never before seen the sand and sea. The week leading up to the trip was full of anticipation as the kids couldn’t talk about anything else. All sorts of rumours started flying around and the girls came to us one day with worried expressions on their little faces telling us that the boys said if they swam in the sea their hair would fall out. We couldn’t help but laugh!

The day before quickly came around and the excitement was indescribable! In the evening the children packed their bags, brushed their teeth and were ready for bed nice and early, although we doubt they got much sleep! The journey started at 4:30am and we were hoping to get a few more zzz’s on the coach but there was no chance of that. As soon as we’d boarded the music was on, the disco lights were flashing and the kids were going crazy! It was amazing to see how much energy they had and how happy they were at the start of the day.

45 minutes later the partying slowed down and the travel sickness begun… when we first got on the bus the older boys handed out plastic bags. We thought this was for rubbish and considering we’re in India this was a delight to see. Very quickly we had nine children throwing up and we soon realised that this is what the bags were for. The remaining three hours were filled with a mixture of dancing, sickness and sleeping.

When we pulled up their faces were a picture and as we had hoped Kannur happened to be a beautiful and clean beach. All of a sudden it was rush rush rush, all systems go and they were all pushing to get off the bus they loved so much and never wanted to leave just minutes before. They played literally ALL day on the beach. Building sandcastles, burying each other, playing football, chasing each other and swimming. It was so emotional and overwhelming. Some of the little ones were afraid of the sea to start with but by the end of the day they didn’t want to leave and most of the boys were confident to give swimming under the waves a good go. For lunch we ate fried fish and rice and we’ve never seen them eat so fast so they could dive right back into the waters.

We left the beach by sunset to begin partying on the bus again but this time it was H who had the travel sickness. We were stuck in traffic and the journey took nearly seven hours but by midnight when we arrived home the children were all sleeping soundly with sand in their hair and smiles on their faces. A day we will cherish forever.

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. ❤

We’ve got 99 problems but travelling isn’t one!