Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. We're back in Bangkok and the gang's all here, except for Marie, who has continued her travels in southern Thailand and is now a bad ass scuba-diver. They have survived Independent Travel Time as they wandered around the islands and mountains, bargained for transit, and explored street food of their own volition! Our mighty crew also discovered how kick ass they are and that NOBODY has travelled Cambodia like them. The past six weeks flew by! It's shocking how quickly the weeks pass, while simultaneously feeling like we've been traveling together forever. Time runs at a different pace for the traveller. Now, sadly, it's time to part ways.

Written by Sidney Jhingran and Jessica Young, 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation Program Leaders. After an exciting week of exploring new destinations on Independent Travel Time, the group reconvened in Bangkok before disorientation. Everyone shared stories from ITT, some went shopping on Khao San Road, and others sought out the creature comforts of a nicer hotel - but everyone as a whole hit the sack pretty early to get a good night of rest. Bright and early the next morning, we all piled into a minivan for the short drive down to Amphawa – a quaint canal-side town famous for its trendy weekend floating market. Once there, everyone had the chance to get comfy in our cabin by the canal where we were all sleeping together on the floor slumber party style! After sharing an amazing seafood lunch together, everyone grabbed a quick snooze before catching a ride on a canal boat to the weekend floating market. There was much shopping to be done, seafood and snacks to be bought, and other interesting sights to see in the busy market. Once night fell, we got back into our boat to weave our way back through the canal and see nature’s very own display of fire flies in the trees along the banks.

Written by Ana Sani, 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation. It is currently 9:15 pm, the night before our Independent Travel Time. We are all very excited to go off to Siem Reap, the beach, and Vietnam, just to name a few of the destinations decided by various group members. Our latest volunteer project was based around an elephant sanctuary called the Elephant Valley Project (EVP). EVP is a non-profit organization that started about 10 years ago. There are currently nine elephants living in the sanctuary’s forest space. Some are living there permanently while others are on loan from their owners or taking a well-deserved vacation.

Written by Jessica Insogna, 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320"]bear selfie Bear Selfie![/caption] Our OG crew was lucky enough to visit the local Cambodian NGO Free the Bears. During our visit in Phnom Penh, we boarded our pick-up vehicle and travelled an hour towards the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, a reserve housing an array of endangered species as well as the Free the Bears headquarters. We learned about the two major bears inhabiting Cambodia whose lives are being threatened. The Moon Bears and Sun Bears are endangered due to excess hunting, illegal trade, deforestation, and human consumption. The organization works to save these bears before being traded or eaten - in some cases rescuing them with wounds or even limbs missing. We had the opportunity to visit the bears, learn their backstories, and ensure their nutrition by filling large balls with mixed fruits and veggies. The balls allowed them to work for their food, as the food could only be retrieved through a small hole. Why did they need to work for their meals? It's the reserve's way of making the bears feel as though they were in the wild, instead of giving them the sense of domestication. In this same vein, we hid food in their enclosures (while they were away!) so that the bears could practice foraging. Most group members found this to be the best part of our day. If the bears could speak, I’d say that they would agree - The moment they were released into the enclosures to find the food, they didn’t hesitate at all!  They ran in, looking under, and climbing over everything!

Written by Suthen Sivanesarajah, 2014 East Africa: Youth in Action.  I chose to join the Youth in Action program in East Africa in part to understand the impact and challenges of micro-finance in sub-Saharan Africa. For the uninitiated, Micro-finance is an alternative way of providing financial...

Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders.  It’s pouring rain, the bus was 2 hours late, our beds are wet and the kids are LOVING IT!!!! Monsoon season is in full swing here in Cambodia! Don’t worry! We are prepared. Dancing in the rain, laundry in the rain, hair washing in the rain, soccer in the rain, long-romantic walks in the rain, we’ve been ready for the rain from the beginning! Now, we are at the beach breaking and singing with Tiny Toones… in the rain! Although, the sun did come out to play on our last afternoon!
Tiny Toones is ranked one of the top 7 NGOs in Cambodia. Working with marginalized inner-city street youth in Phnom Penh, the organization is getting kids off the street and back into the classroom. Their teachers and staff are former street kids who are passionate about hip-hop, breaking, music, and education. These kids are drawn in by their passion and are the next generation who will take on the torch at Tiny Toones. Their teachers selected the kids who would go on the retreat with us based on their showing of potential, respect, dedication, intelligence, and leadership. Our gang of 11 OGers is now kicking it with 13 Tiny Toones kids ranging from as young as nine years old to about seventeen, many of whom have never been to the ocean before, including one of our own!
Operation Groundswell and Tiny Toones
We spent a few days in the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, before heading to the beach. During the day, the city is hot, dusty, and busy, but at night the charm of Cambodia takes over as the palaces and temples light up and everyone heads out into the parks to enjoy the break in heat. We visited the Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison, understanding more completely the tragic history of genocide the country experienced such a short time ago. A visit to the Tiny Toones center lifted our spirit as we took part in a dance class and were met with boundless energy! A dance party and BBQ with some of the TT staff, prior to their trip to Australia and Singapore for hip-hop workshops, left everyone in the group on a high and eager to learn some more moves and plan a killer retreat for the next generation.

Written by Sarindi Aryasinghe and Kali Burnell, 2014 West Africa: Global Health Program Leaders. During our stay in Accra, we were staying with Mama Tina and her family by Danquah Circle, Osu. Everyone was more than happy about the running shower, the close Internet cafés, and the busy local vibe. Our adventure started with a visit to Korle Bu, the largest teaching hospital in West Africa. It was a life-changing visit as we witnessed the lack of supplies and the number of emergencies.
Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
After our tour, we attended a meeting with the National AIDS Control Program, where we learned about all the preventative measures being taken as well as in-country progress. Our night ended with a food hunt, where we tried for the first time some of the local dishes: fufu, banku, rice balls, and waakye. We ate traditionally around a table and ate with our right hands.

Written by Sarindi Aryasinghe and Kali Burnell, 2014 West Africa: Global Health Program Leaders. We spent our first few days in Ghana in a small village in the Volta Region called Wli. It was at this endearing and welcoming place where we opened ourselves to each other as we were experiencing similar physical and mental challenges. Some of us played competitive sports, trained daily, and were extremely fit, while some of us haven't jogged in years. Regardless, we all hiked up the tallest waterfall in West Africa together and through the sweat, pain, and bug bites, we encouraged each other and supported one another from start to end. By the end of the hike, we were no longer a group of strangers, but 13 girls who had each others' backs.

Written by Ben Presley, 2014 East Africa: Discovery. Our vehicles were running on African time today so there was no way we were going to be on time for the wedding. We didn’t mind passing the time waiting for a way to reach the wedding though. We used it to get all dolled up in our traditional Ugandan wedding dress and to take as many pictures as possible. The girls needed some help from Mama to get into their dresses but us boys had no trouble fitting into ours and strutting our stuff right away. Ready for a Ugandan Wedding

Photo by RWEYOWA.

The Team in Wedding Attire

Photo by Linda Ozromano.

We all got to the wedding in separate cars after getting lost a few times along the way. I learned shortly upon arriving that I was to be the best man and we were all an important part of the groom’s side for the ceremony. It wasn’t so much a wedding, more like a formal engagement in which the bride’s side puts on a celebratory show. There were dancers, percussionists, a Ugandan soldier, Buganda warriors, and two hired men to bicker and transition the celebration from one event to another. We were also involved in the ceremony, we ended up carrying all the gifts that the bride’s side had prepared for the evening. The girls brought baskets by balancing them on their heads and the boys carried an entire cow! It was so cool and interesting being thrown in the middle of something so different and new for us.