Written by Julia Girmenia, 2014 Peru: Amazon Adventure. After a 30-hour bus ride, an amazing boat ride, and an awesome overnight experience in a small village, we arrived in Iquitos. If you didn't know, it is a port town in the Amazon and is the largest city not accessible by road. Pretty cool stuff. To settle into our home for the next three weeks, our beautiful program leaders, Lynn and Mikel, sent us on a Holy Pokeballs scavenger hunt around Iquitos!  The Amazon Adventure family was broken up into teams and this meant war. At this point we had only spent one day in Iquitos and learned how to get around by motortaxi (incredible things, but that's a whole other post). The fear of wandering around this large unfamiliar city was a little scary, considering I was stuck with two other brothers who spoke as much Spanish as me. I can only say, “hello, my name is” so you can understand where I'm coming from. But let's begin, we gotta catch 'em all!

Written by Ruben Jacova, 2014 Peru: Amazon Adventure. Twenty days in and the group is currently working on a library at an elementary school in a district of Iquitos called Pampachica. We arrived in Iquitos after a thirty hour bus ride to Tarapotas, then a three hour bus ride to Yurimaguas, followed by a one and a half day boat ride to a village that was a three hour drive from Iquitos. Initially, the one and a half day boat ride was supposed to be a three day ferry ride, but after a long wait on the ferry, a group of four thousand chickens managed to wrestle our spot on the ferry from us. To add to the chickens’ victory, they were also provided with a TV for entertainment during their ferry ride. For those of you readers who are very confused at this point, that is totally understandable – that is exactly how we felt. So the alternative plan was the one and a half day motorboat ride, sacrificing the comforts that the ferry would provide us. On the bright side, this meant we also got one extra day in Iquitos which we used to go to an animal reserve. All this travel may sound exhausting, but it was loads of fun since the scenery was beautiful, and our group had a fun time goofing around when we got bored. [caption id="attachment_13615" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Still in good spirits despite our change of plans! Photo by Julia Girmenia. Still in good spirits despite our change of plans! Photo by Julia Girmenia.[/caption] Our first day of construction was the day after we arrived. We had to get to the elementary school bright and early by 6am, and we began work with many of the residents of Pampachica to kick things off. Our job that day was shoveling a giant mountain of mud (perhaps more feces than mud, frankly) that served as the foundation for the library to come. It wasn’t glamorous work by any means, but it was necessary. And we all accepted that, and put our backs into it. The charming little students of the school added to our motivation as their faces acted as a reminder as to why we were shoveling this mountain of dirt.

Written by Amanda Martin, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. We are on the road again! Headed eastward on Highway 5, we are all wishing the air-con was a little stronger, but are grateful our long legs fit into the seats this time. The honking bus is rolling through the flat and green countryside. Dotted with white cows and women planting the vibrant green rice fields, stilt houses with swinging hammocks and the occasional vibrant yellow roof of a temple catches our attention on one side, while to the left the Tonlé Sap Lake is creeping up higher and higher as the monsoon rains begin to fall. Next stop Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city! We just spent the last eight days in the province of Battambang, known as the rice bowl of Cambodia. Only recently has it begun to generate the attention of the more adventurous traveller who is looking to get off the main track of Bangkok to Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Despite being Cambodia’s second largest city, it has a very mellow and relaxed flow. Strolling down the riverside, one is bound to encounter a karate class or two, a couple of dance classes or aerobics routines in the park. The side of the street is lined with food carts selling bottles of Fanta and Coke, sugar cane juice, steamed corn, and fried noodles. Mount Phnom Sampeau is only a few kilometers outside of the city and a must see. It offers a spectacular view of the surrounding rice fields and a harem of monkeys eager to take some bananas off your hands. The sacred mountain is also well-known on account of being a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, during the country’s civil war. The Killing Caves, where the Khmer Rouge murdered hundreds of people, is a somber reminder of the recent and tragic history of Cambodia. As the Khmer Rouge continued to fight for Cambodia, they were pushed further and further north-west, until they were overthrown by the Vietnamese Army and Cambodian dissidents in 1979. Cambodia was largely isolated from the international community until 1991 and the prolonged conflict has left Cambodia as one of the poorest and least developed nations in Southeast Asia. The north-west region of Cambodia was very heavily land-mined by the Cambodians, the Thais and the Vietnamese; it continues to be one of the most heavily land-mined regions in the world. Many Cambodians’ who fled during the war to refugee camps in Thailand returned to this region of Cambodia. It had the highest rate of returnees. These displaced peoples were returning to a home turned upside down by war. Although the war ended over 30 years ago, many of the scars run deep in the psyche of Cambodians. Teuk Poh Permaculture Education FarmOckenden, our next major partner in Cambodia, focused their efforts here. From 1997-2007, the organization has helped over 23,537 beneficiary families rebuild their lives after the traumatic experience and has become a well trusted organization within the Cambodian community. The organization has been Cambodian-run since 2007 and operates through a network of community-based organizations (CBO). Teuk Poh Permaculture Education Farm is one of those CBOs. They work on reeducating the farmers about sustainable farming practices, promoting methods for combatting drought and flood, protecting the community forests from illegal logging, and creating awareness amongst the next generation. We had the privilege of spending several days working alongside this dedicated group of individuals. Much like camping, we spent several nights in our mosquito net tents under a giant grass roof hut. The bucket showers, a little on the short side for a few in the group, were constructed next to the banana trees for shade and opened up to the sky. The excess water from washing dishes and our showers all made its way to the grey water systems dug out around the farm. The two outhouses were connected to the bio-gas system, so we were able to contribute to the hard work of the cows that create the propane needed to cook our dinner. Nothing went to waste here!

Written by Vanessa Rotondo, 2014 East Africa: Discovery. The philanthropist seeks to promote human welfare, to ease suffering, and alleviate the burdens that often find shelter in the human heart. Compassion acts as the footing to all which is built upon it and love is the structure that forever sustains it. On our way to Namasuba, structure it seemed, was nowhere to be found. Between time scheduling, transportation arrangements, and makeshift roads, it was safe to say that we got off to a rough and bumpy start. Nonetheless it was time to put the pedal to the metal, to hit the pavement, and to get our first project off of the ground. [caption id="attachment_13559" align="aligncenter" width="557"]Getting posters ready for community mobilization. Photo by Linda Ozromano.[/caption] After settling in to our quarters we were welcomed by our second of four partners, Rescuing Widows Elderly Orphans and Youth with AIDS (RWEOYWA). We were given the run-down of their efforts by Tony and Kasamba, two highly passionate locals, spearheading HIV/AIDS education and awareness within the community. Under their guidance we created over 400 posters in preparation for our community mobilization efforts. We walked the streets in one giant OG team, hammering nails into trees, brick walls, and any other surface that would support our words: OKUKEBELA OMUSAYI KWABWERERE OGWA SILIMU, KABOTONGO, CANDIDA, NENDELA ZONNA OZOBUKUBA JENGU OYAMBIBWE KU NKOLA ZONNA EZA FAMILY PLANNING *Translation? Free HIV/AIDS testing and other sexual transmitted diseases, family planning and counselling [caption id="attachment_13556" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Michaela and Vanessa. Michaela and Vanessa. Photo by Linda Ozromano.[/caption]

Written by Lauren Hauszner, 2014 West Africa Grassroots Education. Living in Canada I often hear stories of slums in faraway places, stricken by poverty or affected by war. In my mind, I have created a perception of what these places look like. Starving children with bloated tummies, surrounding their pregnant mothers wrapped in brightly colored pieces of cloth. Men with guns or weapons ready to fight at any given moment. The elderly mixed in the crowd sitting around just waiting for the day to pass; waiting until they are moved back to their homes. A sense of hopelessness is painted on the faces of everyone. This is what penetrates my mind based off of what I know from home. However, visiting a community classified as a slum was a much different experience for me. On a wet and muddy day, our Grassroots Education team went to visit Old Fadama. This is the largest slum in Ghana and is home to around 80,000 people; 61,000 of which are children. Before entering the slum I had this vision in my mind of what it will be like, but not long after arriving, a much more exciting and colorful picture has replaced my own vision.

Written by Lucas Bailey, 2014 Peru: Mind & Body. A quick look at the Wikipedia page for Cusco tells you that it has a population of just over 500,000 with an estimated two million visitors each year. For us, walking the streets in Cusco means passing fellow travellers and feeling an almost tangible sense of adventure.

Our team is using Cusco as a hub, setting off from and returning to our hostel (Apu Wasi) as we go to our service projects, trek to Macchu Pichu, and break off for our own independent trips. Because of this, the city that hosts almost every visitor to Peru feels like home.
Walking along the cobblestone streets treats the eye to dozens of restaurants, shops selling high-performance hiking gear and cozy alpaca clothing, and tour operators boasting about sites to see in the valley. Our crew had a blast haggling over wool sweaters and trying more local foods (and yes, occasionally slipping into old habits by ducking into fast food outlets).

Written by Mike Lecours, Carl Lin, and Adam Darell, 2014 East Africa: Discovery. After our time in the big city of Nairobi, we set off for Naivasha, a lakeside town of flower farms, wild animals and dramatic landscapes. After stopping to overlook the Great Rift Valley – the cradle of mankind, we arrived at Fisherman’s Camp, our home for the next 3 days. It was a great place to learn yoga, tree climb, do head stands, and for the group to bond and reflect on our decisions to come on this trip in the first place. We discussed our hopes, fears, and expectations and all gave our reasons for coming to Africa. Tears were shed and dreams were shared as we huddled around the fire late into the night. It got deep pretty quick as each OG participant (and our leaders!) opened up to reveal our own stories of how we got here, and where we want the trip to take us. At that moment, we knew that this life-changing journey was about to unfold and become an indispensable part of our lives, and we knew we were in it together. [caption id="attachment_13521" align="aligncenter" width="574"]Campfire by the shores of Lake Naivasha. Photo by Adam Darell. Campfire by the shores of Lake Naivasha. Photo by Adam Darell.[/caption]

Written by Ashley Cipponeri, 2014 Peru: Mind & Body. All of our perceptions and attitudes are formed through a collection of our experiences. Our Mind & Body group is made up of 13 unique people that agreed to share the experience of traveling through Peru for six weeks. We spent a week in Lima where we laughed through our strengths in Spanish class, challenged our self control through a restrictive dieting cleanse, played along the waves of the Peruvian coast, sang and danced our hearts out, and built strong bonds throughout it all.
2014 Peru: Mind & Body team
As we got closer and grew more comfortable with our bearings, we switched things up and jumped on a bus to Cusco (a 23-hour bus ride). Acclimatizing to the new altitude and surroundings posed new challenges, but no one could deny the beauty of the new mountainous landscape. We explored the town and shops, but quickly returned to our hostel in order to rest before we traveled to our next destination: Pisac.

Written by Mike Lecours, Carl Lin, and Adam Darell, 2014 East Africa: Discovery. Our 6 week long adventure began in the bustling city of Nairobi. Once the late arrivals were settled, we shared greetings and introductions over cold Tusker Beers. There was Megan, the earliest to arrive; Ben, fast asleep; Vanessa, the poet; Carl, with his new found love of all things GOAT; Hanna, the nurse; Mike, Karate Kid; and Michaela, late as usual and already running on African time. Of course, there was also Adam and Linda there to greet us, Adam at the airport and Linda waiting back at the hostel with a hot bowl of soup, a blazing fire, and a warm smile. The tardiness of the airport, taxis breaking down before leaving the car park, the zebra on the side of the road, and wifi in the hostel were all surprises for the new arrivals. Forgetting all about the jet lag, we set off the next morning to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which sits right beside Nairobi National Park and is home to over 30 orphaned elephants. Caretakers gave us a talk about the elephants, and how they were prized from their families by poaching and human-wildlife conflict. The elephants are looked after by full-time carers, some of whom even have to sleep with the youngest of them. They remain in care until they are old enough and able to be accepted by a herd in the wild. We also saw our first troop of wild baboons! [caption id="attachment_13474" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Photos by students at the Mwelu Foundation. Photos by students at the Mwelu Foundation.[/caption] After a very African lunch at a police canteen, we headed to meet our first partners, the Mwelu Foundation in the Mathare slum district of Nairobi. Our first impressions of the slum were striking. What a huge difference from the built up areas of the city and up-market country homes surrounding the national park! Kids are shouting ‘Mzungu how are you!’ from alleyways, and our senses were truly bombarded with the sights, sounds and smells of slum life. It gave us a lot to ponder.

Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. Tourism is a big money-making industry for the economies of Southeast Asia. Thailand's booming tourism economy plays a major role in their country and Cambodia's is on the rise. If done properly, this is a great opportunity for the people of Cambodia! Often big companies will build monopolies over the tourist market or the hotels and businesses will be primarily owned by foreigners. Locals or small businesses often get pushed to the side, but many job opportunities continue to be generated. This is largely the case in Siem Reap, home of the famed Angkor Wat. Siem Reap has a similar vibe to the mayhem of Khao San Road in Bangkok, although on a much smaller scale and is built around the must-see temples. At the height of the Khmer Empire, still a point of national pride for Cambodians today, these places of worship made from stone were masterpieces. No trip to Cambodia is complete without these sites.

Written by our 2014 India: Gender & Religion team. We finished our India: Gender and Religion program in the beautiful town of Rishikesh, nestled in the Himalayan foothills from where the mighty, holy Ganga emerges from the mountains to drift slowly across the North Indian plains all the way past Varanasi to Calcutta. In true OG style, we reflected on all aspects of our program, including dramatic tales from our Independent Travel Time, the new light our experience cast on our Hopes, Goals, Fears and Expectations that we captured during our first days in Delhi, and a review of our learnings and discoveries regarding gender and religion in the cacophony of Northern India. Gender and religion are two incredibly broad topics, which are hard to define, even though they define so many parts of us. It is near impossible to view these subjects completely objectively without having a position within them. The scope and scale of the program was as vast as it could be, but ultimately we all found a very personal journey within them. To cap off our time together, we settled on creating a large piece of group-created idea art.