Author: Operation Groundswell

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.

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.