Author: Operation Groundswell

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.

Written by Thilini, Amanda, and Charlotte, 2014 East Africa: Youth in Action. It's been a whirlwind week for the East Africa: Youth in Action team! We've spent the past few days moving through Nairobi, Naivasha, and now we’ve finally nested in Kisumu. On Sunday afternoon, after lunch and still battling jet lag, we took a matatu out to Kibera, an informal slum settlement that houses between 200,000 to 1,000,000 people and has developed a form of self-governance over the years. It's impossible to estimate how many people actually live there since people are constantly coming and going; there are no permanent houses, formal streets or addresses.   We weren’t sure what to expect when entering the slum. Though we’d heard about Kibera through documentaries and from others, nothing compared to experiencing it first hand. The houses are small and often double as a shop in the front. Garbage piles up in the streets, waiting for its turn to be burned. Sanitation is one of the biggest issues here, as would be expected in a community receiving so little help from the government. This issue is often highlighted in the infomercials produced by various NGOs. What they don't show you, however, is the number of small businesses and development opportunities that have emerged within the community. Almost everything that can be found in the western world can be found here too. Banks, pharmacies, kitchen supplies, beauty salons, shoe name it, they have it. Kids with Soccer ball in Kibera The children ran after us and we heard a chorus of "Mzungu" (which basically means white person) "How are you? How are you?", as we walked the streets. While the children were excited and fascinated with us, the adults simply stared on. They are used to foreigners observing and taking pictures of their living conditions. After walking through the streets of Kibera, we ended up at the Masaai Mbili art studio.