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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Divers Only

When searching for the best dives of the coast of Bali, Tulamben kept showing up at the top of the list. Tulamben is a small coast where you will only find dive hotels, one or two shops, a couple of restaurants, and the closest ATM is 30 minute drive away. The only people are divers, snorkelers, there few friends afraid of the water, and the locals who work there. This is not you typical tourist area, and thankfully neither are the prices. I stayed in a dorm for 100,000 rupees about $11 a night, a dive only costed 250,000 rupees $30 and since it was the rainy season and not many people, I had my own private dive instructor for each of my dives.
My first dive has a history which started in 1942 , when the U.S.S. Liberty was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. Two US destroyers attempted to accompany the damaged boat to a port in Singaraja, Bali, but when it became clear that the boat was taking on too much water, it was intentionally grounded on the shores of tiny Tulamben where the military was able to salvage the cargo. The ship sat grounded for 21 years until neighboring Mt. Agung erupted in 1963, which pushed the boat into deeper water just offshore creating one of the world’s most rewarding wreck shore dives for me to explore.

As soon as you submerge the Liberty is waiting for you, a dark looming site until you are closest enough to see it come alive. The hull of the wreck was a tasty feast for my eyes, decorated with hard and soft corals as well as some stunningly colored feather stars and neon sponges. The site is also teeming with large schools of fish including the bumphead parrotfish, oriental sweetlips, a massive school (500+) of swirling jacks so close you could touch. Amongst the the few items of the ship that one still can make out such as ladders, holes for windows, and large deck gun, I saw Surgeon fish, giant trevallies, batfish, insanely huge grouper, Napoleon wrasse and a pregnant porcupine fish. After my instructor saw my diving abilities she took me on the coolest part of the dive the fun swim-throughs, where we entered the stern of the boat swam vertical turned up toward the sun and enjoyed looking through the port holes. My swimming was not pretty or controlled as my instructor but I made it without doing any damage to me or the boat.
Even after my first wreck dive, I still prefer dives where bright colors are the main features and the next day that is what I got when I dived "Coral Garden" with my instructor Ben from France. After making it down the dirt path with all our gear on, we arrived to the black stone beach were I was thankful to have booties on to navigate. Then we waded into the water where I enflated my BC and put on my flippers. As soon as I rolled over and put my mask in the water I saw the beginnings of a delightfully rich little patch reef, dominated by hard coral, including some large table and fire corals, interspersed with anemones and sponges.

Prior to the dive Ben said we might see some sharks depending on the visibility, so I was thrilled when he pointed to a blur object and did the hand signal for shark. He then had me sit with him on the bottom of the ocean floor and wait. Soon he nudged me and pointed to my right about 10 feet away were the two black tip reef sharks swimming side by side another about 12 feet behind, we sat there and silently watched while they swam circles around us. It was quite peaceful until I noticed the barracuda the length of my leg deadly still with it' jagged teeth. For some reason they freak me out, not enough to surface but enough to put some distance between us. The other under water creatures that creep me out are moray eels with there long slithering bodies, cloudy beady eyes, and lazy months. Thankfully since they cannot see real well they mostly just barely stick their head out from behind a rock and snap there mouth shut when is something close, this meant if I kept enough distance, a foot or so, I could examine these weird creatures and not be bothered. During this dive I did find there is one kind of these creatures that I found that I actually enjoy and is a rarity, blue ribbon eels. There named describe theme to a t except the fact that the ribbon of there blue body has an edge of yellow.

As we followed the sandy slope down and I practiced swimming with out my arms in order to save energy and air Ben showed me the home of a spiny lobster and peacock mantis shrimp, three giant rock fish camouflaged on the bottom between two hard coral bushes, and bright blue sea cucumber. In addition to the thousands of common reef fish including blue striped snappers, angelfish, wrasse, parrotfish, and a couple two spot lionfish. When our dive was finished and we reached the surface Ben and my smile said it all. His even more so because even after hundreds of dives he was still excited by what we saw.

Location:Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Homesick for Christmas

Five years ago an almost nonexistent Christmas would have been the ideal Christmas. At the time I was half Grinch. I could deal with the decorations, the lights, the trees, the music, but my family and the presents drove me bonkers. What to buy, how much to spend, how to send it home? And then thinking what is the point because 9 times out of 1o we were exchanging gift cards, people were getting mad because they didn't get what they want or they got some crap that we only be rewrapped next year for some unfortunate soul. Then one Christmas it all changed, I found my heart growing three sizes. My family was fun to be around and buying presents online while drinking baileys and hot chocolate with Christmas movies in the background was a new tradition that I could enjoy.

Still, this year I made the decision to be away from home for my 1st Christmas ever. I knew it would be hard, but years worth of dreams made it worth the sacrifice, and Asia bless her made it a lot easier until today.

The majority of Asian countries are Hindu and Buddhist, so Christmas spirit it only a whisper. An occasional sign for a Christmas buffet dinner, a single strand of lights on my neighbors porch and no where else, a Christmas tune or two played at the local mall to hopefully get us "farangs" to buy more, but other than that it was nonexistent until I turned on my computer. The Facebook status updates started to slowly mention people holiday plans, the baking of holiday treats, and the anticipation of being home. Finally, The reality of missing all the traditions set it. I would miss finger painting cutout cookies with my cousins and their kids, building a snowman with my Aunt Tera, Big Night on Ice, the ghetto Precious Moments, the handmade stocking with my name stitched on it from my childhood being filled to the brim, the trading of sexy underwear with my Aunt Ginger, exchanging gifts with the San Diego girls, and so much more.

Today and tomorrow I will miss my home more than any other time on my trip, but I now know what I'm missing and will try my best to plan better so I never have to experience it again. However, this Christmas i will never forget with 75 degree weather in Phuket, enjoying Christmas breakfast with the neighbors with tropical fruit sangria and building a sand snowman on the crystal blue beach.
Merry Christmas!

Location:Mueang Phuket,Thailand

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monkey Mayhem in Bali

About a 15 minute walk from my home stay in the center of Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal, where over 340 hundred Balinese long tailed macaques monkeying call home. According to the brochure, there are approximately 32 adult males, 19 male sub adult, 77 adult females, 122 juvenile and 54 infants that inhabit that belong to 4 distinct troops. Before you even pay the Rp. 20.000 or US$2 to enter the forest there are monkeys waiting for you, 20 plus statues line the street and depending what time of day it is there maybe macaques wandering around gorging themselves.

I thought with the 1,ooo's of visitors feeding them every day they would never go outside there forest to scavenge, but one late night on my walk past the forest at least 5 monkeys were gorging them on the leftover street food, maybe they are greedy or just want something different then there usual fair. Seeing this I could only imagine the antics I would see when I actually entered the depths of some of the lushest green forests that Bali is famous for.

The first monkey that greeted me kindly showed me where the toilet was, but I declined and wandered further in. Everywhere you looked there were macaques, who all seemed well accustomed to humans.

Some even climbed up and sat on peoples shoulder in return for a treat or to clean their hair like one of their own. I personally had no monkeys using me as a jungle gym because I didn't want to spend money on overpriced bananas or finding out if I was allergic or when there was no one patient enough there to take of picture of it just in case I was. I'll save the possible rash until next time.

On the other hand I did have one feisty macaque grab on to my bright red WiLDCOAST water bottle and try to tear it lose, but never fear my carabinieri held tight until the little rascal got sick of dancing in circles with me. I was one of the fortunate souls that did not lose anything that day, I did watch one mischievous macaque take off with one tourist Ray Band sunglasses, and another a bottle of water which the little guy quickly unscrewed the cap and drank to all of our amazement.

When not watching and photographing these crazy creatures I was enjoying the beautiful ancient tombs, sculptures, temples interspersed between trails and the all consuming greenery. Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana as the locals call the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a wonderful place, I only wish the next time I go one of my best friends, Sara Martinez, is there with me to tell me more about the monkeys and take my picture with them just not around me.

Location:Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sailing Into Paradise in Phuket

From December 6th through December 10th I felt like I was the luckiest sailor in the world, I was apart of the 25th Anniversary Phuket King's Cup Regatta, which is touted to be the premier sailing event of the Eastern Hemisphere.

It all started in 1991, when Jenny Dahms and I signed up for resident camp, where we would be learning sailing because my body couldn't handle the other options Girlscout Camp had to offer. I had to use a nebulizer, breathing machine, three times a day for I had really bad asthma induced by allergies. Thankfully, Jenny was patient and kind enough to be with that kid at camp. This was my first introduction to sailing and when I fell in love. Until we were "too old" for camp, Jenny and I would return year after year to have our week on the water.

Sadly, it would be 13 years until I would return to the sailing world in San Diego, California and meet Captian Mike Rafferty, a local middle school science teacher who taught sailing on the weekends for community college where my roommate Sara was taking classes. She told our other roommate, Jill, and I about her colleges hidden treasure, three months of Sunday sailing for only $30! It was such a steal that Jill and I quickly signed up and became some of Mike's favorite students, even though I stunk and still do at the terminology. My favorite classes were when I could take out a Laser (dinghy) by myself. I wouldn't have any one shouting at me words I couldn't remember and had the freedom to go as fast as I want, since the lean and tipping the boat scares a lot of people. Where as I love speed to much and therefore, I tipped the boat almost every other class but half of the fun was flipping it back over and pulling myself in the boat. Mike didn't seem to care because I never asked for help or wrecked a boat. I loved the wind, water, and the trill of it all.

Those days had to come to end, when Mike decided to retire and sail across the Pacific. He asked a few other students to join him for the first leg, which was the Baja Ha-Ha cruisers rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The timing sucked for me because I had final projects due in my master's program and Big Brothers Big Sisters Golf Marathon fundraiser, I needed to be ready for the next week. When Mike sailed into the sunset I never knew if I would see him again or not, but before left he made a huge mistake and told me I was always welcome on his boat.

In 2011, I called in that offer, but different circumstances awaited me. Mike had lost his boat and home of 15 years off the coast of Australia and was now living on land in Phuket, Thailand. I could not stay on his boat with him since it now longer existed, but I could stay with him in Nai Harn and he would try a place for me to crew in the annual King's Cup Regatta. The first few days of the regatta, I only watched while Mike helped crew his friends, Bill's boat. Mike told the other crew members about me, and slowly they worked on Bill to let me join them. The final push was paying 1000 baht ($30, but includes food and drinks) for an after race party where the crew would ask him again in front of him. I was nervous because, I hadn't been on a sailboat in over 2 year, never had crewed this size boat and yet alone in a race, but with Mikes confidence in me I could't pass up this amazing opportunity.

The next day, I woke up 6:30 poped some Dramamine in my mouth, just in case, and got myself stoked. As soon as I saw all the other crews lining up for the long tails to take them to their boat, I knew I was in for something good. The first day it wasn't as good as I hoped it would have been since we started on the wrong course and ended up in 4th. I did learn a lot, and Nick, our captain for the race, gave me his ticket to the party that night since he couldn't make it. My 2nd race day was 10 times better. I had the special job of sitting blow deck until the race course numbers were called out, so we didn't mess up again. Then I had to help count down the start time, and we were the first out of the gate beating out our fiercest competition Odin and Linda. They passed us, and then the wind died. Inside I secretly worried about not doing so well again, however the rest of the crew appeared calm. As the race came to a close they explained to me why, out boat was handicapped 10 minutes for every hour compared to Linda and Odin, which would be reflected on the posted race time. I now understood that pretty much no matter what we did Odin and Linda would always cross the finish line first, however it didn't guarantee that they had beaten us. In fact that day we came in 1st in our class and I got to drive Astraeus into the bay. The next day was even more exciting; it was the last day of the regatta and all the boats would be on the same course. This is not ideal conditions since you have a ton more boats to watch out for, but more me it also meant I could watch them all day. The wind was great and we averaged five knots. Sadly it didn't matter since the wind was flat where we started, a few bad tacks, a stuck halyard, and a Spinnaker that got away from us. We took 4th. I didn't really care, I had a great day and was hooked.

The real icing on the cake came at the closing party, when we learned we took 2nd overall in the cruising class!

Special thanks to William Sax the skipper of Astraeus for letting me crew a regatta for the first but not the last time, Captain Nick for being so patient with me and answering all my questions in his beautiful South African accent, Rita and Steven Johnson for being so warm, welcoming and down right wonderful to me, and most importantly a huge thanks to Michael Rafferty sailing instructor and friend for making one of my dreams come true in such a large way.

Location:Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Part of Their World - Diving in Phuket

I became SCUBA certified on July 25, 2010, my 29th birthday, with one of my best friends Sara.  It was something that both of us had wanted to do, but never took the next step, well until Sara had to be certified to move up the ladder at SeaWorld.  We both finally we both had the push we needed, for Sara her job and for me, Sara.  Our first ocean dive was off the coast of San Diego at La Jolla Shores.  We wore six inch wetsuits with hoods and booties that made us look and walk like penguins on land, but we once we hit the cold water a whole new world opened for us.  It was here that I learned that sand dollars are actually purple when they are alive, they also are huge underwater fields of them that I tried hard to crush with my hands as I was learn to control my buoyancy with my breath.  Sadly, it took me a year and half to strap on tank and jump back in. 

This time, I was still diving with three San Diegians, Erin and Juan Lau, and Captain Mike Rafferty, but we were wearing only half wet suits and diving two hours off the coast of Phuket, Thailand.  As I readied my gear, I became nervous but thankfully a new friend on the boat told me not to worry, for it was like riding a bike and it would all come back to me. 

Our first dive was Dok Bida Nay, a three star dive site south of Dok Phi Phi Ley.  I jumped in and silently descended 2 meters, 7 meters, 10 meters my ears screaming in pain.  I tried to release the pressure by holding my nose and pushing air up to my air canals, it would work but the pressure would come again, and again, again.  I kept thinking was it worth it, then a few minutes later I saw what I had only seen on video.  My head cleared, my breathing became normal, and my ears finally quieted.  I was floating/swimming in paradise.  There was a large reef to my right and beneath me, in every nook and cranny were soft corals, gorgonian sea fans, black corals, long stringy sea whips, huge gardens of stag horn, star corals, sea cucumbers and incredible number of reef animals. There were varying sizes and species of colorful Parrotfish and Wrasse, along with large shoals of Moorish Idols, and my favorite starfish.  The starfish seemed to be every color of the rainbow blue, yellow, pink, with 4 arms, 5 arms, 6 arms, and every where.  We also saw my not so favorite ocean creatures a black and white banded sea snake who has more poison than a cobra and with one bite can kill you in 5 seconds, and an ugly moray (eel) sticking its gray green head out of cave, who I have had a such a strong dislike for since I saw Little Mermaid when I was nine. 

The second dive site, Dok Bida Nok, showed me another side of the Little Mermaid when our dive master Fumiko led us into an underwater sea cave.  We swam in guided by her tiny flashlight with only a foot of visibility, I did not know what to expect. Then she motioned for me to look up, when I did sunlight streamed down through a small opening and sparkled off through the layers of water on the way down to me.  I smiled, twirled the best I could and sang “Apart of Their World” to myself, but as I did I thought of the opposite, instead of walking on earth I was thinking of how amazing it was to be swimming in the ocean surrounded by all manner of marine life frolicking among the soft corals and sponges.  We sighted delightful butterfly fish, pipefish, trumpet fish, puffer fish and lionfish.

Our last dive was the reef next to the imposing limestone structure known as Koh Dok Mai, Flower Island in the native tongue.  Where its steep cliffs extend well below the surface to the sand.  It was an ideal drift dive and a great time to practice not using my arms to navigate.  A true diver lightly grasps their hands together and occasionally uses their flippers to navigate.  When my mind and eyes drifted to the nearby array of colorful tube corals, and to the multitude of cracks and crevices along the wall where I saw durban dancing shrimps, cleaner shrimps, plus many species of grouper including the blue lined, coral and marbled.  The best spotting being a small shark hidden in a fist sized hole in the wall. 
All in all it was a great day, and I can only hope I will be “Apart of Their World” for not too much money again, soon!

In case you ever find yourself in Phuket we used by Sea World Dive Team and it cost us 3,800 baht. It included all our equipment, breakfast, lunch, transportation, and the three dives I described above.  There were five of us to one dive master. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Armchair Journey Review - On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac is the "beat generation's" story teller and is my kind of writer because he writes as he speaks instead of following the "rules". He has written many books, articles, etc including "On the Road". It is a novel that makes me want to go out there, seize the day, and let the road take me by the hand, well without the drugs.

Kerouac tells introduces the reader to Sal Paradise, one of his alter-egos, a young and seemingly innocent writer who is holed up in a room at his aunt's house, until he is inspired by Dean Moriarty (a character based on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady) a crazy youth "tremendously excited with life" racing around America. From the moment their journeys begins I was is taken through the highs and lows of hitchhiking, bonding with fellow explorers, opting for beer before food, and exploring the rural wilderness, sleepy small towns, urban jungles, endless deserts- all linked by the road, the outlet for a generation's desire and inner need to get out. Kerouac made me feel their desperation and the lack of fulfillment which made them believe that "the only thing to do was go", in order to find their personal freedom in sex, drugs, and jazz.

I am sad to know that this book is one of very few entries into the world of the beat generation, but it did put the dream of hitting the road into head and look where I am at now.

Highly Recommended. (I have read 3 times as of March 2011)

Armchair Journeys an Introduction

My dad always says getting asthma was one of the best things that ever happened to me. This may sound rude or mean to someone that does not know my family, but I full heartedly agree with him. Not being able to breathe well, led me to use a nebulizer (loud breathing machine) three times a day for two or three years; this sure didn't make me the cool kid at school or camp, but it got me reading!

After my asthma became controlled and almost nonexistent I continued to read, and it has continued to shape my life. From libraries, to book stores, to my friends book shelves, under my mom's bed, and free books at guesthouses, I have found a source of new worlds and pleasures. But the best place to curl up with a good book will always be my parents old beat up armchair that I refuse to let them throw away and why i entitled this post "armchair journeys" and all subsequent posts where I review books for your knowledge and my own memory will also be called "Armchair Journeys."

Monday, November 21, 2011

The "Right" Way to Help

Personally I am very vulnerable to helping children, and in Cambodia there are plenty of chances to either help or hurt. By writing this I do not want anyone to become to paranoid about what they do while they travel, but instead think their decisions through, and when in doubt if you go in with only pure intentions no one has the right to judge. In the meantime, I would like to provide you with 7 Child Safe Traveler's tips from

One way to help children while you travel is by using a social enterprise that is set up to help them. In Phnom Penh there are quite a few of them, and personally have been able to enjoy two of them.

They are Friends the Restaurant and Romdeng, which are training restaurants run by former street youth and their teachers. Romdeng, (#74, Street 174) has been designed to promote Cambodian culture and food, while at Friends the Restaurant (#215, Street 13) students are trained in Asian and Western cooking. The focus of this training is building self-esteem, self-respect, very high standards of hygiene and of course, hospitality skills. All profits from the restaurants are reinvested into Mith Samlanh's projects for former street children and youth.

The food was so good that I plan on buying the cookbook when I get back in the States since it won't fit in my backpack. The cookbook is called "From Spiders to Water Lilies. Creative Cambodian Cooking With Friends" and has won numerous awards including two award "Best Asian Cuisine Book” and made it into the top five in the category “Fund Raising and Charity Cookbook” at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris. It features forty delicious renditions of creative new interpretations of classic Khmer food, as well as mouth watering salads, soups and curries, grilled and steamed dishes, and sensational desserts. The colorful names of the dishes alone hint at their intense flavor, and will have you salivate. Take, for example, the Banana Flower Salad with Grilled Cambodian Bacon, Limes, and Sweet Chili Sauce. Or the Fried River Fish with Lemongrass, Onions, and Baby Eggplant. The desserts are equally fantastic, and inspired by staples of Cambodian cuisine, such as rice, coconut milk, palm sugar, and fresh tropical fruit. Modern interpretations of traditional Asian ingredients result in light and creative dishes with complex flavors, as is illustrated by Pineapple and Chili in Coconut Jelly with Kaffir Lime Syrup. The cookbook also features an excellent overview of the most common ingredients found in Khmer cooking, as well as plenty of inspiring color photographs showcasing both the recipes and Friends-International’s hospitality staff and trainees at Romdeng in Phnom Penh. All proceeds from the book go towards the training program.

For me one of the best ways to see and experience the world is by volunteering or voluntourism, which fortunately for me is a great way to help kids too. Over the course of my travels I have had some of the most amazing experiences, but have had to come face to face with the fact that what I am doing might not be the best thing for those I am trying to help. Sometimes it is the tourists or organizations lack of experience, and sadly there are number of people who see volunteers or tourists with an open heart as a way to make money.

According to Friends-International there has been a 65% increase in the number of orphanages since 2005 despite the number of vulnerable children and orphans.

This startlingly fact and other data I have read over the years, had me wary about different voluntourism opportunities. Thankfully I thought before volunteering with New Futures Orphanage in Takeo Town, Cambodia. First my friend, Monica did research on the Internet to see how it was ran, read other volunteers testimonials, and that there was more to do then simply play and take photos of the kids. NFO also emailed us the volunteer packet which includes their rules, regulations, and Children Interaction Policy and Procedures that were in place to keep the kids safe. The last thing Monica and I decided and agreed upon was that if we saw any red flags we would take off and warn others. Sadly, we have seen red flags, not the kind that justify leaving, but warrant us to do something about them or at least make suggestions.

One way I will do this is by showing them the following document that seeks to assist travelers and volunteers in finding a way to contribute, yet avoid situations or actions that may lead to child exploitation. I hope when NFO sees a conflict between there current practices and the document they make a plan to resolve these issues.

Before visiting or volunteering in an orphanage consider the following questions:

How do I harm children by visiting an orphanage?

Many orphanages rely almost entirely on donations from visitors to survive. Thus directors may purposefully maintain poor living conditions for children to secure funds from tourists. Children who appear underserved may come across as a cry for help more than children who appear well fed and cared for. This of course places guilt on tourists if they do not help immediately. By visiting orphanages and making a donation you may be fueling a system that exploits children.

In my own country would I consider visiting a shelter for children during the course of my day?

Most people would never consider going to an orphanage, shelter or residential home in their own countries. Why? An orphanage is a child's home and they have the right to privacy in this space. Orphanages are not zoos and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home. In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children's rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.

Is my contribution sustainable?

Investing in the future of Cambodian children is a valuable contribution. Investing in Cambodian families is also a valuable pursuit. Projects that aim towards strengthening community-based work provides the conditions under which alternative options may be offered to children and their families. A sustainable contribution should be aimed at breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and exploitation.

Orphanages do not offer a long-term sustainable response to the situation of vulnerable children. By investing in families and communities we are laying the foundation for better conditions for children.

Orphanages should be a last resort option for children in need. If children are to be placed temporarily in an orphanage, how can it ensure that it works in the best interest of the child?

Here is a set of questions to help you evaluate the intentions of orphanages:

Does the orphanage have a child protection policy?

A lot of orphanages do not have child protection policies in place to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their care. Without a child protection policy, abuses of children may go undetected. It is important that orphanages can demonstrate that they have made attempts to safeguard children from dangers and vulnerabilities. In addition to this it is also important that children are aware of their own rights in the orphanage.

Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to children without supervision?

Allowing visitors to have direct contact with children can place children at risk especially when visitors are unsupervised. Good organizations have policies in place to protect children and should not allow visitors to just drop in and have access to children. Visitors to an orphanage should never be left alone with children or allowed to take the children away from the orphanage unattended. Allowing visitors to the center may result in a pattern of grooming whereby children begin to trust all visitors to the centre, this makes children vulnerable to abuse from visitors with ill intentions.
Background checks should be conducted for all staff and volunteers interacting with children. Orphanages who allow people to walk in off the street with no background checks and interact with children are not protecting the children in their facility.

Are children required to work or participate in securing funds for the orphanage?

Children residing in orphanages should in no way be used to promote or secure funds for the orphanage. Children should never be used as a promotional tool, be required to dance, sing, to make or sell products as a way of increasing revenue for the orphanage. This is child exploitation, child labor and violates children's rights and personal safety. By forcing children to engage in revenue rising they are being groomed to participate in the methods used for begging and street work that renders children even more vulnerable to exploitation.

Is there long-term, trained and well-supervised staff?

Children who are living in outside the family unit often have complex needs and require specialist staff to accommodate these needs. Continuity of staff is important for children to attach and bond with a single caregiver. Where possible a constant caregiver should be appointed to attend to the child's daily needs promoting consistency and secure attachments to caregivers. Supervision of staff assures that they are upholding the rights of the child and that any difficulties they encounter are met and addressed. Orphanages that rely on foreign volunteers and staff undermine children's needs for developing long term and meaningful relationships.

Are sibling groups kept together?

It is important that children are not separated from their siblings. Children should have the opportunity to live and stay in small family environments where they have the chance to bond with caregivers and their siblings. Consistency of care is important to children in creating long and lasting relationships. Remaining with siblings also allows children to stay connected to their cultural and family roots whilst they are separated from their families.

Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program?

Are orphanages actively involved in maintaining relationships with living family members so that children can rejoin their family and community? Orphanages should be encouraging community alternatives such as kinship care and foster care above institutionalized care. Orphanages should be able to demonstrate how they are actively exploring family and community care options for children residing in their orphanage. In Cambodia, the government released Minimum Standards of Care as part of its alternative care policy that explicitly states that all orphanages must actively seek family and community alternatives for children living in institutionalized care.

Is the orphanage located in the same community that the child previously lived in or the closest orphanage available?

Displacement of children from their community of origin reduces the chances of the child being reintegrated into his or her community. It also causes disruption of daily routines such as continuity of education, culture and social life and ties. It is important for children to remain connected with their families and community for healthy mental and social development.

Is the orphanage set up to replicate family living or small groups?

It is important for a child's development and life after living in institutionalized care to be provided with the opportunity to learn the life skills that come from residing in a small family environment. A small family environment models essential life skills such as cooking, cleaning, how to interact with adults, managing a budget etc. These skills are essential for young adults in learning to live independently from their families. Some children living in orphanages who lack this stimulation become institutionalized and are unable to be an active participant in life outside the orphanage. Living in a small family environment gives children an opportunity to create meaningful relationships with adults and strong bonds with other children.

Does the orphanage respect and accommodate children's background and religious beliefs?

Each child has the right to practice his or her own religious and cultural beliefs. In no way should a child be persuaded or unduly pressured to practice a religion other then his or her own in line with cultural beliefs. Real and meaningful steps should be taken to ensure that a child can practice his/her own religion and cultural beliefs. This may include, but is not limited to, access to religious sites, interaction with religious and cultural leaders, and a specialized or modified diet.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Farewell #1

My 1st day as a volunteer with All Hands I had tears in my eyes when a person I barely meet gave their farewell, and almost every meeting there after the tears would come again and again. I knew if I felt this much I would only be in worse shape to give my own. Therefore I wrote what I wanted to say down. On September 2nd, after 28 days on Project Tohoku almost balling (typical Terri) and barely able to see what I wrote I shoved the following out of my mouth.

"Why do you volunteer, and why do you leave your home to do it?

This a question almost all of us at All Hands have been asked by out our loved ones, the curious ones, and those that never will understand.

Here is my response:

I volunteer because I can
I volunteer because I have been blessed with the opportunity to do so
I volunteer because it is my duty as a citizen of this beautiful world

I volunteer because I want to be rich!

If I had all the money in the world I would be volunteering full-time, but instead I work to be able to volunteer and am on the way with all of you to become some of the riches people I will ever know.

Some of us may not have much in our bank accounts, but we have:

Made my our families proud by not just traveling to see the Imperial Palace, or climb Mt. Fuji but to help to return smiles to the faces of Japan

Gotten muddy, suborned, rained on while doing true physical labor like half of
the world that doesn't have a choice

Cried tears of joy and heartbreak when we helped to return photos to a family
who had lost so much including one of their beautiful daughters on March 11th

Sang and swayed to "Lean On Me" with our brothers and sisters from around
the world, bringing even more meaning to such a sweet diddy

Had so many dreams come true, including ones we didn't even know we had
and made new even bigger ones

Painted a mural that will brighten and inspire people who come, return or live
in Ofunato for years to come

Said hello and see you later to more friends then most people do in 5 years

Seen a river lightened up by paper lanterns of the one that have gone before

Had some of the best conversations with only are hands and facial
expressions because we have yet to become a J-Heart

Danced in the streets wearing our very own beautiful yukatas and mastered
the art of float traffic jams during Tanabata

All Hands staff and my fellow volunteers thanks for allowing me to invest not only in Japan, but the entire world and myself. Thanks for making me rich!"

Location:Ofunato, I-wate, Japan

Sunday, November 6, 2011

RT Photos

Cleaning photos is not a very physically demanding task but each day it is an emotional experience and an important task in a very personal way. I and my fellow volunteers get to play a small part in saving something very special for people who have lost so much.

There are five parts to the photo project: Salvaging, sorting, cleaning, albums, and retouching.

Salvaged photos are still found daily in the tsunami area, they can be miles from were they were stored and found. Sometimes photos and other valuables are found on other job sites, and turned into the team leader. The hardest part is deciding what is valuable and what should be left in the rubbish piles. It because a treasure hunt / archeological dig to see what you can find.

Once found these items go to the local police who then take them to a local warehouse to be sorted and cleaned. The Rikuzentakata warehouse has been one of our responsibilities since August, but the tsunami happened in March. As one could expect the main focus of the recovery effort in the beginning was people and finding them homes. This meant that piles and piles of savaged items closed up in bags (which was a good idea at the time) stayed soaked in seawater, mud, which is the ideal conditions for all sorts of mold. So, when I walked into the warehouse the first day I was overwhelmed by smell and the amount of things that needed to be sorted and washed. For almost two months the Rikuzentakata teams has diligently worked in this mess, deciding what could be saved and what was to far damaged or unhealthy to be returned. Our guideline being would I want that back if I no longer had nothing, and if I did get it back would it make me or someone I know sick. The items us foreign volunteers deem to bad are put in a special pile, so a few locals who lived through that tragic day can make the final decision, which I am very happy to be relieved of.

This same relief is not provided though when one cleans photos. For each photo there is only one chance to get it right. Wynne tells each team member, you are like a tattoo artist with each work of art you only get one shot and its forever. There is always a bit of pressure when you receive an album to work on. Will the photo come out easily, or will the plastic peel away with most of the picture attached? Will the paper be to eaten away to even remove it from an album? Will the ink become an abstract mess and hide the memories it once held forever? Once of the album, the cleaner is not of the weeds yet. The cleaner will turn there blue latex gloves inside out with the help of blowing in them, so they are smooth instead. They they will prepare there cold water photo bath, because the water has to be cold to kill the mold on the picture. The cold water in the summer was a welcomed treat, but now in the fall with the onset of winter and no heat, but cleaners hands are now a cause of a low quiet pain. Sadly, for some of the photos when placed in the water much of the picture just wipe away. Each of us know this is mostly caused by the mold, but each time it happens it feels like a personal battle lost and a bit of guilt is felt. In these situations we hope at least the faces are preserved. In all photos the faces are the most important aspect because they help the owner of the photograph or the friends and family members identify the picture.

After the photographs are cleaned of as much mold and debris as possible, they are hanged to dry and then put in photo albums. Though many of the photographs have been badly damaged, they are made beautiful again as a collection of memories.

The albums with the clean dry photos are then driven Denshoukan to be apart of the photo library. Here the albums are be displayed in numeral order of when they arrived, so members of the community can search through them to find their missing moments. Some people are lucky to find numerous pictures on their first visits, others it takes a few trips to the library, and even more heartbreaking for others their pictures will never be seen again. It is a hard process to watch as one sifts through the hundreds of thousands of picture, it could take days even months to go through all the photos that are still being savaged and some will find nothing - I can only imagine the wave of emotion and hope one must have to go through this search. There patience and diligence keep me motivated, and when there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel it is when a person recognizes a face in a single photo or better yet 7 albums when you know each step in this long tedious process is worth it.

With the cherry on the top being that each person who finds photos, can choose to have 5 photos professional retouched by photoshop experts from around the world. Becci Mason is the brain behind this part of the project which has received worldwide press and praise. Read more about restoring photos for tsunami victims go to

As of November 6, 2011:

*Over 1oo,ooo photos have been hand cleansed

*351+ albums have been returned to there owners (this number does not include "random" photos which can be 1 to 9 photos)

*343 photos have been professionally retouched

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Dream Comes True in Ofunato

This past August when I volunteered with All Hands a dream showed up on the job board. I had to do dishes for 100 people to guarantee me a spot but it was worth it. I would finally be one of the people painting an inspirational mural. Miyazaki Kensuke, a well know Japanese artist and muralist wanted to create a beacon of hope for the people of Ofunato. He approached a local barber who had built his shop wear his house use to stand if he would be willing to have a mural cover the building he rebuilt on his own. He told the barber his shop was the perfect location because it was on a hill, in an area that was washed away on March 11 which meant it could seen from a distance and inspire the recovery works and the people during this difficult transition time.

When the other All Hands Volunteers and I arrived we were greeted by Ken in his coveralls splashed with years of paint and his infamous hand painted cap. He told us about his work in the United Kingdom, Kenya, United States, and Japan and this one was the closest to his heart, but would follow the same theme of working Hand in Hand with gifts being passed all around.

For the first day we would paint the first coat and then for 4 days (when it didn't rain) we keep adding layers, with Ken telling us where and what color. He would draw things in chalk and allow us to paint in the lines,with him finishing with the details. Ken had the true artist temperament because when we suggested colors, such as blue, he would say no I think green. We also weren't allowed to mix colors, until our last day when were running out of time. The final result is a phoenix on the roof dropping presents by parachutes to the waiting people of the world which includes 3 All Hands Volunteers and the barber and his family, who are standing on a beautiful arrangement of flowers.

Throughout the process over 20 people worked on this amazing project, with a special shout out to Kim#1 who was our team leader for the first 3 1/2 days, but had to go back to work and sadly did not get to see the finished project in person.

We all had a great time working together and even more fun painting each other. My favorites being when Andy UK was painted by the two grandchildren from his toes up to his knees, and when we turned Daiki's polo in to a $100 polo by painting on white stripes and a NIKE swoosh.

I am so happy to have by mural dream realized in such a meaningful way with such amazing people.

I almost forgot this project (and my picture) was talked about in at least 4 different Japanese newspapers.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

6 Months Of Project Tohoku - Taken from

The sprawling coastal city of Ofunato, with an ageing population of 40,000 and a third of its homes damaged or destroyed, had a clear need for additional volunteer labor to work alongside the city’s cleanup and recovery efforts. Following approval from the Mayor of Ofunato, we opened our doors on April 12th to eager volunteers from around the world. Six months on, with over 1,000 volunteers from 33 countries, with over 65,000 hours of volunteer service contributed to the local community efforts, we can reflect on the contribution we've made to the colossal efforts by the city and people of Ofunato.
In April, homes and businesses were filled with debris. As the debris has been removed, and treasured possessions recovered, skilled volunteers removed damaged floors, walls and ceilings of more than 125 homes and businesses, removing the burden of initial steps of the repair process from overburdened carpenters. Our volunteers delivered over 82,000 specially requested food items, supplementing evacuation centres' food supplies, by slotting in to established SDF delivery routes. Cash grants for building materials and professional labor have helped 36 families move back home. We've cleaned close to 100,000 salvaged photos and digitally retouched 300+ water-damaged photos returned precious memories to dozens of families. At the request of the city of Ofunato our volunteers cleared miles of clogged municipal drainage canals, avoiding flooding during winter. We are also rehabilitating one of the only publics parks that the city hasn’t repurposed for temporary housing, so local children can have a safe environment in which to play. The diversity of work speaks to the widespread need confronting communities up and down the North East coast of Japan.

Six Months of Project Tohoku from All Hands Volunteers on Vimeo.

In six months, the Japanese government has constructed nearly 50,000 temporary homes and cleared over 11 million tonnes of debris countrywide. According to the Mayor of Ofunato, every piece of debris in the city had been touched; either cleared, demolished, chopped up, or relocated for sorting. With local carpenters now finished constructing temporary housing, repairs and rebuilding have started in earnest, and more local businesses open each week.
Even with this impressive progress, full recovery is still years away. All Hands Volunteers is well positioned and committed to continued support of this region through this year and beyond. A smaller, more focused group of volunteers are present until 12th November, after which, we'll roll out a longer term recovery strategy, designed to meet the needs of affected communities and industry. We'll continue to rehabilitate public parks and sports fields, fund the restocking of school libraries, and support the rebuild of infrastructure.
A special thanks to the remarkable people of Ofunato, whose resilience, generosity, and kind words of encouragement provide ample motivation to work hard each day. Thank you also to all our supporters who have helped make our work possible.
To read more about All Hands Volunteers and the wonderful work going on around the world go to

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Library Remains Even Though I Do Not

Another hard day on my journey when I said see you later to all of my monk friends. My friend and fellow teacher, Ed, had set up a thank you presentation at the morning school. Not only did he say some kind words he helped the kids say thank you as well. Chimi Dorjee, one of the best English speakers from grade 3, gave the following speech after practicing if for the past week.

On behalf of Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery, it is with great sadness that we'll see you go. You've been great teacher and will be greatly missed. Thank you for the teachings and thank you for being so nice. To us we have learned a lot from you and you have made an immense difference in our lives. We will miss you teacher, who had made English learning a pleasure. We wish you all the very best in life and we will be praying for you. So your life be flourished with great progress you'll be forever missed. Thank you!

As soon as he started the tears stated streaming down my face, which made a few of my young monks uncomfortable and a few others laugh at me. It got only worse when Pema "Snakey" gave me a piece of paper of a lotus flower he had drawn with the simple words thanks and nervously handed me a white Khata scarf, which is a sign of respect and gratitude. Then Tenzin, then Sherpa, then Sangye, then Gurma, then Yangor, then....until my vision became blurred by the sheer number of scarves around my neck and hands full of notes drawings, and flowers. Finally each student walked by said good bye and thank you Miss in English, and shook my hand since it isn't proper to hug a female. These goodbyes were harder than others because I will not to be able to communicate with 90 percent of the monks since they do not have emails, and I don't have a stable address for awhile. I can only hope when I return someday their smiles will be there to welcome me again. Thankfully I have thousands of pictures and a few hours of video to keep me company, until I see them next.

With my leaving of Nepal there is also a pause in my facilitation of the buying books and giving them to the monastery until I return home to the States. But before I left I was able to give them over 100 new and used books already, because of generous people that are reading about my journey. Special thanks to Tina Jensen, Dick Bolman, Shirley and Darren Olson, Kathy and Brian Scheppler, Sara Martinez, Jill Dumbauld, Linda Martinez, Abby Leitz and of course my parents for making me and the monks so happy. My favorite time with them is when they picked out a book during their free time and read or tried to read to me. A close second is when they saw the new books, couldn't believe they were for them and then were more surprised when they learned they were because people across the world knew and cared about them. I know they will treasure these books forever and I will as well because how happy they make them.
If you haven't had a chance to be apart of this library making project, you have three options:

1. Purchase English books yourself and mail them to the monastery.

2. Hold a book drive, collect some donations to cover the cost of shipping and mail the books to the monastery.

3. Still send money to my parents knowing it will not be used until I am in a place I can purchase English books and be able mail them. Might be able to before I return to the states but there is now guarantee.

If you would like to send books to the monastery please email me the number of books and when you expect to send them. In return I will send you the monastery's address and forward your email to the school's director so they have a heads up.

Together we can help these monks be fluent in an international language so they can communicate to a large percentage of the world.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My simple life in Nepal

I can hardly believe I have been gone from the monastery for 3 days. It seems so long ago already, which is weird since life almost stands still there in some sense. It was only night turning to day and the gentle changes that make realize another day has pasted in these bricks wall. I wake every morning around 6:30 to be at breakfast at 7, which always consists of fresh roti (bread/flour tortilla) with butter, honey or jam, a bowl of lentils and milk tea. Each day except Sunday, a gong hurries the monks to school to be ready for role at 9. Then they start with a morning prayer that is actually a song. Namka Sambo and his brother Namka Mingma are my favorite at this time because not only do they sing the loudest you can always see they joy in their faces.

The majority of monks know what an honor it is to be in school when over 70% of the children of Nepal are not. I have to say the youngest monks are the most fun to watch learn, but the older grades brought me the most joy since their classes are small and I can teach them one on one. Outside the classroom they are shy with their English and paying attention to what there peers are doing. I have offered many of them help outside of school, but I have to trap them to try even though once I have them in my clutches they are eager to learn.

Each monk is amazing in there own way and I wish I could share a few tibits about each, but for now I'll write about 10 of my 80 students.

-Chimi is a helpful, thoughtful monk and one of the best English speaker who tells me about his life in Nepal

-Tenzin Namgye "Ugyen" who talked my ear off when we walked down the hill to release the snake, but in class barely says a word. He not only loves hip-hop dancing as much as me, but actually quite good at it especially considering that he only sees it in movies here and there

-Gompa Sherpa who wears a watch but cannot tell the time and finds great amusement in our fake telephone game

-Karma Wozer who is the best built and silently uses his strength to help others, like when one of the other monks had a seizure and he carried him to bed

-Sangay Phuntsoki who hides his mouth and smile with his robe, and who draws landscapes in his notebook and then labels everything in English

-Pema Tenphel who is always running and us English speakers affectionally call Snakey because he sticks down his tongue whenever he is nervous

-Tuklu the "prince in a little chair" who is a reincarnated Lama who loves to dance, eat, and take pictures

-Choeing Dirmed the monk who is throughly enjoying his reading if Goosebumps and turned beat red when I made him dance with me because he didn't ask me three questions during our game

-Rabin my monkey monk who has a nose that is constantly running, is a champion at English, and always climbing, cartwheeling and flipping when we are outside

-Pema Galtsen the monastery shopkeeper, who has a heart of gold but will never admit it and who is making one of the biggest decisions of his life to make his vows as a monk or simply have a Buddhist life

-Pema Norbu who I constantly tried to make smile since he does it when he absolutely means it and loved to read books to me when none of his friends were around

For all the monks I wrote about and the ones I didn't get I can say they will hold a special place in my heart, I miss each one dearly for some of the same and different reasons and hope one day in the future see them all again and to find about what became of them in their monk hood, life and with their English.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Three New Monks (September 23, 2011)

Three new monks arrived at the monastery. They are in grade 1, and don't speak English (unless the abc's count in your book) or Tibetan. They only speak Nepali, so only 75% of the people here can talk to them. I have smiled at them often but have yet to meet or teach them.

The youngest one and I play peek-a-boo and I chase him around, I have tried to learn his name but he is to shy to tell anyone and the other teachers do not know it. For some reason I am drawn to this little monk and can help but wonder what he is feeling with his new life.

All the monks have a choice to be here or not, but it feels different to me for the young ones. Are they truly capable to make such a big decision about their life so early in life?

I personally would be scared out of my mind to not know anyone or to have a family to comfort me, especially to know I may never see them again, but maybe to them education and learning the dharma is worth it.

When a new monk arrives at the monastery, with a small ordination ceremony in front of the Mahaparinirvana statue. Then there head will shaved; dressed in a monk's yellow shirt and maroon robe, honored with the necessary Buddhist prayers and administered ten moral commandments, and given a monks name in replace of their birth name from the lama. Then there new life begins.

I am curious to see and hear what happens to these monks but especially the littlest one.

Location:Rigor Tashi Choeling Monestary, Pharping, Nepal

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