Myles Harrington

Posts Tagged ‘Volunteering’

Setting Up Camp in Cambodia

In Cambodia on October 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

For the last two weeks we’ve not had a single day without a torrential downpour lasting at least a few hours, if not all day or night or both. I thought it rained a lot in the UK but this is something different, raindrops the size of marbles cascade in waterfalls down the sides of buildings and pound on the tin roofs to make a deafening tribal like drum beat. As I’ve come to expect when arriving somewhere totally new, it’s normally pissing it down upon my arrival, our disembarkment in Cambodia’s capital was no exception. Luckily for us, King Guesthouse where we were dropped by the chilly air-con minibus was offering rooms for a steal at $6 a pop. After six months away I’m starting to get weary of the hunt to save 30p, I’ve realised sometimes it’s just not worth it. Why traipse around for an hour in the storm to save a few pence and find a scummier room when the first option was adequate, a good deal and not mouldy?


In Asia the roads turn to rivers when the rain comes down


With Shubes feeling a little under the weather on our first full day in Phnom Penh we did virtually nothing. With the promise of a Heinz baked bean and cheese toasted (Breville) sandwich on the guesthouse’s menu, who would want to go out and see one of Asia’s prettiest capitals? They failed to live up to their promise and served an imitation bean on an under-toasted baguette. If this was the UK I would be complaining under The Trade Descriptions Act 1968. I eventually managed to drag Shubes out of the room, after a disappointing lunch, but only with the promise of clothes shopping. She didn’t disappoint in living up to the reputation of woman worldwide, a couple of new items and some new shoes later and we were done for the day.


The best bit of the shopping mall was the roller blading rink, Shubes would disagree


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Dancing in the Station

In India on June 1, 2010 at 7:41 pm

There she was just sat there, very sweet, very quiet and not more than three years old. I was in Siliguri‘s main police station and she was a lost child; Brianca. Surprisingly she didn’t seem scared at all but she clung to the man who had brought her in. She also attempted to make a run for the door a few times, I don’t know where she thought she was going. I bought her a mango juice carton which kept her occupied for a while, although most of it ended up on her and the floor.

Missing but not scared

I’d just arrived in town that morning from Kolkata on one of the worst bus journeys ever experienced by mankind. If there was a bus to hell that would probably be it. I had to share a single bed with a man who stank of bidies and at 3am the roof started gushing from a storm. Not to mention the suspension was f*cked, so every little bump caused me to whack my head on the ceiling. Perhaps that’s what caused the broken roof?

Two hours later, weary and battered, I was with one of ICSRS’s (ideal center for social research and self reliance) field workers, observing Raj do his day job. The paper work was completed at the station and we drove off on a motorbike with Brianca in between us screaming her head off. We stopped to buy some chocolate but she wouldn’t take it and five minutes later we arrived at the childrens’ shelter run by Conc’rn. While we were there Raj got a call. Another child had been found and his colleague Joyti, who was hosting me in Siliguri, had gone to pick her up. They arrived ten minutes later. This child was actually talking (a bit) and was older than Brianca so there was more hope for finding her parents.

The second lost child of the morning

Next was a trip to the boys’ shelter just up the road. A great bunch of kids all jumping around, singing songs and they were very polite “hello uncle, how are you?” As most kids I’ve encountered they loved having their photo taken so a photo shoot ensued.

At the lads' house

Today I had the pleasure of hanging out with Praggyaparamita and Arindam of Conc’rn at NJP train station finding new child arrivals, talking to them and guiding them to the drop-in-centre just outside of the station. The kids were very excitable, I don’t know whether it was because I was there, because they’d just had a glue hit or whether they were always like it. For some reason one of the boys, Bumba Das, kept saying one of the only English sentences he knew “I said, GET OUT!”, I don’t know where on earth he’d gotten that from so I taught him a new one that will probably help him get further in life “Give me money”. Then we danced on the platform to Praggyaparamita’s Bengali music on her mobile phone, which the children kept trying to sneak off with.

I said GET OUT!

Gettin jiggy wit it on platform 2

To finish off the day nicely I got some good news when I returned to Conc’rn’s office for lunch. Brianca had been picked up by her parents this morning.

Becoming a Member of The Village People

In India on May 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

Two Wednesdays ago I left my base in Nandakumarpur and headed south, deeper into the Sunderbans to Sabuj Sangha’s Brajaballavpur base. When I initially set off at 6am I thought I was only going for two nights so I was grossly under prepared for my eight day excursion; two t-shirts, one book and no phone or ipod chargers. Little did I know then how rural the area was. The electricity came from a village generator and there was absolutely no chance I was getting an English paper, let alone the latest Dan Brown. Hence I ended up reading The War of the Worlds twice and purchasing a deck of cards, so that in my spare time I could recreate the solitaire game I’ve recently become addicted to on my Blackberry.

While I was there I stayed with the friendly team of five staff members in their two room office cum home where they worked extremely long days (5am to midnight) for seven days a week. The house had no running water so trips to the well, that was luckily located outside the property, were frequent.

The three amigos; Aroof (sp), Goutam and Bhabani

We ate as they always did at a local lady’s house a short walk from the office. The two cooks took it in turns to conjure up delicious Bengali cuisine for every lunch and dinner. Some personal favourites were a sour fish curry and a spicy colcannon type dish (aloo chokha). The meals were very carb heavy but so good. A typical dinner was a mound of rice, a few chapatti, aloo chokha, potato and marrow curry and a fish and potato curry. Gillian McKeith would have had a heart attack at the sight of it. I also learnt how to eat rice and curry with my hands, which is easy when you know how, although my attempts on the first day caused many laughs.

Very handy

The village itself is a quaint place where everyone knows everyone and everything. The gossip spread about me being in town and rumours were aplenty, I was even the local photographer’s desktop background for a day. It was rather strange how the locals started talking to me in Bengali as if they expected me to know it and were often shocked when I told hem I didn’t know Hindi either. Only a handful of people knew some key English words so I could roughly get a basic conversation going in the tea shops with charades. Even though we couldn’t communicate verbally it was very easy to make friends with the villagers and by the end of my week in town I couldn’t walk down the street without being offered a Char (tea).

The working men's club

A little map I drew of the main bazaar

The work Sabuj Sangha is doing in Brajaballavpur is essential to the redevelopment of the area’s economy and the peoples’ lives after Cyclone Aila struck last May. The team there are mainly concentrating on rebuilding the area’s agricultural system because the economy is so reliant on the income from crops. The soil was polluted by the salty water from the Bay of Bengal making it very difficult for the rice paddy to grow as normal. The organisation is also operating a cash for work programme where the villages can apply to work for 100 Rs (£1.50) a day. The work is grueling hard labour, re-digging the ponds that are used as a water resource and fisheries, that were filled in by the mud Aila brought. I only did it for about half an hour and my hands were raw, my back hurt, my hair was matted with clay and I was covered in mud. The villagers were carrying three times the amount I did too. They definitely earn their money!

Don't give up your desk jobs

Scaring The Kids of Nandakumarpur

In India on May 27, 2010 at 7:23 am

No blog post for over ten days. Very poor form. But I have an excuse! I have been in the Sunderbans for most of the last two weeks working with Sabuj Sangha, a locally based NGO that specialises in health, education, water and sanitation, woman’s rights and micro-finance projects for the people in the Sunderbans area of West Bengal.

My first week with the organisation was spent at their Nandakumarpur HQ. It takes about three hours to get there from Kolkata. Firstly, by a packed commuter train for an hour and a half and then by auto rickshaw from the nearest train station for the rest of the journey.

At their HQ there is an excellent hospital with all mod-cons and a great primary school with just over 100 students. My primary objective at the school was to help out with the English lessons and to generally have fun with the kids. I was staying on the school grounds in their very cosy accommodation, which was complete luxury compared to some of the dives i’ve stayed in. They even provided me with soap and mineral water on demand. The chai was also one of the best i’ve had and the food was delicious for the whole of my time there, all thanks to the attentive canteen manager and his two wonderful cooks.

When the kids finally came to me

I managed to sneak into the compound on my first day without the pupils spotting me. When they eventually did at home time they were so scared! I couldn’t get within 50 metres of them for the first twenty minutes. No matter how much I chased or put out my hand, smiled or waved.  Eventually they all got the courage to come to me so I showed them my Blackberry and all of the photos of people back home and played them a selection of songs from my ipod. Bill Withers, The Corrs and Bob Marley featured on the playlist. I thought Digitalism would have blown them away so steered clear of anything too abstract for their innocent ears. Then I bought them sweets and took a few photos to their amazement.

Initially it all seemed easy enough until on my first day of proper teaching I was put in front of a class and told to teach. Having never taught anything in my life before I was a little uneasy and managed to blag my way through teaching them basic questions and answers such as “how are you?”, “What food do you like?” and “What is your favourite colour?” etc.

I scored five! If only I was that good against people my own size

For the rest of my time there after my dodgy first lessons I just asked to help the other teachers and we seemed to work well as a double act. I would write on the board and pronounce the words while the teachers would translate for the children what I wanted them to do.  I also taught them rhymes before lunch time such as Baa Baa Black Sheep and Humpty Dumpty which the children loved.

The P.E teacher sings his heart out for the students. My rhymes weren't quite that impressive

Preparations, Preparations, Preparations

In Planning on March 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

My life is quite crazy right now. So much to do and so little time. I am also a procrastinator so creating a blog at this moment in time seemed like the perfect idea. I have also promised to make a chicken pie for dinner tonight so that’ll take up some valuable packing time too. Here is an insight into my ever expanding to do list:

  • Apply to NGOs to volunteer in India
  • Put my bike for sale on Gumtree
  • Change my bank account addresses
  • Take old clothes to the charity shop
  • Put important documents on a USB
  • Book my hostel in Delhi
  • Buy a new compact camera lens
  • Print off flight tickets
  • Buy travel insurance
  • Pack up my whole life and take it to Basingstoke
  • See as many of my 18 friends as I possibly can

I best get going.