Gifts to send abroad

I’ve lived abroad for several years in different countries, and I am always so grateful and excited to receive any type of post from home, but when it’s a package, that excitement increases even more than getting a postcard. A huge thank you to everyone who has sent me postcards and letters over the years, I have kept every single one of them and I found some earlier, which prompted this post.

When you have friends of family living abroad, and want to send them a gift, here are some things to consider…not all home comforts can be sent abroad.

First and most importantly, I think you should never send anybody anything valuable. You should send things with the back thought that ‘it might not get there’, because trust me, not all packages arrive. Some are opened by customs or nibbled at by mice before it gets to the receiver and some just never ever arrive at all.

Food

Food and comfort food is always great to send. Always check the date on what you send, as parcels could take from 10 days to 10 weeks to arrive. Coming from the UK, I always request Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and it’s much better to send a multipack of individual bars, rather than a big 500g block. Because if you open a 500g bar, you have to either share it, or eat it all within a few days. 10 x 50g bars last a lot longer. Plain chocolate is always better than anything with caramel or sticky things inside, as they sometimes leak (creme eggs).

I missed cereals when I was in China, and a friend of mine had the greatest idea to send one of those Kelloggs multipack of cereals, you know, the ones for indecisive children. They’re light, so cheap to send and also nostalgic.

Stuff to read

If you’re a book fan, like me, you might run out of things to read. Even with a kindle, there is still nothing greater than a nice paperback book, a magazine or newspaper clipping from home. Most charity shops sell books for between 50p and £1.50, so they are not expensive to buy.

Cosmetics

Not all foreign countries have the same brands and types of cosmetics as they do at home. Asian countries that attach a high importance to looking pale, use a lot of whitening products in their cosmetics, so it’s nice to receive some moisturiser or hand cream from home, knowing that it won’t bleach your skin. Make sure it’s properly sealed, cos a leakage of creams could be devastating.

Teaching aids

If your loved one is teaching overseas, ask them if they need any teaching aids that you can’t get abroad – like blu tac, ‘well done!’ stickers or colouring books to make photocopies of. Blu tac really isn’t sold overseas!

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Not a Voluntourist

After reading many articles in the British press recently, I would like to take this opportunity to explain how my year abroad pre-university was not voluntourism. Although nobody has challenged me about the validity or worthiness of my gap year in Chile, I feel that my silence about the subject often leaves people curious as to what I did.

Selling Glowsticks
Selling glowsticks to teenagers and nightclub goers

Fundraising

After an assembly in year 12, I enrolled on a selection course with Project Trust, an educational charity based in the UK. After being accepted onto their program, I had the ginormous [dzai-norr-mus] < not a word but it’s a combination of giant and enormous > task of fundraising £4850 for the charity. Project Trust (henchforth PT) actively encourages volunteers to fundraise money in innovative and fun ways. I never stood in the city centre shaking a tin at passers-by, instead I became a leader of my own mini enterprise as it were. I approached businesses for sponsorship and raffle prizes, networked within my local community to rally support and took advantage of schemes such as recycling mobile phones and CDs to raise the money needed to fund my year out. I also did a 10km sponsored swim, sold glowsticks in clubs, held bake sales and went to car boot sales. PT has a clear and transparent system in terms of money, and with documents such as their annual reports it was clear that the money I raised was being spent on the individual volunteers in terms of flights, insurance, food, accommodation etc. If you would like to read more information, and see Project Trust’s stance on voluntourism, please follow this link http://www.projecttrust.org.uk/News.php?p=60&n=194 .

Learning the names of animals
Learning the names of animals

English Teaching in Colegio Anglicano William Wilson In Chile I was volunteering in a primary/middle school in a small village. Rachel and I taught English to the younger ages ourselves, we created our own resources and made our own lesson plans. We taught these classes once a week, and both put lots of effort into making fun activities for the children to do to improve their English. We made worksheets, flashcards and prepared songs. Planning lessons from scratch for a class of thirty 7 year olds requires a lot of work, and a lot of patience was needed in the classroom. These timetabled classes were taught by us each week for the whole school year, but we also were sometimes told at the last minute that a teacher was ill, so we would have to carry on teaching English for the next hour too. I doubt a voluntourist teacher would be ‘dropped in it’ like this at the last minute, left having to think on their feet for more activities and games for the students.

Eldest class in the school
Eldest class in the school

In the older classes (year 5 onwards) we were language assistants, helping the English teacher with lessons from the Chilean national curriculum. These were more frustrating classes for us, I personally felt that often I was more of a distraction to the pupils than a help, as they wanted to ask me questions about England rather than pay attention and learn grammar structures. We approached the headteacher with an idea to take out small groups of students for 5 minutes each lesson to work on their pronunciation. This proved popular, and despite not being to take out each student each time, we managed to help students on a more personal level and we saw progress over the weeks we did this for. The reason we felt it was necessary to ask the school to change their ways, was because we were in the school to help students with their English, and for a while, we were not actively helping any of the elder pupils by being in the classroom. The fact that we had to push and fight for our idea to become a reality, to me, shows that we were not tourists, just passing by the school to take pictures with the children. As the project was long term (one year) both Rachel and I had plenty of time to be able to make some changes and have an impact on some people.

Secondary Project

We also set up a secondary project, teaching conversational English to adults in the local community each Monday night. I really enjoyed these classes, as we only spoke in English to the adult learners and instead of us giving them answers in Spanish, they were able to help each other to understand. Our classes were different each week and in the 10 week course we covereda wide range of topics such as general introductions, phone numbers, introducing family members, spelling and the alphabet, asking for directions, asking and answering questions. PT encourages each volunteer, or pair to set up a secondary project in their time overseas, complimentary to the voluntary English teaching we were doing. I felt a great sense of achievement with the adult English classes in the community, as we acted on our own initiative to provide a useful service for the wider community. To set it up, formal emails were sent, we had various meetings with different members of the local council and were even personally greeted and thanked by the Mayoress.

Not all smiles

Although my year abroad was fantastic, I learnt a lot about myself, the world, different ways of living etc, it was not all smiles. Living in a small community for a long amount of time allows you to see and learn all about it. I was able to celebrate with the Cholcholinos during their (very many!) festivals and days of celebration, but also I witnessed the passing of some members of the community and attended funerals. I was a part of the grieving process and although it was eye opening seeing how different cultures face death, it was also very sad. I was told over and over again by the Cholcholinos that the age-old saying is true,

Pueblo chico, infierno grande (Small village, large Hell)

"I was born between thistles and the foamy river. They called me Trol Trol for being beautiful land"
“I was born between thistles and the foamy river. They called me Trol Trol for being beautiful land”

I understood this after a few months in the village. It seemed that everybody talked about the gringuitas (little foreign girls) over their onces (elevenses). If I told one person something, the next day many more people would have found out. It wasn’t out of malice that they talked about where we were, who we were friends with or what we were doing this weekend. But it soon became frustrating for me especially.

Tourism

Tango dancers
Tango dancers

Of course, during the weekends and my holidays I was a tourist, taking time to visit many cities, sights and museums across South America. Travelling in a group of eight girls was difficult, especially for me as I was the designated map reader, translator, currency converter and English – Spanish dictionary. But I had an amazing time visiting more of Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

To conclude, the main reasons I believe my gap year with Project Trust was not voluntourism are:

  • Fundraising by myself allowed me to take control of my year abroad before I went, and it wasn’t a case of my parents paying for my time overseas. I worked extremely hard to fundraise, at a time when I was also studying for my A-levels and choosing universities
  • Project Trust is a registered educational charity with over 40 years of experience; they carefully vet each project to ensure that no work is taken from members of the local community, so my volunteering was an extra help to the school
  • I was based in a long term project for one year, enabling me to see and be involved in all aspects of community life, good and bad
  • I didn’t do ‘half a job’, I was involved in a whole academic year of school activities
  • I made strong, real friendships with the people I met, and keep in contact with many of the teachers and students from the school.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who supported me in my fundraising, including my family members, friends, neighbours and members of my local community. I was supported by Barclays bank, The Lord Mayor’s [of Coventry] Charity, Caludon Castle Sports Centre, Zenith Contractors, Nandos, The Litten Tree, Pinley RFC and Kasbah.

Patitas the Internado Dog

Patitas

This is Patitas (Paws), he is a street dog of CholChol who has chosen the William Wilson girls internado as his home. He comes on weekdays for his breakfast, dinner and tea with his friends, and I’m not sure what he does on weekends, I’ve never really seen him around. The girls don’t always eat all of their bread, so what’s left over gets given to Patitas. In return for food, he protects the girls from the ‘dangerous’ people in CholChol – ie men on bikes, the dustman, and men in general. When he sees any of the above mentioned outside the internado he will bark, growl and chase after them until they go away. This frustrates the men (the binman in particular) and poor Patitas normally gets a few stones thrown at him in the process.

Patitas is well loved by the girls, and a few of the girls have brought in proper dog food for him, rather than just leftover bread. Kathy is a real dog lover, and she asked the inspectors (the peple who look after the children in the boarding house) if we could build a kennel for him, so that he’d be warmer and so that he’d be the official internado dog. She said that he protects them, and she wanted to give him something in return, and that she hates to see him cold and lonely.

Last year (before the summer holidays) Patitas was much healthier, he had a spring in his step, his eyes had a sparkle to them, and his fur was in much better condition. Before the summer I had my doubts that he’d survive without the girl’s bread….However, he spent the summer down at the CholChol river, where people camp out selling sopaipillas, and other typical Chilean fast food. I was at the river with my Mum, and I saw Patitas and shouted out
“Mum! Look, it’s Patitas, he’s alive! And look at his belly, he’s been eating well. Isn’t he so cute? I’m so happy he’s still alive!”
My Mum had never seen or heard me be so compassionate about a dog before, because before I came to Chile I was super scared of dogs.

Now that it’s winter, and the weather’s getting colder, and Patitas doesn’t have his kennel, he’s getting ill. His fur is looking worse, his eyes are dark and closed (one was a bit pussy the other day too). He sits on the ground shivering, and his legs are just skin and bones. He’s looking really ill, and I hope he doesn’t die.

I often wish he was a bit prettier and had less fleas so that I could stroke his ears and ruffle what’s left of his fur – but he’s an ugly dog, let’s be honest. But at the end of the day, I respect him, thank him, and am starting to love him.

The Ngillatún

On December 4th we had been invited by the family of a teacher to a Mapuche ritual ceremony called a Ngillatún. We felt very privileged to be invited to this ceremony, and we were told by the family that it is important to the Mapuche culture. Because of the nature of the ceremony, we wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures, or record any of it, as it is a sacred ceremony. It goes on for two days, and we were invited to the second day. The family had slept overnight in a ramada, made of metal sheets, branches, and wood, and we arrived early in the morning (around 7am) for breakfast. Breakfast was two massive sopaipillas, that had been cooked in what looked like a witch’s cauldron.

After breakfast, the ceremony continued (it had started before sunrise) with some prayers around the Rewe. The Rewe was a large cross-like structure made of wood, with lots of branches, and leaves attached to it. Around the Rewe there were sacrifices to the gods, these were a horse, two cows, a sheep, two chickens and bottles of Muday – a really weird tasting drink of milk and mote. The animals were alive, and were tied to the Rewe for the day, they were not killed or eaten. Rachel asked where the toilet was, and she was told that you just have to go find a bush!

We then went to the river to make ofrendas (offerings) to the gods. The Machi, and the elders threw money, mote, a strong alcohol, and cigarette smoke into the river, whilst playing their typical instruments, and singing in the Mapuche language, Mapundungun. We had to wave branches in time with the rhythm, amongst all the people dressed in the typical Mapuche dress, some with barefeet. We went back to the Rewe and started circling around the animals, the poor horse seemed really frightened of us all. Then it was time for the ‘dancing’, which involved walking very slowly back and forth in alternating lines of women and men. We walked in time with the music, back and forth for a good hour and a half, during which, women came along the lines offering Muday and hot mote. We’d been told that you have to accept everything you are given at a Ngillatún, even if you don’t like it. Then it was time for the most important part of the ceremony, the Machi‘s trance.

The Machi is a special person in the Mapuche community who has a special connection and ability to speak with the Mapuche gods. She leads the Ngillatún, and if the Mapuches do the ceremony incorrectly, or badly, the Machi gets punished by the gods, and she gets ill. The Machi, and three other important people were in a circle, surrounded by the musicians. The Machi had two knives in her hands, and she kept hitting them together in the air, then she threw the knives to the ground, and ran to the Rewe. She held onto the Rewe, and started speaking in Mapundungun, in a sing-songy way I felt. The music had stopped by this point, so that people could hear what she was saying, and so that they could translate it, because afterwards, the Machi has no recollection of what she did or said in her trance. We stood around the Machi and the Rewe, in the blazing heat for around twenty minutes, before I fainted. It was just the heat, and the standing up and dancing for such a long time, but I was quickly picked up by some guys, and taken to the shade and fussed over. They made me stay inside for a while, so I missed the next dance, where men dance around mimicking birds. Chileans and Mapuches are both quite health concerned people so they were urging me to go to the hospital after fainting but I really didn’t want to as it was just from heat exhaustion.

Then it was time for lunch, which had been cooking for most of the morning, roast beef and sopaipillas. Each family of Mapuches had invited guests, whom they had to serve. Then, the families would send plates of beef and sopaipillas to all the people they knew. Obviously, a lot of the Mapuches know each other, so each family had previously killed one (or in our case two) cows to cook and give to their friends. So me and Rachel sat eating our yummy meat and sopaipilla, and we saw more Mapuche people coming into our ramada and just giving plates of food to their friends. You have to take all the food you recieve, and the families have to give out all the food they’ve cooked, so some people went home with carrier bags full of enough meat to feed a family of five for three weeks! We haven’t got any Mapuche friends, it seems, as we only got one plate of food.

We went home, and were really tired, it had been a really hot and intense day, taking in all these new smells, people, and tastes. When the rest of the family arrived home, they had a whole mountain of washing up to do, but when it was done, Miriam sat and told us more about the background of the ceremony, and also what the Machi said in her trance. She said that the ceremony is done to ask about the next two years (everything in the Mapuche world is always done in pairs, and even numbers). This includes if anyone is going to get ill, if there will be a good harvest this year, and she also said that last year in a Ngillatún in Imperial, the Machi said that something really bad would happen to the whole country for example, an earthquake.

The Machi said in her trance, that they had completed the ceremony well, and that the gods were pleased with their dancing. She said that in the field where the Ngillatún was, it was a new location, and they lacked a specific plant which should have been there. This is why we went to the river, to beg forgiveness and to say sorry for not having the plant. The Machi said how one of the elders in the Mapuche group was unwell, and this was true, as he was having an operation. She also explained that the Machi would have a dream that night, so people from the group would have to go and see her early in the morning, before sunrise to talk to her about her dream, and make sure that she was okay; because if they had done anything wrong, the Machi would be the one who would get ill.

We learnt a lot about the Mapuche culture in this ceremony, and we enjoyed ourselves, even though it was really hot. We felt so privileged and grateful for being invited by them, and it is a day which I’m not going to forget anytime soon.

Two month update

To everyone, I’m writing to update you on my first 2 months in Chile, I can’t believe it’s been 2 months already, it’s gone really fast. Firtly, my village Chol-Chol is located in the 9th region in the South of Chile. It’s 10 hrs on bus from Santiago, and even further away from the San Jose mine where the miners were rescued from. Chol-Chol is set right in the Chilean countryside, and everyday I see farmers travelling through the village on horseback, horse-drawn and cow-drawn wagons. The air is really clean and fresh and as we’ve found out gossip spreads really fast between the locals. The village lacks some amenities like a post office, shops, cash machines but it has most other things.

The school itself seems really big, as 95% of the houses in Chol-Chol are one storey and the school is 2 storeys. Inside there is a well equipped pc suite funded by the government, but there are still signs of poverty within the school. It’s sports hall has holes in the floor, so all PE lessons take place on the gravel playground. Also, the teachers, students and parents are always selling things in the staffroom – food, ponchos, plants, cakes, and even livestock! I teach the UK equivalent of reception, yr 2 and yr 3 English for 45 minutes a week by myself. Their normal class teacher is in the room with me to help me make them be quiet, and I have total freedom of what I teach them. I’ve been doing body parts, weather and animals with them so far. Also I’m a classroom assistant for yrs 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

I’m living in the boarding house with around 36 girls. They stay at the school because many of the children come from houses living in the countryside where there are no schools. Some have to travel 1.5 hours to get home on Fridays. The girls have all been really friendly, and each of them love playing with my hair, as everyone here has long straight black hair and they haven’t seen curls like mine in person before. They braid it, comb it and stare at it too.

At weekends the girls all go home so me and Rachel get the boardng house to ourselves, we cook for ourselves and often try to get away from the village to see some of Chile. We’ve been to Temuco, the capital of the region many times to shop, also we went on a mini break to Lican Ray and Coñaripe. These are little villages on the side of lakes (like the Lake District in the UK). There were black sand beaches, we went on a rowing boat and had a little dip in the freezing water. Also, we went to Villarrica, and in a pizza restaurant we felt the ground shaking, in Villarrica there’s another lake alongside the volcano Villarrica which the day we went was snow-covered, with smoke coming out of the top. Also, about a month ago, we went snowboarding on Chile’s most active volcano Llaima.