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Happiness

MAY 8, 2017 | India: Shanti

I think the main thing that I learned from my time in India is what being happy really means.

Before going on this trip I felt lost and not sure what I wanted to do with my life. Although I didn’t find a dream career or a job I know I want to do for the rest of my life while traveling in India, I now have a direction.Through going to places like the Buddhist retreat center in Bodhgaya, the ashram in Rishikesh, and an institute for compassionate living called Dharmalaya, I learned that happiness is not always what society tells us it is. I learned that I don’t have to get a job that will make tons of money to be happy. The people that I met in these places had nothing when it comes to a capitalist society. The monks and nuns at the Root Institute had no income. The people from Dharmalaya were living in a secluded community in the Himalayas in a mud house. But what these people did have was happiness. The Buddhists were the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met. They were always so happy knowing that they were being this compassionate. Dharmalaya was combating climate change trying to create a zero waste community. The founder, Mark, was filled with so much joy with his hope for a cleaner tomorrow.

The most beautiful thing about this trip is that I can see and feel myself growing to be more like these mentors and as I do this I grow more happy and compassionate.

Zanzibar

MAY 5, 2017 | East Africa: Kifaru

Greetings from Zanzibar, friends. We have recently spent the last week exploring paradise! After an hour and half voyage on a crowded ferry, we finally made it to Stone Town. There we found ourselves greeted by our guide. He showed us to our home stay. We spent six days staying with Muslim families in the heart of Stone Town. Each day we would explore a different place in town. Some of us worked in a workshop and learned how to make and carve things out of wood. The rest of us did workshops in a spa, and learned how to make various scrubs and miscellaneous remedies.

Each of our families had unique things they did. Mine and George’s family made homemade ice cream. Nanci, Moreh and Nina’s family owns their own little convenient store. Kevin and Jack’s family seem to have their own little bed and breakfast. Overall we all had a great experience and got a good taste of Muslim life. Islam is truly beautiful. We learned a lot about the similarities and differences between Islam & Christianity. Stone town is a cute tourist town – it’s still a great place!

Now we are posted up at a beach hotel on the eastern side of the island, right on the Indian Ocean! We have spent the past few days learning to scuba dive! Some of us are snorkeling as well. We’ve seen a ton of fish as well as turtles, eels, and even dolphins. We are having the nautical experience that dreams are made of! Sad that this amazing trip is coming to an end 

Tortuga Time!

MAY 3, 2017 | Central America: Maya

Welcome to sunny Costa Rica where we’ve been staying at a turtle conservation project for the last week. Apparently we came in the low season which was a disappointment because we’ve all been looking forward to seeing turtles for the last 11 weeks. 3 of us did actually end up seeing a turtle on the beach the very first night but no more after that. The beach was beyond and the water was super clear. Snorkeling was a common activity of the week and a few of us kept going out to see the tide pools. There was a small island, accessible during low tide, which some of us ended up climbing. At night we would patrol the beaches in search of turtle nests. Let me tell you, there is nothing like walking on a Costa Rican beach in the middle of the night. Incomparable. Towards the end of the week the rain came in. It was only the second rain that year but there, when it rains… it pours. The last night of turtle hunting we got caught in a lightning storm and had to turn around because we could see actual lighting bolts striking the water in front of us. It was spine chilling. After the turtle farm we went to Alajuela and stayed at a nice hotel there for a night. We all went to catch new movies out in English and get some delicious dinner at the mall which was within walking distance. It looked like a shopping center you could find in America, it was super nice. After that we left to get on a plane to Roatan at 3 in the AM where we will learn SCUBA and spend our very last week!

Student Directed Travel!

MAY 1, 2017 | Central America: Maya

Nicaragua has been a dream. We started off the week leaving Bona Fide which just about everyone was excited for. Getting up before the sunrise was hard for most but we managed to make it to the bus stop in time. The day was full of a lot of ‘playing it by ear’, running to catch the next bus and being squished by random Nicaraguans. We eventually managed to make it to Granada in one piece. Granada is a lot like a Nicaraguan Antigua. We stayed at the Panda Lodge and thoroughly enjoyed not having to wake up at 5:30 AM to work. (Although the lack of AC made it almost impossible to sleep through the night anyway.) That night we all made our way over to the active Masaya volcano to look at the lava in the dark. It flowed bright red and I swear it was like we were looking through the gates of hell. The next day we all went back to Masaya after shopping around Granada and enjoying Kathy’s delicious Waffle House, this time to check out the artisan market we had heard so much about. Overall it was a relaxed day of shopping and soccer game watching. The next day, we left Granada and headed off to San Juan del Sur! We were back at the beach and everyone was all the happier for it, especially with the promise of Chase’s return so soon the next day. A lot of us spent time on the beach and meandering around town. The majority of us finally got a room with AC and a good nights sleep. We stayed at the Casa del Oro (House of Gold) and all the rooms are so beautiful. The following day was a lazy day full of shopping, strolling around town, and just generally chilling out. It was sunny and hot and the beach was to die for. Later that night, we finally got to welcome Chase back after 2 long weeks! Our group is whole again! The next day was full of activities like paint balling and hiking up to see Jesus, a huge statue overlooking the bay. We mostly relaxed for what was left of the day, enjoying our time with our long lost brother. Our last day was the laziest day to end the lazy days. We spent most of our time soaking up every last drop of San Juan del Sur that we could before we left for Costa Rica the next morning. We only have 2 more weeks left until we come back home. We miss our families and our phones. Our hearts go out to Chase’s family.

Mr Him

MAY 1, 2017 | Southeast Asia: Sabai

Nestled on the southern coast of Cambodia lies the town of Kampot, a short walk through the town will find you more english text than Khmer script as foreign run bars and burger joints dominate the center of town. Stationed along the beautiful Kampot river that has provided the town with a steady supply of fish markets and seafood restaurants, it has also provided a living to the countless fisherman who make their homes along the small villages that line the river. Head twenty minutes along the river to find a small Cham muslim community who have fished this river for generations. Despite looking so similar in appearance to so many of the other towns here behind the tin roof houses and salt flats is hidden the eco lodge, a small community dedicated to preserving the mangrove wildlife of the Kampot river.

The leader of this community is a man by the name of Mr. Him, behind his cigarette smoke and wrinkled face lies a man with a commanding presence and a story to share. Mr. Him originally fished the land like so many of his family, until he noticed so many of his village needing to leave to the neighboring waters of vietnam. The Kampot could no longer supply the fish that the fishers needed to fend for their families. Development taking over one of the river banks placed a major strain on the rivers mangrove ecosystem, which housed so many of the fish and small aquatic animals that keep the river ecosystem alive. So Mr. Him and his group went against the development of the river and started a nursery for mangroves in order to replant them back into the ecosystem of the river. His results speak for themselves as he has been able to nearly double the salary of the fishermen on the river and nearly prevent all of the village needing to leave to find better waters. However despite all his effort and success he faces much backlash from an even stronger presence who would like to commercialize and develop along the river.

He was once offered $50,000 USD if he would leave and allow his village to be developed on. Mr. him refused the money. He claims he is on nearly every black list in the country and has multiple arrest warrants out for him in addition to being in constant threat of violence from his opposition. We were able to offer Mr. Him a $400 USD donation for his work in the hope that he can continue to protect the land he loves.

Dharmalaya!

APRIL 24, 2017 | India - Shanti

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek” -Dalai Lama XIV

Namaskar Family and friends!

It has been an exciting week spent on the organic farm of Dharmalaya. We are up on the Himalayan mountains where we are learning about earth building, agriculture and rain water harvesting, covering the basics of how important it is to live in a healthy environment and to have compassion for all that share this planet. When working outdoors we try our best to be mindful not to step on any small insects, same goes for the big spiders in the bathrooms. We gently pick them up with a bowl and put them outside. It has definitely been a week full of surprises and challenges.

The group has been awesome at engaging in group activities/discussion. Our first three days, we helped “pug” mud for a mud house, working together with a larger group of people from all over the world. With this diversity we are able to work together harmoniously as a group and with nature. After that we had to make bricks out of the mud and learned the traditional way of brick-making in the villages up above Dharmalaya.

We’ve not only learned how to make mud houses but we’ve also learned how to plant fruits such as eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes. With these types of fruits and a wide variety of vegetables we are able to make delicious food. Yesterday, everyone in the group got the chance to help out with a traditional Indian dish for lunch. For dinner, we as a group suggested some international food that we would like to make. We then started to make them and as soon as the clock stuck 7 we all lined up with our plates and started getting food. With such a delicious meal everyone left to their room/tent full and ready for bed.

This past week I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to make chapati (flat round Indian bread) with the local ladies who work in the kitchen. Diane and I have taken the job of chapati making for our “karma yoga,” where we spent hours laughing and trying to communicating in hindi with the these two amazing local ladies while making lunch for everyone.

One day, we had an architect student join us for chapati rolling and she was translating to us the questions the ladies would ask us. One of them asked Diane, who is from New York, about the percentage of arranged marriages that happen in New York. We looked at each other and started laughing and both said zero. That night we wrote in our journals something that we are grateful for and we both wrote we are grateful for not having arranged marriage in the US.

These past 2 months and a half, the Shanti group has been exposed to a beautiful culture and we truly appreciate our time here. Before I came to India my older sister wrote me a letter saying ” you may encounter people on your trip who may not have all that the western culture declares as wealth, but always remember that what you will learn and experience is worth far more that any other types of wealth” and this has been true for me coming into a beautiful place. The hospitality and care that the people here have is amazing.

Ollantaytambo!

APRIL 24, 2017 | South America: Inti

We ended our week at Lobitos with a goodbye dinner and campfire singalong, and loaded up a van at 3 a.m. to begin our travel day to Ollantaytambo, a town of 3,000 near Cusco, Peru. In contrast to the hot sun, desert-like climate, and ocean air of Peru´s northern coast, the mountains of the Sacred Valley are cool and green, where wildflowers grow among the chacras, or agricultural fields, and chilly mornings and nights require extra layers.

Indigenous culture remains strong in Ollantaytambo. Incan ruins lie on the various mountain slopes that enclose the town, including one set in the shape of a llama! The Incan protectors, the condor, the puma, and the serpent, are visible on trash cans and streetlamps in the main plaza. Many streets and buildings bear Quechua, and students learn Quechua alongside Spanish in schools.

We have also been learning Spanish this week, both in our morning classes and our conversations with our homestay families. In the afternoons, we have had time to explore the city, visit ruins, and even see the extensive salt flats that lie outside of a neighboring town. We´re enjoying our time in the mountains and getting to know more about Incan culture here in Ollantaytambo.

Lake Bunyoni, Uganda and Student Directed Travel!

APRIL 26, 2017 | East Africa: Kifaru

I’ll start off with Lake Bunyoni. It was absolutely amazing to be able to swim for the first time in Africa! The water was pretty cold, but it was disease, hippo, and crocodile free, so we took what we could get. After a half day of resting we embarked on our canoe and hiking trek. The first day we canoed to a few different islands including an island that used to be a home for lepers, an island with a resort on it, and the island that unmarried pregnant girls were left on to die in the past. That night we stayed at the house of Mama Bena, and had a fantastic meal. The next morning we started our 9 mile hike. The first bit was on a road, so it was pretty easy. We stopped to visit a group of Twa, the native tribe that used to hunt and gather in the forests until they were removed to protect the mountain gorillas. We learned about how their way of life has changed, tried to shoot their bow and arrows, and bought some hand made crafts. Then we started the hard hike up to the top of the mountain. We reached the summit and had a great lunch before continuing our hike. We spent the night on Tom’s Island, which is owned by a man named Tom (surprising). The last day we finished up our trek by ending at the most expensive resort on Lake Bunyoni for lunch.

Our next stop was in Kampala for a few days. We visited the National Mosque, saw the State House, and visited one of 8 Bahai Temples in the world. We moved from Kampala to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. There are 19 rhinos there, and we helped to monitor a few of them. They are all monitored 24/7 to protect them from poachers. We also helped doing maintenance around the Sanctuary, tracking birds, and we even got to go on a night walk. We didn’t see any leopards, but it was still really cool. We had one night in a very fancy lodge, too, which was a nice treat.

After Ziwa we headed south again to go to Jinja for white water rafting and student directed travel. We stayed near the Nile River, and the camp we were staying at had amazing views of the river at sundown. Everyone was pumped for rafting, and all 11 of us went. The Nile River is widely considered some of the best rafting in the world, and it was super fun. One of the boats even flipped over, and there was a point where Chris was the only person left on his boat as a result of his “rafting skills” which were later revealed through pictures to be comprised solely of luck.

Student directed travel started the next day, and most people went on a fishing trip. While no fish were caught, everyone had a good time on the water, and J.T. learned to drive a boat. We then headed to Entebbe, our final destination. We spent 4 days at the Ugandan Wildlife Education Center, which I will call the zoo. Riley did a full day zookeeper experience where he got to touch all sorts of animals and feed lions! George and Nina also did a shorter version of this program, and got to play with cheetahs. The rest of us had time to relax, check out the town, do some shopping, and even watch movies at a movie theater and eat KFC!

Unfortunately, during our time in Entebbe, two students got into a little bit of trouble and had to leave the trip. There is no way to put a positive spin on it, and we are sad to see our two balls of energy leave the group. While the group dynamic is definitely different we will all have to do our best to enjoy the rest of the trip. We look forward to Zanzibar, the internships, and SCUBA diving. See you all in 2 weeks!

Kmer Fun!

APRIL 17, 2017 | Southeast Asia- Sabai

Our last day at PTD involved watching a group of Khmer students test their English with a spelling bee. We then got recognized for our hard days of volunteer work by being awarded a certificate and then got to eat dinner with all the students. We have been traveling Cambodia majority of this week; going from Battambang to Siem Reap where we got to see Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and a beautiful sunset by the floating villages. We are now in the big city, Phnom Penh. Today we spent our time going to the S21 Museum and a killing field where we got to learn about the genocide that took around 3 million lives from 1975-1979 in Cambodia. So far Cambodia has been giving us great knowledge, great food and unforgettable memories.

Here are the highlights of the week from each member:

Martin enjoyed relaxing on a boat while watching the amazing sunset in the floating village. Luke enjoyed seeing Ta Prohm and all its hidden secrets. Cooper enjoyed swimming at the Paradise Eco Lodge we stayed at in Siem Reap. Nit Noi (Taylor) enjoyed watching the spelling bee and sharing her final moments with our beloved Khmer translator friend, Ravy. Malit (Taylor) enjoyed being in the middle of the lake seeing the colors and clouds shift among the sunset. Chris enjoyed gathering up as a group before entering Ta Prohm. We all sat near a lake to talk when we saw a little naked boy herding about 5 water buffalo. Such a surreal moment and happy reminder of where we are in the world. Anya enjoyed celebrating her birthday with the group, the boat ride throughout the floating village and the sunset, and then getting surprised with a birthday cake, playing Marco-Polo in the pool, and receiving little thoughtful notes/gifts throughout the day.

And I enjoyed watching that amazing sunset in the floating village.

On to Peru!

APRIL 13, 2017 | South America - INTI

Our time in Ecuador is almost up! What better way to spend it than riding the highest and longest zipline in South America! It was definitely a bit daunting at first sight, it was awesome to see everyone conquer it. We spent our final two days at a hostel in Otavalo. We had a lot of time to relax and get some good food before our journey to Peru.

After traveling for 17 hours, we finally made it to Lobitos, a small town on the coast of northern Peru! There, we worked with WAVES,an organization that does a lot of community service work and teaches surfing. We did a lot of community service, such as beach cleanups, cleaning up the school, and painting murals. In the afternoons, we hung out on the beach, took surfing lessons, and watched the sunset. On Sunday, we got up early in the morning, and went out on the water with some local fisherman to fish and make ceviche. It was really fun competing with each other to see who could catch the most fish! And the ceviche was fantastic! We saw some sea lions while we were at it too!

It was an exhausting, but awesome week, and were looking forward for what Peru has in store for us next!