Volunteering with kids

One of the most fantastic aspects of the SMU-in-Australia program is that it encourages community outreach. Aside from weekend trips like the one I took to Gnowangerup, I will be volunteering regularly at two schools. The first is an elementary school for disabled children ranging from 2 to 13 years old. The school takes the whole child into consideration delivering individualized programs that will help integrate them into the regular school system.

I help with the hydrotherapy (swimming) program, which is focused on improving the children’s overall competency levels including motor development, physical strength, spatial orientation, social participation and psychological well-being. I am excited to work in this program because one of my employment options when I return home is to do social work with disabled children. This school will be a fun way to familiarize myself with the daily struggles that children with special needs face as well as the advantages and disadvantages to different learning environments. In case you are worried about my questionable swimming abilities, well I was, too, but the pool is not deep enough to kill me … and the have floaties.

The other school is for refugee children. I will be helping teach the drumming and assisting with the arts and crafts. I saw a girl there with gray hair. She couldn’t have been 7, and imagine the stress that she must have endured to make even her follicles scream. The children, all from different countries, all refugees, had debates about the quality of their home countries as we strung necklaces for the school fair. Most of the kids agreed that their countries were bad and that Australia was better. It’s surreal for me to meet refugee children. I do so much work to help Sudan back home – I write letters, help host vigils, raise money – I read about all of the horrible things happening in Darfur,but when a child from there tells you about them you have to take note. It has been a lot easier to hypothesize about the people of Sudan from the safety of my computer chair, but working with the children is much more fulfilling.

Rottnest Island

Serving as a prison in 1838 and a site for shipwrecks throughout history Rottnest Island is now a hot spot for travelers in Australia. The beaches are beautiful, and the animals are out even in wintertime. Quokkas, marsupials that looks like the love child of a giant rat and a hamster, can be seen all over the island, especially at night. I think that they are kind of cute except when I think about the rat thing. The name Rottnest is Dutch for “rat nest” coined by Willem de Vlamingh, who also mistook them for rats.

Lizards are also easily spotted on the island. One surprised me when I was on the potty. You don’t think that a lizard would be frightening… but when you are taking care of business and something slimy and strange is darting toward you… well, let’s just say it was a good thing that I was on the toilet already.

Tree Top Walk

Yesterday I went to Denmark. No, not that Denmark, the one in Australia. I went over 250 miles away from my home and Perth to the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. The Walpole-Nornalup National Park is a massive forest area. I’m assuming that the word giant in the title of this adventure refers to how you feel while on the walk. The rain did not stop me from pretending that I was almost as tall as the trees as I went on a walkway that was over a hundred feet tall. The emergency poncho that I sported stopped me from hearing any forest noises as it sounded like being inside a trash bag … and looking like you were eaten by a marshmallow doesn’t make the best pictures to send to your grandmother.