Category Archives: volunteer

Global Awareness: Kony 2012

With the powers of social media, news can spread to millions with a simple click of a mouse.

Many of you may have already seen this, but if not, please watch this video created by Invisible Children titled Kony 2012.

For those of you who don’t really know too much about this, I’ll try to explain what I know this in a simplified way, especially since the situation is well over my head and complex with politics, government systems and who knows what else.

Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), which is a guerrilla group in Uganda, Africa. His rebellion began in 1986 and ever since then, he has estimated to have abducted over 66,000 children to use as child soldier and sex slaves; “Kony’s fighters have been accused of murder, rape, torture and sexual enslavement” and “reports say they have massacred civilians inside churches, forced them off cliffs, burned them alive and even made them eat dead bodies” (ABC Melbourne). To add to this, “Many of them are carried out by brutalised children recruited to serve as sex slaves, cannon fodder and killers”(ABC Melbourne).

On October 6, 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Kony on 21 counts of war crimes, including 12 of crimes against humanity. But…what does this mean? For those of you who don’t know, the ICC is a tribunal (institution with authority to judge/dispute/etc) to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

So if he’s been indicted by the ICC, what’s the problem? Well, for one, the ICC have “no teeth,” basically, all bark, no bite. There are many shortcomings to the ICC, such as a lack of an institution to enforce international criminal law, instead, the effectiveness depends on unstable political will from world capitals. Well, “without the cooperation and support of individual states, international courts are doomed to impotence: for example, they have no power to arrest, to compel the production of evidence, nor to enforce judgments. For these reasons alone, a rigorous system for the rule of law cannot at present be established; justice cannot meaningfully be administered without regard to the volatile and complex world of international politics (Yale Law School).”

However, this is not to say that the ICC isn’t effective, it just needs the support. Raising public awareness is one of the biggest struggles of Kony’s indictment. Think about it, why would other, powerful-booming countries need to take part in Uganda’s issues? Many will ask, why is this America’s problems? What about the children in America getting kidnapped and raped? Why does everyone think America should be the peace keeper? There is no money to be made in Uganda, nor is there a financial lost or economic impact for the US, or in most other cases, any other country. As ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said, “Kony is difficult, he is not killing people in Paris or in New York. Kony is killing people in Central African Republic, no one cares about him,” he said. “These young people from California mobilizing this effort is incredible, exactly what we need (CBCnews).”

Next steps? Capture him and put him on trial…some other problems though, is that he is most likely out of Uganda…and two, rumor has it, he might already be dead or already defeated. Plus, even if he were put on trial and caught, would that stop this systemic problem? Has Invisible Children addressed the long term goals? or even the ICC? In the end, Africa NEEDS to become independent from foreign aid. But…that is another long rant to go on about…And finally, is the LRA STILL all that powerful? If you go around and do your research, you’ll find that Uganda is no longer experiencing violence from the LRA and have moved into Congo, and Uganda is in the middle of peace talks. To add to this, Kony has been inactive for the last 6 or so years, yet the LRA is still in motion. So if we assemble troops in Uganda or fund the Uganda military who cannot cross boarders, is this fixing long term problems? There are many questions to be asked…

Whether you choose to support Invisible Children, that is completely up to you, but at least now, you know a little more. If you think supporting Invisible Children is a scam, then that’s fine, do your research and get educated, it’s your money after all, heck, here are some links for you to look at below for more info! For me, it is about global awareness and spreading the knowledge about these atrocities that is the most important. There are several other programs out there, so look into them and find something that fits you! whether its locally or internationally! A good one to start off with is Amnesty International if you want to think internationally.
Skeptic about Invisible Children?
1) Charity Navigator
2) Invisible Children: Critiques
3) Visible problems of Invisible Children
4) Kony 2012 video misleading

Also, keep in mind that these attrocities are NOT just in Uganda, but also in other countries and within our own. Liberia for instance has horrifying numbers of killings and sexual violence. According to the World Health Organization a study found that “over 90% of women in some of the areas most afflicted by the war experienced some form of sexual violence, 75% were raped, many of them by gangs, and 49% were forced into sex work, many of them as “bush wives” to militias. Almost 14% of the victims were under the age of 15 (Guardian)”

So…be aware. There’s a lot going on in the world and a lot of ways to help out, but remember, keep informed, do your research, ask questions, and get educated.

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Onward to Finals and a Beginning

As of today, I am officially done with the quarter and all is left are Final exams….I have 1 final exam Dec 4th..1 Dec 8th, 1 on Dec 9th, and the last one on Dec. 10th. ..Until then though…I have finished the petty work that is in the way of cramming for my exams, whooey! I JUST finished my last 8-page paper like 5 minutes ago and damn does it feel good. I am scared to death for finals but let’s hope for the best.

Oh..and how could I forget…Thanksgiving weekend! Thursday and Friday off =D how awesome! This quarter has gone pretty fast…and there is still so much to do.

Let’s do an introduction to something new and still in the very early stages of development. My friend Janeemebe and I are still in the midst of everything but we both have a goal of joining forces toward creating a Non-Profit Organization called GOinspire. Ever since returning from our travels and volunteer work in Vietnam together with Emili, we saw that a difference needed to be made. We are 2 passionate, but busy college students with a dream of creating a movement and helping the youth in need in other countries in order to achieve a higher standard of living and obtain better education (more details later). Slowly since September, we have been in the midst of getting the ball going and it’s been really difficult with the busy days of school, homework, test, and just having a life though…. The goal for this Winter Break is to launch a website with everything that we (or mostly Jane) have formalized.

(I stole that photo above from one of Janeemebe’s beta button designs for our NPO- Sorry for not asking pal!)

Monks from Leaf Temple (Chua La) in Vietnam surrounding Janeemebe’s laptop

Ky Quang Temple in Vietnam

Ky Quang Temple in Vietnam

YuCai Primary School in China

Although nothing tangible or concrete is up in the air yet, I’m hoping to gather support from everyone across the globe! Please look forward to future progress of GOinspire.

 

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Smiles from Summer

Summer was so good to me.

Right before I left to China and Janeemebe left to Korea, we sent a package off to Chua La (Leaf Temple), where we taught English and played with the monks while we were in Vietnam volunteering. Chua La is probably one of my most favorite places in the entire world right now. I have pictures of them on my wall and everytime I think of them, I can’t help but smile.

When we got back to the United States after our Vietnam trip, we all sent them emails and the few of them who could email or knew how, replied =D it REALLY made our days..but as the days progressed, emails gradually slowed down..but that didn’t stop us from missing them. In the package we sent, we each wrote out 18 or so individual letters to the monks! We didn’t get to know everyone, but of the ones we did, we wrote letters for. Not only that, but I had to translate them! and holy smokes..that had to take me at least 25-30hrs…..(my Vietnamese is REALLY bad). Along with that, we wrote a overall group letter that I translated and then photocopied, so that each of them got a copy! Janeemebe printed photos for them; she printed photos that had them in it, and also a photo of her, Emili, and me to make sure that they wouldn’t forget us =D It didn’t end there though! Janeemebe also made them individual bracelets with their names on them.

Since then, a bunch more of the monks have been emailing us and much more often =) Each of their letters are SOOO cute. One boy even told me about the day the letter arrived! It arrived on September 14th, 2008, which isn’t just my birthday, but was Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Moon Festival)! They told me that receiving the package on that specific day just made the everything even more the merrier, and how grateful they were to have people from so far away care about them =) Oh! and it’s not convenient for these boys to have internet access either, so I am so grateful to them for trying to stay in touch. (Most don’t know how to email..and when they do..they only write in the “subject” line instead of in the actually box part below lol)

Here is an example of one of the recent emails that they wrote us =) It is from Phuc Duc. Oh and when you see “Chi” it actually means “older sister.” Basically, it’s a polite way to address a girl who is older then them. My translations are SUPER rough btw…

>>>>

chi jennifer oi? o ben mi bay gio lanh lam ha ?chi nho ban ao am nhe ” chi nho bao trong suc khoe nhe “neu khong thi se benh day ”

Chi Jennifer oi. In American right now, it’s really cold huh? Chi remember to wear warm clothes ok? Chi remember to worry about your health ok? If not, you’ll get sick.

“em viet khong dau chi co doc duoc khong ?thoi em chuc chi manh khoe o!

Can you understand what I write? I wish for you healthiness!

quen nua chi nho luc chi den ngaycui khong?luc do em o trong nha em con viet mot buc thu cho chi nhung ma em khong dam dua em rat ngai.

I almost forgot. Chi remember the last day you came? At that time I was in the house/temple writing a letter for you, but I was too hesitant to give it.

em se tom tat la thu do.

( I don’t really know how to translate this…)

em cam on 3 chi da den day em trong nhung ngay qua . khi ngoi viet thu em da khong ngan noi nuoc mat cua minh.

I want to thank the 3 of you for coming. I look back on the days that have passed, and while sitting there writing the letter, I couldn’t hold my tears back.

trong khi hop em da khong lang nge mada lay thoi gian do viet thu cho chi do .

(I have..no dea…something to do with meeting us..and writing the letter. I asked my mom about this line and she has no idea because of the spelling errors. lol)

em xin loi vi khong dua la thu do cho chi .thoi baygio em khong co thoi gianchuc chi nhieu suc khoe va thanh cong trong cuoc song.

I am sorry that I did not give you the letter. Right now I don’t have any free time, so I wish you a lot of healthiness and richness in your life.

>>>>

So I know it sounds a bit rough translated..but it’s actually really nice sounding if you can understand the language =) but this gives you a rough idea right?

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Vietnam Part 5 of 5: Chùa Lá

Alas, I am finally at my last post of the 5 part series =D Of all 3 sites, this was my favorite. Chùa Lá (or aka Leaf Temple) has a special place in my (our) hearts and where we spent the most time at. This post will probably be the longest..and no matter how much I write..it’ll never be able to sum up our experience =)

Chùa Lá

Entrance to Chua La

The classroom

Best photo ever, and this isn’t even everyone =) (this was the day I lost my camera and all the group photos ahh..Janeemebes photos got accidentally deleted this day too. ack!)

Us with Minh, Rao, Tra, and Binh

Phu Duc, Binh, Hiem, and another boy I don’t know his name to because he was rarely in class.

=)

Oh my goodness they’re cute!

Teaching

Tâm and I

This is Tâm, one of the kids I hung around with most. On one of the last days we came, he gave me a letter and told me not to read it until I got home. When I read it, it was a suppperr polite saying how appreciative he was and how he would continue to study hard for me =)

This is Nhả; he’s one of the cutest kids alive! Although he’s really quiet he’d always play with us and have a glowing smile. When we printed photos and gave them out, unlike all the other boys who raced for them, he patiently waited. Oh, and when we sang group songs, he was jumping up and down with the happiest smile I have ever seen =]

Nhàn (on the left) was always hanging out with us and asking politely for our electronics. Tuấn (on the right) was always using my cell phone and playing games… and he actually figured out how to use it better than I ever could…

This is Tra, he’s one of the sweetest kids you’ll ever meet. Although this picture doesn’t truly express it, his smile is just as charming as his personality. He was always polite and generous to us, plus he probably doesn’t have a single mean bone in his body. One of the days we gave out a bunch of paper and colored pencils, and he drew 2 photos for me and folded me a fan and a boat =)

Little Duy is this cute guys name. He is a hard worker that tries his best and is anxious for class. It’s hard not to smile whenever I think about him and and all the questions he asked during class when he didn’t understand. Sometimes when he got tired of writing, he would even ask me to do it lol

If we’re talking about the younger ones, it’s hard to miss this boy Minh. Minh is one gentle boy with one gentle voice. He was probably one of the first boys we recognized because of how much he enjoyed taking pictures of flowers =P I won’t forget that on the last day at Chua La, Minh held my hand as we walked into the classroom.

Behind Tâm and Nhàn is Big Duy. This kid always had a big smile on his face and making people laugh. The thing I remember most about Duy was how much he liked learning songs and also changing the lyrics and singing them so that they sounded really silly.

This boy here with the “Chinese Language” book is Phúc Đúc. He was the first boy to welcome us to the temple and give us a little tour around. He shocked us by telling us he was only 16 because of how mature he acts and talks. Compared to the other boys he seems to work the hardest and always has his hands dirty. A famous line that he has been saying for years is “If you beat me, I will kill myself” – Oh Phúc Đúc, you are one silly boy =)

Meet (fat) Bình! He is one of the older kids (16) and he’s just a charming and funny guy. When I first met him I thought he was just quiet and studious because he always came to class ready and sat quietly. But on one of the last days, he and Phuc Duc, asked me to come sit with them in the shade and we chatted; that’s when I first realized how great of a guy he was and we all started talking more.

Here is (skinny) Bình and his crazy cat. He might be one of the silliest boys in the temple, and yet very brotherly with the younger monks. He was always hanging out with us and having fun =) He was only at the temple for 20 or so days when we first arrived, and yet he got along with everyone like he had been there for years.

Hiềm (on the left) was another silly boy with a handsome smile who was always making us laugh since day 1. As for Thắng, I didn’t get to talk to him as much, but he always had a big smile and joked around with us. Currently, I am e-mailing Thắng back and forth =D

Ok, those are most of the boys we hung out with regularly. This is probably overdoing it..but o well! apparently someones reading! hehe

Chùa Lá is a Buddhist temple that takes in boys who are in unfortunate situations such as orphans or those with families that are too poor to support their children. The great part about the monks situation is that they can go back and visit their families back in the countryside for a few days every now and then. Along with that, these monks are given the opportunity to go to school as well as have international volunteers such as us and dozens of others attend the temple and teach or just play with everyone =]

From the Peace House, Chua La was 2 bus rides away and the commute took around 1hour and 30minutes on 1 trip. The temple is further out from the city and surrounded by a swampy-tree area, which was dangerous for foreigners like us because we were basically live bate for the mosquitoes…Those mosquitoes ate Janeemebe and I completely alive! Even with that though, all of it was worth it just to spend time with these sweet boys.

By the 2nd day of teaching, I was determined to memorize their names since I realized that each 1 of them had a special place in my heart ( I got up to 18 names I think =D) . I’ll say it right now….the monks were all WONDERFUL and BRILLIANT students, but as for us teachers..we weren’t so good lol. I wish I could go back and have a better lesson plan, but even so, they were all so grateful to us. Each boy had a beautiful personality and everyone of them was polite and sweet to us.

We would usually arrive around 10am, eat at 11 (all vegetarian meal), and then it was nap time from 11-1pm. During that time we would just sit and hang out with the monks and get to know them better. They absolutely loved playing with our MP3 players, cameras and phone; so usually the second we arrived, they would ask for our things all politely and then we would get them back by the time we left. I could go into detail about each kid but this would take forever! The kids all had an amazing sense of humor, kind heart and were all very hard workers. Besides the time they spent with us, they were constantly busy, whether it was building another section to the temple, cleaning, praying, and what not, they were constantly busy.

Whenever we would arrive, one of the monks would see us and then their faces would glow with a big smile =) and then they’d run off and tell everyone else. Even though our days were limited, so much happened, even little crushes that the monks had! When our volunteer time was over, they kept asking if we would visit, and all we could say was maybe because we weren’t sure how busy we’d be. Since we loved it so much though, after we returned from Thailand, we went back to Chua La 2x on our own accord. Saying good bye to these boys had to be one of the toughest things I’ve done in a long time.

Here is a special treat! I recognize the voice of who is recording..but I can’t be sure.. it’s either Tuấn or Tâm though, but the star dancing is Duy =)

When I got back to the states and went through the photos, light tears went down my face. As of right now, we are working on putting a little package together to send to them. We’re each writing letters, and Jane and I are even translating ours to Vietnamese (which is taking an insane amount of time..but oddly fun =)). Once we get done with the letters, print photos and such, off the package goes! Also, we are thinking of returning to Vietnam and visiting Chua La in December. Let’s hope things go well =D

(Not all the pictures of the monks are mine. Some are Em’s, Martins, Sandy’s, or Trangs =] )

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Vietnam Part 4 of 5: Minh Tâm Orphanage

As I stated in my last blog, it was ridiculously difficult to take photos of these kids because 1. they always wanted our cameras, 2. they would fight over the camera, and 3. they were too young to be trusted with our electronics, so some days we would just go here without it. We could never take pictures during play time because they would just go crazy over it, so the only opportunity was after we taught and they ate lunch 1 day.

Minh Tâm Orphanage

Eating after class

The girl on the left was always like a sweet old sister and was really smart. The girl on the right, we called her princess because she would never get into any trouble, but at the same time she never played with anyone else and do her own thing. Both so cute!

His name is Su. He was always smiling and waving his hands at us, plus he rarely cried. If he did, the minute you waved to him he’d smile =]

These back row boys were really smart! the one on the end with orange was always a bully though >_< The first 2 are bothers.

She did that on her own!

Minh Tam Orphanage was a place that had a lot of stories behind it. There would be numerous of reasons for why the children were there, for example, some of the kids were either given to the place, abandoned, or in other cases, them or their parent has HIV. If a child has HIV, they cannot go to public school, and if the parent has HIV they will not be employed in almost any place, which resulted in them going to this orphanage because there was no were else to go. At Minh Tam, you would occasionally see the mother working at the orphanage while the kid was also there, and you would also see sets of siblings. All the kids we taught/played with ranged from the ages of 7months – 5 years old I believe.

In the mornings we would go to the orphanage where the children were all seated in their desks ready to learn, but since they were so young, we mostly just taught numbers, other volunteers did the ABC’s, and we all did a lot of songs like “Head, shoulders, knee’s and toes”, “Row your boat”, and etc. The kids LOVED the songs! We would also have time for them to draw whatever we had on the board and such. A lot of the kid’s did their own thing and rebelled though…it was quite rewarding when they actually listened! but then again..they were super young and it’s not like they’re growing up in a disciplined kind of environment either. Most of the girls were good, but the boys on the other hand! they would put crayons up their nose, steal other kids crayons, draw on the other kid and etc. lol, I feel like I’m making this sound like a terror zone, but in all honesty, it was a lot of fun and since there were a lot of us volunteers (5 of us or more usually), it was easy to spread out and tend to each kid.

After class was over, it would be lunch time! We would stick around and help them eat and once they were done, we would walk back to the Peace House (which was 15minutes away) and then get lunch. Around 2pm, we would return to the orphanage and just play with the children. The kids LOVED sitting in our laps, getting carried around, and just cuddling =]

As for the Minh Tam Orphanage in general, the staff is mostly women that work REALLY hard. After just the few hours of class and playing, I was exhausted by these active kids..but for these women, they had to tend to these kids the ENTIRE day! And although I love that a place like this exist, the orphanage still has a long way to go I think..but I guess it can’t be helped because of certain circumstances. Let’s hope for a bright future for these children =]

Also, if we ever do this again, we will definitely fund raise. A few of the other volunteers did that and would buy materials or give money to the 3 sites and it was beautiful. As for us, we could only supply a few things. Next time we do this, we’re going big.

For more photos of these sweet kids, click >>HERE<<

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Vietnam Part 3 of 5: Ky Quang Temple

The first site we went to when we started our volunteer time was Ky Quang. Something I regret from our trip was that we only went to Ky Quang once because of how little time we had.

Pictures in all these sites were almost impossible to take since the children would go crazy over our cameras. It was ESPECIALLY hard at this temple and the Minh Tam Orphanage.

Ky Quang Temple

A VERY small part of the temple

This was where all the kids and such played and ate at. Behind me is where we played with the children.

On the left of this photo is actually the view of the photo above. This girl was really sweet and the one that sang while clapping to the beat to us (read below to hear more).

As this handsome little boy sat there, he held my hand. I believe he has a spine problem because when I picked him up, his body would not move a certain way.

Taken during feeding time. The kids are all suppose to eat on their own and put away their own dishes.

Ky Quang Temple is a place where people with special needs went to. It ranged from children (and I believe some adults) who were blind to weak-sighted, mentally-handicapped to physically-handicapped, and so on and so forth. When you first enter the Temple, you will immediately be taken back by the architecture. At first, you might think it has a theme park-ish kind of look, but at the same time it’s beautiful and also known to be the most beautiful temples in the area.

It took 1-2 buses for us to get to Ky Quang from the Peace House. While we were at the temple, we played with and tended to the children. When we arrived, the kids were all playing with jigsaw puzzles and working really hard at them. Each one had a heart of gold and big-cute smiles that could warm any cold day. They LOVED taking our electronics, such as our cameras and running around to take photos of people. At first you might think that it’s pretty risky to let these kids run around with our electronics, but no no no, they surely are smarter than you think! Whenever you told them something they generally would listen, however they REALLY refused to return our electronics while we were there. When it was time to leave though, the kids all immediately gave back our stuff and ran to us giving us hugs and waving good-bye with their jolly faces. Also, on the way out, one of the girls sang us a song =D

Although we did not experience it, there are educational opportunities for a lot of the people that go there; they even have braille. Our days were too short to truly experience everything or teach them, but I’m glad we went at least once. I also give props to the workers at the temple since it takes a lot of patience to be with them; another thing I noticed is that all the workers were women! is that strange? perhaps not. I also think that the place is understaffed since it appeared that some kids were getting neglected when it was feeding time. Although the place is wonderful, there is still work to be done! Hopefully conditions will only get better.

For more photos from the Ky Quang Temple and the kids, please click >> HERE<<

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Vietnam Part 2 of 5: Peace House

Here is part 2 of my Summer in Vietnam series! I will apologize ahead of time for this part of the series.. It’s a bit scrambled and super long because it’s impossible to sum up >___<

Peace House in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh

The entrance is behind the curtain and this is our living room.

Stairway

View from the roof

To the left of the tracks, we would walk on the other side of the fence and turn left into the alley to find our house.

Every morning until 9am, if I peaked my head outside our front door, this lady and the man in the white hat had their little shop open and sold Pho, which a lot of the volunteers would get in the morning for only 10,000 dong (16,800 = $1 USD).

To start off, Janeemebe found the program that we went on for us =D We went through this online website called International Volunteers Headquaters (IVHQ), where we signed up, chose a country, paid a fee, and chose what kind of living situation we wanted to be in; the two choices were either home stay or dorms, and we chose the dorms. (Btw, if you are curious about this IVHQ thing and are considering it, please let me know if you have questions!). After we do all that IVHQ finds us a program in that country, in our case, it was Vietnam; the program was called Volunteers for Peace Vietnam (VPV). From there VPV does the rest of the work and volunteer coordination.

For those that don’t understand what the Peace House was, here goes! The Peace House was the living space for all the international volunteers to stay at. Instead of a dorm though, it was more of a house with 3 floors, and 2 bedrooms on each floor that would accommodate 4 people per room (remember, houses in Vietnam/Asia are more about building upward than horizontally). Jane, Em, and I stayed in 1 room together, sharing it with another volunteer. Not only were the accommodations more that we hoped for, we had a cook come 6 days a week and cook delicious food for us twice a day; she was suppper nice too =D

The Peace House is an amazing place to meet incredible people. Why? because you know those people WANT to be there, paid to be there, and are doing it for a good cause; it’s not like school and such where you run into punks that are full of themselves or are there only because they are forced to. The Peace House was a place where people around the world united to work to better society. People would be rotating in and out of the house often because volunteer increments ranged from 2 weeks to months. What was beautiful was that it was easy to talk to everyone even though everyone was new :]

After we ended our days of volunteering and would return to the Peace House around 4-5pm for dinner, everyone would plan activities together like going to karaoke, bowling, shopping, go to beaches, or even weekend trips with tours and exploring Vietnam. For the most part, everyone was around our ages, which made it even easier to get along. There were people from Australia, England, Ireland, France, Singapore, Canada, and a lot from the USA. Not only were there international volunteers, but also local Vietnamese volunteers and the staff that made the Peace House even more amazing. How often do you get an opportunity to meet people from around the world and do something like this??

Bowling! Bowling alleys in Vietnam are better than the States.

Group of newbies! This was taken at District 1 (which is the foreigner and rich district) during our city tour.

1 of the Karaoke nights

This was taken as a last group photo as Em, Jane and I left the Peace House 😦

Everyone in the Peace House was kind, funny, and thoughtful. The time we spent there was way too short and went by incredibly fast because there was also something to do and someone to talk to everyday (especially since the 3 of us had each other). Departing the Peace House was pretty rough since that meant that our volunteer time and days at the Peace House was over ;__; I will try my hardest to stay in touch with people.

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