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      29.12.2009 22:17
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      Leadership programme for 16-18 year olds

      Dooyoo has listed World Challenge as a travel agents however to be honest it is more than that, it is not the place that the average holiday maker would go to book a holiday as it pitches its business at educational institutions, in specialises in arranging expeditions to lesser developed or developing countries for groups of students hence its customers are primarily schools and other educational institutions and it is established in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

      It offers a range of expeditions of varying lengths and to a whole host of destinations, these expeditions can be anything from a week up to five weeks in length and primarily are aimed at 16-18 year olds however there are programmes for those in years nine and ten where the destinations are less exotic and for one to two weeks in duration, kayaking in Croatia or hiking in Morocco or Iceland are two such examples, for the longer expeditions that are many locations stretching from Mongolia and Vietnam in the east, including Botswana and Kenya in Africa while most South and Central American countries are covered such as Peru, Honduras and my destination Venezuela.

      World Challenge though is not about a luxury holiday, the programme is best described as a leadership programme for young people as they take an active role throughout what is effectively a two year programme at my school. World Challenge for us is offered as the pinnacle activity in our outdoor education programme which starts with camping trips in year 7 and progresses through Duke of Edinburgh Awards and CCF activities until in year 10 and 11 students are offered the chance to sign up to a programme which lasts two years.

      One of the reasons the programme lasts for two years is that students are expected to raise the money to fund the trip themselves, sure some kids are probably given the money by parents but the idea is that they raise the money themselves either by taking jobs, getting money instead of Christmas and birthday presents or doing fund raising activities individually or as part of the group. World Challenge provides support through a money management system providing the students with access to advice both by phone and a website. This is a big part of the whole process, for example students who went to Venezuela needed to raise £3,600 to give to World Challenge, this money does not include visas, vaccinations and also any rest and relaxation activities that they plan to do on the trip and in addition to this they will need to provide all of their own kit except for tents and certain group kit like cooking stoves which are provided by World Challenge.

      Now this sounds expensive however all flights and in country costs are then covered provided the teams stick to the set budget, for our school each team numbered sixteen students and they were accompanied by two teachers and one World Challenge leader, our leader was an Australian lad who is a permanent employee of World Challenge based in Melbourne and he was brilliant, very experienced although Venezuela was new to him, he struck an excellent balance between making sure the trip was safe and allowing the students to make decisions and most importantly make mistakes.

      The training before the expedition is excellent, teachers attend a one day briefing as well as having to obtain a first aid qualification, mine was in remote rescue skills and was very reassuring in the detail and skills I was taught. In addition the whole team spends three days hiking and camping in Buxton with an instructor, we went in April and it was still the coldest place I have ever been and the coldest night ever with a thin crust of snow on my tent and -7 degrees it was a long night of fitful sleep. Buxton was an excellent learning and team building event though and a place to test out any new kit.

      So to the expedition itself, all of the destinations are remote areas of the world which present challenging environments. The expedition is divided into four main stages and each of these the students get to influence in the planning stages, then World Challenge construct an itinerary that the students should follow however this is where the whole thing starts to get interesting and the real leadership aspect kicks in. Any teachers out there reading this who have organised a trip with probably be complete and utter control freaks, I know I am, every minute of every day is organised and we have endless meetings while on a trip to keep everything together. Well a World Challenge trip is very different, on the first day in England before setting off to the airport the students are given all of the money for the trip, in all we were given close to $15,000 and a budget which we had to stick to.

      After that along with the itinerary the students run the trip, they are in charge and they make all of the decisions. Each day they appoint a leader and deputy and they assign tasks, they appoint accountants and other roles such as catering and transport managers. They have key dates they must be in certain locations but there is always flexibility, in some locations guides are pre-booked as is some transport but the rest of the time it is down to them and they have to negotiate and plan as well as manage a budget as there is no credit cards or parents to go running to for a handout. All the time they are having to cope with language barriers and a very different culture.

      As I mentioned earlier there are four key phases, an acclimatisation phase which is usually a hike where they get used to the local conditions, ours was four days of really tough mountainous and jungle terrain which included a night in the jungle under canvas and ended with a superb day and two nights on a beach. Then you have the main trek phase, for us we were hiking in the Andes which included a summit at 4,300m and dealing with the challenges that altitude brings. You also have a rest and relaxation phase, in our case this was a far from restful trip to Angel Falls and then finally there is a project phase where you undertake some work to benefit the local community, for us this involved a six hour boat ride up river to work with a tribe in the Amazon, mostly doing building work on a school and a landing area at the rivers edge, this is probably the most rewarding phase as we lived with the community where up until three years ago they had never seen a white face.

      I was incredibly impressed with the whole World Challenge operation. Safety is key for them and some of the money the student has to raise goes towards providing a truly comprehensive operations centre that manages your safety while in country. All of the in country agents we worked with were excellent and the guides were knowledgeable and understood the World Challenge ethos about student leadership. Each team was equipped with a satellite phone and GPS distress beacon in case of emergencies and the operations centre was linked to RAF stations in the UK. I felt totally safe and thankfully we only had a couple of minor issues on our trip that we could deal with ourselves but the support was much appreciated.

      I would certainly recommend World Challenge, all of the students came back more confident and better equipped to deal with life outside of school, parents are still commenting about the changes they have seen in their offspring, clichés like "went away a boy came back a man" have been used and the whole experience was both the hardest and most enjoyable things I have done in teaching. I learnt many things but I will leave you with two of the more amusing things

      Firstly I should never grow a beard; I look like a tabby cat, bits of grey, brown and most worryingly ginger sprouted on my face. Secondly I learnt that being claustrophobic and having a fear of nets (it is a diving thing) means that I'm not good sleeping in a hammock with a mosquito net over it.

      Thanks for reading and rating my review.

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        18.11.2009 21:14
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        An amazing experience

        When I was 16 & had just started at sixth form, a representative from World Challenge came to talk at our assembly about an expedition they were organising to Brazil. She explained that World Challenge was a company who specialised in "educational expeditions" for students, & that they were going to take a team of people from our school to Brazil for a month in the summer of 2001 (it was October 1999 at the time).

        The expedition was open to people who were then in either Year 12 or Year 10, so that they would actually be going on the trip in the summer either just after their A-levels or just after their GCSEs.

        Whilst listening to the presentation, I remember thinking that it sounded amazing, & wishing I was the "sort of person" who would go on something like that. After thinking about it all morning, I eventually realised that there was no reason why I shouldn't be that sort of person, & I determined to prove to myself that I could do it. Which is how I ended up enrolling on this month-long trip to Brazil!


        ~~~The Team~~~

        Obviously World Challenge doesn't just send a group of 16 & 18-year-olds off to Brazil for a month on their own. There is an expedition leader appointed by World Challenge - someone with plenty of experience of hiking, camping & so on. They are often people who've been in the armed forces, & also must have previous experience of leading a group of teenagers & travelling around the world. They also have to undergo special training with World Challenge.

        There are also two more adults on the team: two teachers from the school itself. I don't know how they're chosen as this is all organised before the students are even told about the trip. We were lucky as we ended up with two very nice, friendly teachers. They are also there to oversee everything leading up to the trip (you only meet the expedition leader once before the start of the trip).

        As you might expect, there was a lot of interest from the students & around 30 people initially signed up. Over the first few months, though, several people dropped out when they realised it wasn't just an easy holiday, & eventually we had a group of 10 girls (it was a girls' school). A few months before we left, we discovered that 2 boys from a nearby boys' school would also be joining our team (as everyone else from their school had dropped out of the expedition!). We weren't too happy with this, & indeed once on the trip they did end up causing a few arguments! (mostly due to their own unwillingness to really contribute anything to the team). This provided some useful lessons on dealing with conflict within a team, however!


        ~~~The Destination~~~

        One thing I found slightly odd was that the destination for our trip was chosen before any of the students even got involved. I believe it was chosen by the 2 teachers who were coming on the trip, & I suppose this is to avoid disagreements & arguments when it comes to choosing the destination, but it seems slightly unfair that the people paying for the expedition don't even get a say in where they're going! Luckily the teachers chose an amazing destination for us. I don't know if this is the way it works for every expedition, or whether some teachers choose to let the students have a say.

        World Challenge provide a choice of many destinations, including Argentina, Peru, Chile, Borneo, Thailand, China, India, Tanzania, Madagascar, Norway, Iceland & many more.


        ~~~The Preparation~~~

        Now, these trips organised by World Challenge aren't just a holiday, & they're not for children with rich parents who will pay for the trip for them - during the 20 months leading up to the expedition, we were expected to raise around £2000 each to go on this trip. This was mostly done by getting a weekend job (I worked at McDonald's!), & also by regular fundraising activities that we organised, such as a car boot sale, a quiz night, & packing bags at the local supermarket. The whole experience, including the time leading up to the trip, was supposed to teach us useful skills such as managing money, teamwork, leadership skills, & being independent.

        During this time we were also expected to prepare for our expedition by researching our destination, planning our route, & training. The training involved going on short hiking/camping trips to places such as the Peak District, with leaders & equipment provided by World Challenge. The walks were quite difficult but very helpful in preparing us for our trekking in Brazil, especially as we got to practise walking whilst carrying heavy rucksacks. Luckily camping in Brazil turned out to be much warmer than camping in the Peak District though!

        We were also all encouraged to do regular exercise to make sure we were fit enough for our treks in Brazil. I started cycling & swimming regularly.

        I also attempted to teach myself some Brazilian Portuguese in preparation for the trip, although this isn't a requirement & most people didn't bother. One of the teachers took Portuguese lessons which was very helpful as she was pretty good at speaking it by the time we got to Brazil.

        We had regular team meetings at school to organise fundraising, discuss our itinerary & so on. Sometimes a representative from World Challenge would come to these meetings to talk to us as well. You also meet your expedition leader at one of these meetings a few months before the trip.

        We also had to organise our travel vaccinations & get our malaria tablets.


        ~~~Equipment~~~

        As well as raising the money to pay for the actual trip, each student is also expected to purchase the necessary equipment, including a rucksack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, suitable clothes & shoes etc. A list is provided by World Challenge listing necessary & optional items. All this will set you back another few hundred pounds, & I was lucky as my parents agreed to pay for the equipment provided I was able to raise the £2000 to pay for the trip. The most expensive item you need is a rucksack, as you really need a good quality one (you'll be carrying it with you a lot of the time, & you need to fit quite a lot into it!). It's important to get a rucksack properly fitted to your size & build, otherwise it could cause back pain etc.

        Not long into the preparation stage, World Challenge organised an evening at our school when a company specialising in camping equipment brought in their products to show us & we were able to buy things at a special discount. Most importantly, they also helped us to choose the correct rucksacks. Obviously you can also go to camping shops to buy your equipment.

        Some essentials are provided by World Challenge, including tents & some cooking equipment.

        Each team member also usually takes some pocket money on the trip for extras like souvenirs. I took around £100 I think. The food budget was quite tight so it was handy if you wanted to buy yourself something extra like a chocolate bar!


        ~~~The final preparation~~~

        The last bit of preparation that you have to do at home is packing up your rucksack - not an easy task, as you have a lot of stuff to fit in! This really teaches you that you must only take the bare essentials, as not only do they have to fit in your rucksack, you also have to be able to carry it! After an hour or so of thinking I'd never fit everything in, I eventually figured out the best way of packing & was ready to go. I couldn't believe how heavy my rucksack seemed & I wondered how I was ever going to manage, however after a few days you do actually start to get used to it. It's very important to do up the clasp around your hips so that you're carrying most of the weight on your hips & not on your shoulders!

        At 10am on Day 1, we all arrived at school & got on a coach down to London. We were to spend this first day doing our final training at an army barracks in Hounslow! It was quite bizarre to pull up at a gate & see armed soldiers, & watch all the activity going on around the barracks.

        We arrived at the barracks at around 4pm, & first we had to practise putting up our tents, which took longer than we'd expected!

        After spending the night at the barracks, the following day was called "build-up day". First we were given all the extra equipment that was provided by World Challenge, & couldn't believe it when we were told we each had to make room for some of it in our rucksacks! (I'm not sure where else we were expecting it to go!) Luckily our expedition leader had arrived by this point & he gave us some helpful advice on how to pack efficiently. We also had a very good example of how NOT to pack efficiently, as one of the boys had packed all his equipment with the packaging still on it! I ended up carrying part of a tent, a fuel bottle & some dried food along with all the rest of my equipment.

        At this point, the team was divided up into groups of 3 or 4 who'd each share a tent & 1 lot of cooking equipment.

        In the afternoon we had lots of meetings discussing what would be happening in the expedition, what we expected to learn, what we thought we'd bring to the team etc.

        Whilst on the expedition, one of the most important things was that everyone would take it in turns being the leader for a day. The idea was that the adults are only there to supervise & help out if really necessary. All the decisions & organisation were down to us. I was dreading my 2 days as leader!


        ~~~Brazil itself~~~

        At the end of the build-up day, we got the tube to Heathrow & got on our flight to Rio de Janeiro. Now, on a World Challenge expedition, although your itinerary is planned, few things are actually booked for you in advance. The whole idea is that once you get there you find your own hotel/hostel/campsite etc. & organise everything yourself at the time. You also have a budget (which is a certain percentage of the money everyone paid for the trip), & each day one person is the 'treasurer' & is in charge of this. It's the team's responsibility to ensure they don't run out of money; luckily we budgeted carefully, so I don't know what happens if a team does run out of money. The adults would probably step in early on if the team was being particularly stupid with their money, & I'm sure they have access to extra funds in an emergency. There is lots of discussion about budgeting during the 20 month preparation phase so we knew that we had to be sensible.

        It was pretty scary arriving in a foreign country with nowhere to stay for the night, but luckily the lady in the tourist information office was able to recommend a good hotel for us & even managed to make a deal for us where we got to stay for half price, so it was only $15 dollars per room per night - bargain! It was also amazingly nice for a 1-star hotel (it was called the Hotel Turístico).

        The first couple of days were for "acclimatisation" & at this point it was a bit like a typical holiday - we visited the Statue of Christ & Sugar Loaf Mountain (both amazing!).

        Although we were seeing some amazing things, for about the first 5 days I felt terribly homesick & wished I hadn't gone to Brazil at all. This was then made worse when we had a bit of an unexpected problem. After a couple of days in Rio, we got the bus to a nearby national park (Serra dos Órgãos) for our first bit of camping and trekking. Initially I felt better after a lovely walk & after seeing glow worms once it got dark. We also cooked our first campsite meal, spaghetti with dried "McDougal's" bolognese sauce - sounds horrible but I thought it was yummy!

        When we got up the next morning, we found out that our expedition leader (Dave) had hurt his back & couldn't move. Most of the day was spent waiting around for an ambulance, then waiting around outside a very small, basic hospital, then going to a hotel in the nearby town of Teresópolis. Dave had refused treatment in the small hospital as he said it didn't seem very clean, & the next day another ambulance took him to a private hospital in Rio. We all then had to go back to Rio & no-one seemed to know what was happening; we didn't even know if we could carry on with the expedition.

        Eventually Dave received treatment & flew back to the UK, & one of the teachers phoned World Challenge & found out a new leader would be arriving for us the next day. It was very impressive how quickly all this was sorted out by World Challenge.

        In the end, it all turned out for the best, as our new leader Richard was very friendly (I'd always found Dave a little bit scary for some reason!) & we could finally get on with the expedition. Our next destination was the Pantanal region - a 21-hour trip by coach, followed by another 5 hours in a mini-bus!

        It was after this point that I finally started really enjoying myself. The Pantanal is a tropical wetland south of the Amazon Rainforest. This was one of the few things that was booked in advance, as World Challenge had made arrangements with a family who had a farm there to let us camp on their land. Once in the right area, we made the final part of the trip sitting in the back of an open truck, which was so much fun! Along the way we saw caimans (a bit like small alligators), rheas, howler monkeys & hyacinth macaws & it was amazing to see these animals in the wild.

        The family who owned the farm were also providing us with our meals & these were absolutely amazing! It was so good to be able to experience genuine Brazilian home cooking. The national dish, feijoada (a very flavoursome meat & bean stew), is particularly yummy.

        We did our first proper trek in this area, with one of the farm workers acting as our guide. We saw plenty more wildlife, waded through marshes, were given temporary tattoos using a dye from the inside of a fruit, & were shown how to make a sort of fly swatter using the bark from a tree! It was here that I also caught my first glimpse of a wild coati (a member of the raccoon family), which is now one of my favourite animals.

        One of the most unusual experiences we had here was piranha fishing! You could choose either to stand in the water with the piranhas, or to go fishing from a boat. I was a bit of a wimp & chose the boat! This was a bit silly though as the fearsome reputation of piranhas is really just a myth. Most people who were brave enough to stand in the water caught at least one piranha, whereas no-one in the boat caught one.

        On another day, some of the group went pony trekking, whilst the rest of us went on another walk, & had the chance to swim in a lake with caimans! Our guide assured us it was safe, but I stayed out of the water. Another time, one of the farm workers found a baby caiman, picked it up & let us stroke it!

        We also had the chance to sleep in our hammocks whilst at the farm - these were amazingly comfortable. And particularly appealing after someone found a baby tarantula in their tent! It was a bit scary one night as the hammocks were set up quite near to a lake, & in the middle of the night I heard growling nearby & thought it was a caiman coming to eat us! It took me a long time to realise that it was just one of the farm dogs!

        Our next destination was the amazing Iguaçu Falls: beautiful waterfalls on the border between Brazil & Argentina. The Paraguay border is also nearby & you can visit the point where all 3 countries meet. One of the guides from our time in the Pantanal had booked us a hotel in the town of Iguaçu, however once we arrived the area didn't feel very safe so we transferred to the Youth Hostel. I was the day leader at this point & found it quite stressful, especially as everyone was arguing over whether or not to move to the youth hostel! It was a really good experience though.

        One thing that surprised me was how cold it was here! Seeing as it was July, it was winter in Brazil, but up until then we'd had very warm weather (comparable to a hot day in a British summer). We were further south now though & it made all the difference - we slept with woolly hats & scarves on!

        We spent one day on the Argentine side of the falls, & one day on the Brazilian side. Personally I found the view more spectacular from the Brazilian side (it really is breathtaking). We also saw more wild coatis here, which were amazingly tame & came up to you in the cafe to try to get food! One of the best things some of us did was to go on a boat trip under part of the falls on a speedboat (although we had to pay for this out of our own money: it was about £20).

        Some members of the team decided to spend some of their own money going to a bar one evening, although I didn't go. This just shows that it's up to the team to decide what they do & not the adults! Richard did go with them to make sure they were ok & to make sure the under-18s didn't drink any alcohol!

        We also spent a day at a bird park, which was lovely although it was a bit weird seeing these birds in captivity when most of them lived in the wild nearby!

        After this we had a 16-hour bus journey back to the east coast, to Florianópolis, where we were doing our "community service" part of the expedition. This involved working at a creche, where we painted walls for them (including painting pictures on them which was really fun!), as well as playing with the children. We also visited the local university & had the opportunity to go on the school bus to see the poorer areas where the children lived.

        After a few days in Florianópolis, we had a short stop in the city of Curitiba, where we saw an amazing massive shopping centre with beautiful water features etc.; such a contrast to the poorer areas we had seen. Curitiba is one of the most prosperous cities in Brazil.

        Next up was our main trekking phase, in a coastal area called Superagüi. We also had a special guide in this area, organised in advance by World Challenge. On the first evening we went to a tiny local bar & received a very friendly welcome, & ended up with some locals playing music for us & teaching us to do the fandango.

        The next day we did what was meant to be a short practise trek, but ended up walking about 15 miles - almost as long as our main trek! The area was beautiful & we were able to watch wild dolphins from the beach.

        The day before the main trek was my second day as leader, & luckily it was quite stress-free! We spent most of the day buying provisions for our trek, & taking a lovely boat ride to the island we'd be walking on.

        The next morning we got up early for our 20-mile trek. I was relieved to find that it was along a very flat beach, as I'd always found walking up hills exhausting on our practice treks in the UK. Nevertheless, it was difficult as we were carrying our heavy rucksacks & the walk took us around 9 hours. Most of us got blisters on our feet. I was very proud of myself for managing the trek, especially as I'd been the least fit person on the team during our training.

        After this was the start of our "rest and relaxation" phase for the last few days of the expedition. We had a gentle walk on another beach & heard the calls of endangered chaua parrots that are only found in that area. We sunbathed on another beach, went to a local fair, then the next day got the bus to our final destination, São Paulo. We went shopping, & decided we had enough money left in our budget to go out for a nice meal. After one more day exploring São Paulo, it was sadly time to go home.

        I had an absolutely amazing time on my World Challenge expedition & would definitely recommend the company. I learnt a lot & definitely gained in confidence.


        ~~~More information about World Challenge~~~

        A typical expedition is 1 month, however they can be from 1-6 weeks. I think the shorter trips are usually aimed at younger students (aged around 14), & tend to be in Europe. You also don't necessarily have to travel with a school trip, as they also do "independent expeditions" for 15-26 year olds, where they put together a team of people to go on a trip.

        Safety is of course a priority for the company. As well as providing an experienced expedition leader, the group gets plenty of training beforehand & the leader also carries a special emergency beacon which can be set off in a real emergency - it's some sort of satellite device that contacts the emergency services even if you're in the middle of a rainforest or up a mountain.

        See www.world-challenge.co.uk for more information.

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