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St Mary’s Waverley takes on the world, one challenge at a time

| August 22, 2018 | 0 Comments


A World Challenge expedition is not like an ordinary school overseas tour.

None of these tours visit traditional destinations such as London, Paris, New York or Rome. All the trips take place in countries that take visitors out of their comfort zones, even though the group is secure under the auspices of an experienced British company. After World Challenge trips, students return home more mature, more resilient, more independent and excited about living in the world.

World Challenge has every aspect covered

World Challenge is the largest school expedition company in the world, and has been organising expeditions since 1987. 2 It has a very experienced team guiding you as a teacher, helping you to get your team together and your trip organised. The South African World Challenge team is available at any time to help with questions and queries. Taking pupils on an overseas trip can be extremely stressful for a teacher. There is always a great amount of work to be done – before, during and after. The World Challenge team makes it easier for the teacher to organise their pupils at school and takes away all the stress of organising insurance, checking fitness levels, accommodating different dietary requirements and communicating with parents. The team runs parent information evenings and organises a kit briefing. 3 Most importantly for me, World Challenge deals with the payment side of the trip and liaises with parents regarding payment instalments, saving teachers from having to be “debt collectors”. On the expedition itself, a qualified and experienced expedition leader accompanies the group, and that person ensures that safety protocols are followed and that the trip runs smoothly. Safety is a priority of World Challenge expeditions, and each group takes both a satellite phone and an emergency beacon with them. We are able to contact the global operations centre at any time of the day or night if required.4 There are four main phases on any World Challenge expedition: the acclimatisation phase “in-country”, the project
phase (community service), the trekking phase, and a rest and relaxation phase. 5 Prior to the expedition, the pupils are required to plan their itinerary, and the World Challenge team builds the expedition around the itineraries. The pupils get exactly what they want during their trip with respect to both activities in the country and the order in which activities are done and, hence, they take ownership from the beginning. Pupils are expected to do fundraising before they go away, so that they can give extra money to their project and repay their parents some of the cost of the trip. My girls have organised quiz evenings and have even been paid to chaperone other people’s teens at various music concerts.

St Mary’s School Waverley girls nipped off to Nepal in 2017

At St Mary’s School Waverley in Johannesburg, Gauteng, we have completed two expeditions to date: one to Vietnam in 2015 with 17 girls, and one to Nepal in 2017 with 14 girls. In both cases, the girls were given US dollars at the airport and had to do everything for themselves during the trip. They had to book the transport and accommodation and buy food on their budget. The first task was to buy a cellphone and to book transport to the first night’s accommodation. Then they had to contact the in-country agent and organise a meeting with him. The trip taught my pupils and me many things. These include (among many others):
• endurance – i.e. on the multiday trek
• controlling fear – i.e. eating unusual foods, conversing with people who cannot speak English, booking
accommodation and transport over the phone
• handling money – managing a daily budget, converting currency, keeping team money safe, deciding what to do with extra money/money saved
• group dynamics – making decisions all the time, together, for everyone in the group (of varied ages between 15 and 17).

Everyone learning, all the time

The girls decided that each day we were to have a new leader for the day, and that generally worked well, depending on the personality of the girl in question. Some girls’ leadership styles were not conducive to telling people where to go and what time to meet. The girls who appeared to develop leadership skills were the girls who took up the challenge of being the accountants. These girls had to be generous and brave in controlling the budget without bias. One of the most important things was that the girls learnt so much about their own bodies and its limitations. They could not always eat when they were hungry; they could not always find a toilet whenever they needed one. They had to use unclean toilets and live in the same clothes for a number of days. The girls learnt quickly from the expedition leader that conflict happened on these trips when goals were not defined or agreed on, when roles were poorly defined and if there was a lack of feedback. The  expedition leader worked on all these aspects with the group, and issues were discussed daily. Other daily conversations revolved around safety, money and respect. As a teacher, I found it difficult to let go and not be in control all the time. I had to let the girls do all the decision-making and not interfere with the expedition leader’s role. At the same time, it is important not to sit around and do nothing. The teacher’s role is one of guidance and emotional support, and getting to know the pupils in a different light. We worked in a rural community for four days in Palpa. The girls worked at Ecklai Buur Primary school and with the help of the local builder, we built a retaining stone wall. The girls also painted the inside of a classroom and repainted the rusted front gate of the school. They also planted 15 Ashoka trees in the playground. The girls took balls and hula hoops and played with the children at break time. Initially, due to translation
difficulties, we were sold paint for wood instead of paint for steel and the girls had to negotiate their way to having it swapped for the right paint. We bought all of our building and painting supplies in the village. The girls also bought the local produce in the village and at night cooked dinner with the food back at our camp site.

Global citizenship in action

World Challenge expeditions strive to develop global citizenship in pupils, so that one day they can feel more comfortable to explore the world on their own. The trips require both pupils and teachers to be brave. When the girls have returned from the expeditions, many of their teachers and parents have commented on how much they have grown and changed. I want to thank all the girls who have travelled with me on these trips. They are incredible young women and I am proud to be a teacher at St Mary’s. Now to plan our next expedition for 2019!

Melanie Blair is head of department: physical and natural sciences at St Mary’s School, Waverley.

1. See:
2. Ibid.
3. See:
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Category: Winter 2018

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