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Climbing in the Blue Mountains: A short history

Many millennia ago, they Aboriginal people were undoubtedly the first people to scale the now famous cliffs across the Blue Mountains.

As Glenn Short wrote in a potted history published in the publication Blue Mountains Climbing: "Thousands of years of shortcuts, exploratory scrambling and fun-loving jaunts around the orange walls of the Blue Mountains must have produced thousands of Aboriginal soloing epics. Spare a thought for the climbing culture ... we've lost. Our ropes, sticky rubber and ringbolts mark us for the bumblies we are."

Modern climbing, on the other hand, can be traced back to the 1920s and a remarkable man named Eric Dark (1889-1987). For starters, this Katoomba medical doctor was married to a remarkable woman. 

Eleanor Dark (1901-1985) was an accomplished writer whose book trilogy, The Timeless Land, about the early years of European settlement in Australia, won her acclaim locally and overseas. She loved the Australian bush with a passion and her greatest writing was done when she described it. Today the Darks' old Katoomba home Varuna, in Cascade Street close to the cliffs of the Jamison Valley, is a writers' retreat.

Eric and Eleanor married in 1922, moved to Katoomba in 1923 and their many shared interests included literature and rock climbing. How did that come about? Local school boys naturally found the towering cliffs around Katoomba irresistible, but lacked the skills and equipment to climb them safely. 

When one of them ended up in Eric's consulting room to have his injuries treated, the idea was born to create a climbing club. They called themselves 'The Blue Mountaineers', and included Eleanor, but less kind souls dubbed them 'The Katoomba Suicide Club'. 

During the 1920s and 1930s, Eric and his fellow club members climbed regularly on the cliffs of the Blue Mountains, including Sublime Point where Sweet Dreams is still one of the most popular climbs for experienced climbers in the Blue Mountains.

Eric Dark climbing Boars Head |  <i>Source: Local Studies Collection - Blue Mountains City Library</i> Dark Family at their favorite camping cave near Leura in 1937. |  <i>Source: Local Studies Collection - Blue Mountains City Library</i> Eleanor and Eric Dark at their wedding in 1922 |  <i>Source: Local Studies Collection - Blue Mountains City Library</i>
 

For Eric, the Blue Mountains was not his first climbing destination and climbing was but one thrilling chapter in an amazing life. As well as having already climbed in other parts of Australia, it is thought he had honed his climbing skills in Britain and continental Europe while serving as a medic during World War I, according to Glenn Short.

Such was Dark's bravery on the Western Front, he was awarded the Military Cross. The 1917 citation for his service at the notorious Battle of Passchendaele read: "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in leading his bearers. He displayed great gallantry and disregard of danger in moving about in the open under the heaviest shell fire, collecting and evacuating the wounded. He worked continuously for 36 hours, by his energy and determination contributing largely to the rapid clearing of the battlefield." 

At one stage during the war, Eric was temporarily blinded and badly affected by gas because he had taken his mask off in order to better treat the wounded. Inspired by the suffering of the poor of the Blue Mountains during the Great Depression, Eric also became a left-wing political and social agitator and champion of free speech.

Because of his military and rock climbing backgrounds, Eric was commissioned during World War II to train defence personnel in bushcraft and scout out Blue Mountains caves that could be used as hideouts for Australian guerilla troops in the event of a Japanese invasion. As his citation in the Australian Dictionary of Biography rightly notes, Eric Dark was not only a small, wiry, energetic, extremely fit man, he was most importantly "a man of moral rectitude and courage".

Climbing is a great way to boost a young persons confidence and life skills and there are many introductory routes to start out on. World Expeditions Schools can assist your school with a Blue Mountains climbing experience, utilising the most experienced guides in the business from the Blue Mountains Adventure Company.


This article was adapted from a blog written by Dan Lewis for the Blue Mountains Adventure Company.
Canyoning in the Blue Mountains: A brief history

They may be blue, but they are not much more than a thousand metres high and they are not even mountains! 

In the language of science, the Blue Mountains are really a dissected uplifted plateau.

It is this incredible dissection of deep valleys and gorges surrounding stubborn peaks that helps make the Blue Mountains the amazing World Heritage-listed place they are. The magic lies not in their heights but in their depths - the amazing places that have been carved into its sandstone soul. 

And there is no better way for young people to experience the magic of these depths than to go canyoning.

To venture into the deep, dappled, cold, wet, narrow slot canyons like Serendipity, Whungee Wheengee, Butterbox, Claustral, Empress Falls or Rocky Creek is to not only experience an adrenaline-filled physical challenge full of breath-taking beauty and biodiversity but to travel in a time machine to a hidden and ancient world that helps you fully comprehend why UNESCO deemed this dissected plateau to possess universal values important for all of humanity when it granted it World Heritage status in 2000.

It was only in 1994, for example, that an abseil into a Blue Mountains canyon led to the discovery of the famous Wollemi Pine, a tree from the time of the dinosaurs that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years. This “pinosaur with Jurrasic bark” made headlines around the world.

The eye-catching Hat Hill Canyon |  <i>Andrew Pope</i> Grand Canyon is an ideal canyon adventure for school groups |  <i>Ken Anderson</i> The impressive Juggler Canyon |  <i>David Hill</i> The ancient canyons have been known to the Aboriginal people of the Blue Mountains for thousands of years, but canyoning can trace its modern beginnings back to the early attempts by white settlers to find a way across the Blue Mountains. It was explorer George Caley who, in 1804, stumbled into what is now Claustral Canyon in the Blue Mountains and named it Dismal Dingle as he became one of the many to be defeated as he sought a way across this dissected labyrinth that compensates for a lack of height with an outrageously rugged landscape.

But it was bushwalking clubs looking for fresh challenges after World War II that really pioneered canyoning as a recreation.

What Caley called “dismal”, modern visitors call enchanting, breathtaking and unforgettable.

World Youth Adventures can assist schools with experiencing the magic of the Blue Mountains' canyon. Talk to our team to learn more.


Adapted from an original blog written by Dan Lewis for the Blue Mountains Adventure Company.

What will school travel look like post-pandemic?
No one could have predicted the total disruption that would occur in 2020. Borders opening and closing, social distancing, certain companies unable to keep trading through the pandemic, and the uncertainty and safety concerns that arose meant that all school group travel programs were off the table for consideration - for the immediate future at least.

If anything is certain right now, it is that those in charge of organising service learning or school adventures for their students will be asking themselves the same question; “what will school travel look like in the future?”.
 

Horizons will be broadened closer to home.

In the short term, there will be a strong demand for experiences much closer to home. This is largely due to the current international border closures, however, even if borders opened tomorrow the preference of many principals or school executives will likely be to wait for the world to be either fully vaccinated or a level of global herd immunity to be achieved. 

So, it’s lucky that we live in one of the most popular travel destinations on earth. Packed with World Heritage wilderness, stories from our own first peoples and the knowledge that we were one of the best countries in the world to manage the Covid pandemic, there has never been a better opportunity to introduce students to the magic of their own backyard - a backyard that is the top of the ‘bucket list’ for many around the world.
 
Many of us are guilty of thinking that overseas destinations offer more unique experiences but tell that to the 9.5 million tourists that visited Australia in 2019. They weren’t coming all this way because there wasn’t much to see or do here. 
Our natural beauty is a given, but world events in 2020 put a spotlight on an important conversation, our indigenous history, an understanding of which is being viewed as a crucial piece of the puzzle of what it means to be Australian. 

The best way to learn about this aspect of our national identity is through lived experience. Immersive Australian experiences delving into aspects of indigenous history and culture also work to build understanding, compassion and empathy.
 
A night under the Central Australian skies can be mesmerising |  <i>#cathyfinchphotography</i> Snorkelling with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef |  <i>Jake Parker</i> School group on top of Bishop & Clerk on Maria Island |  <i>Holly Van De Beek</i> Intricate rock art, Kakadu National Park |  <i>Peter Walton</i> A spectacular sunset experienced on the Yellow Waters cruise in Kakadu |  <i>Peter Walton</i>
 

There will be a requirement for greater financial protection

Before COVID, no one could have foreseen what was to come for the travel and hospitality industries (and others) and up until then, it was business as usual with payment and booking terms and cancellation charges imposed by the supply chain for securing tourism services. Demand has always been high for such services and naturally, this was the only way to lock in to guarantee the delivery of the same. 

Once COVID emerged, the litmus test for how companies had been managing the financial protection of the schools and parents of the participating students for their tour programs, rose to the surface. As an organisation who has always strongly focused on this element of our dealings, World  Youth Adventures have worked hard with our third-party suppliers including airlines and hotels to limit the potential of financial losses for schools and their communities. The propensity for the reputational damage to the sector when occurring large losses cannot be underestimated. Yet, we must implore readers of this blog, that it can be managed.

There is no doubt that, deposits are necessary to secure flights, accommodation, and other trip services, however a reputable organisation will be able to negotiate with their partners to minimise or eliminate the impact of deposits being lost forever.
 
As part of the World Expeditions Travel Group, we used the relationships that we’ve built over the last 45 years in operation to do just this. Terms and conditions are a part of life, they exist to protect all involved however in times of crises we are all in it together. Flexibility and empathy is needed to ensure that potential financial damage is eliminated or at worst, minimalised. In most cases we ask for as little as AU$250 per person with nothing more to pay until a little over a month before the trip.
 

Build a Covid column into your risk management plans

We know. We shudder at the thought too, but Covid is likely to be part of life for the foreseeable future. 
 
That means that in order to provide children with the best possible opportunities we need to adapt and learn to live with it, namely by minimising the risk of transmission.
 
Reputable organisations should already have developed Covid-19 safety measures for the field, following common-sense procedures and protocols to ensure that all operations are in adherence to the best possible practice. 
 
Our parent company has already proved this is possible, running many group tours across Australia, New Zealand, and the UK in late 2020, safely and without incident. We've adopted their Covid safe policies for our programs, including our first student trip for 2021 that will depart in July.

 

Travel where social distancing comes naturally

We suspect that more schools will want to avoid cities and other densely populated regions and seek out authentic wilderness experiences, where social distancing is often the modus operandi as it allows students to truly connect with the places they are visiting among many other benefits.
 
Wide-open spaces are our bag. Our company was started over 45 years ago with the express purpose of offering enriching experiences in the world's great wilderness regions, whether that be the Himalaya or the Red Centre. 

When we need to be in the company of other members of the public or groups, risk will be mitigated using chartered land transport, private guides and isolation of groups within hotels to minimise mingling with the general public to name a few measures. 
 
In fact, these policies have always been in place on our trips for safety reasons and the good news is that we know this can all be done without diminishing the experience for students.
 

There is never a 'better' time 

Humans have evolved by adapting to their new environments. This shouldn't change when it comes to immersive travel - in fact, it's a lesson that can be taught. So you can choose to either wait for a 'good' time or learn to adapt your programs to safely achieve your goals in new ways.
 
While school travel may look very different to the globetrotting experiences we have all become accustomed to, opportunities for personal growth are just as possible within Australia. 
 
There is no doubt that Covid has wreaked havoc, however, it has also provided a very special opportunity to foster global citizens right here at home.
 

Don't underestimate the value of experience

While few companies have traded through a pandemic before, navigating through very tricky waters (think airline collapses, government travel warnings, SARS, natural disasters like the Boxing Day tsunami or Nepal earthquakes) serve to reinforce important, key values to companies such as ours.
 
The emphasis on being flexible, good financial management and the importance of offering a variety of educational travel opportunities, not just around the world but also in our own backyard, are critical elements you should be looking for in companies to travel with so you can continue to offer students with safe, affordable and meaningful educational travel opportunities.
Australian Educational Trips: 6 things to consider

International school trips won’t be going ahead as planned for the foreseeable future, but that’s ok because there is a plethora of diverse learning outside of the classroom experiences to be had right here in Australia.

If you’ve never planned an active or educational school trip longer than a week at home, then you may want to get ready for a few key differences. Australia provides high quality, safe experiences, but they do come with extra costs and often, regulations.

PRICE

A two-week trip in Nepal for AUD$4k with flights is very possible. Getting the same length of trip for the same price in Australia, at the same level of quality, will be harder. Internal flights are already on the higher end when compared with cheaper flights to Asia. Wages for experienced Australian guides and staff are much higher than in developing countries. As can be National Park fees and permits, accommodations and the cost of nearly everything to operate a trip, from the muesli in the morning to fuel in the tank. 

It costs more to operate quality wilderness programs in Australia. Your existing budgets are likely to go a lot longer if you can reduce the length of trip.

GROUP SIZES

The Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania only permits 10 paying walkers per group. That’s a little awkward when you have a group of 25-35 kids you want to take away. 

Many of our National Parks or places worth protecting do come with some rules and regulations that you may not see abroad; however, they are in place to minimise the impact of popular places so they can be enjoyed by everyone. Before you get too excited about a destination, check the National Park commercial group size allowance.

SEASONALITY

As good as the weather is in Australia it certainly pays to choose the right season when choosing to take students into our wilderness. Many schools get the advantage of the warmer weather in the northern hemisphere with mid-year trips however that is the Aussie winter, which is ideal if you're headed out to the desert.

Here's a quick glance at the best times to visit some of our most popular places. 

  • Tasmania: ideal for October to March, the warmer summer months with typically less rain. It can rain and temperatures can drop at anytime during summer.
  • Darwin and Kakadu: Outside the wet season, June to August is coolest with least humidity
  • Alice Springs and Larapinta: May to September are the coolest months, winter nights can be freezing
  • Flinders Ranges and Kangaroo Island: The winter months June to August are the coolest times, however it is also rainy season on Kangaroo Island
  • Ningaloo Reef and Karijiji National Park: Between May and September, the milder, drier months. Average winter temperatures can still be warm, mid 20C.
  • South West Australia: Most of the year really. Cooler to walk during winter although swimming might not be in the itinerary.
  • Daintree Rainforrest and Cape Tribulation: 
  • New Zealand: Late September it begins to warm up for a typically mild summer before autumn brings the changing of the leaves and the lower temperatures again. It can rain and temperatures can drop at anytime during summer.

SERVICE LEARNING 

Our wilderness is iconic and helping to clean and protect it is of valuable need and instils a long-standing ethos of respect between the student and our native landscapes. There are some wonderful and highly beneficial conservation service learning programs all around Australia and New Zealand. You can join a hands on project studying species, helping with landcare management, caring for bushfire affected areas or perhaps studying the impact of microplastics in our river systems.

Australia offers a robust network of social programs to help support those in need. Unlike developing countries, where there is essentially little to no government or third-party assistance for the poor, the government and many charities have programs in place at home assisting where required. While they are more limited here than you would find abroad, humanitarian service-learning programs are still possible within Australia. 

EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING

Australia is a vast, remote land. Our landscapes are beautiful but can be dangerous is you are not experienced with the terrain. During this time many school group operators will scramble to provide product in Australia, except us. Our parent company, World Expeditions, has pioneered many classic Australian adventures and has been rewarded for our sustainability initiative. Before swapping your international student trip to a domestic one, ensure your local operator has the ‘runs on the board’ and can offer a high quality, safe educational learning experience in Australia.

USING KNOWLEDEABLE GUIDES

While using a local guide is obviously going to be more expensive than leading a local tour yourself, don't be tempted too quickly by the saving. For a world class, safe experience only a guide can bring stories of local history and flora, be familiar with the weather patterns and add an extra element of comfort, knowledge and safety into your school tour. It's tempting to lead a trip even with experienced outdoor staff but to truly get the most out of an experience you spend time organising why not get the most out of it.

 
Will It Actually Help to Offset the Carbon Footprint of My Travel?

Carbon offsetting – the counter arguments

Offsetting carbon emissions from your trip with us is just one way we aim to address our carbon footprint. The first – and most important – step is to reduce the emissions produced by our student adventures to begin with.

In November 2019, our parent company World Expeditions launched the 100% Carbon Offset initiative. This means that we compensate for the carbon footprint associated with all school trips offered by many World Expeditions Schools.

When developing your educational adventure, ingrained into the process is an investigation of the least carbon intensive mode of transport or accommodation available on the ground. Once we have identified that option, and providing safety considerations are met, we use it. However, no matter how carbon conscious we all are, travel invariably has a carbon footprint – whether it be from road transport or electricity from accommodations. To help address this, we compensate for the remaining unavoidable emissions by financing emission reduction projects around the world.

We know that many people are unsure about the role of carbon offsetting in the bigger picture of global decarbonisation. Often this leads to scepticism. With assistance from the experts at South Pole, read on to find out how we address common arguments often made to discredit carbon offsetting.

#1: We should be reducing carbon emissions, not offsetting them!

Reducing emissions must be the first step in any responsible carbon offsetting programme. However, because we don’t live in a zero emissions world (...yet!) and some carbon is produced by almost everything we do, offsets can help bridge the gap between today and a low-carbon tomorrow.

Low-carbon alternatives to flying, electricity generation and other activities associated with travel and tourism are being developed. But for now, the two approaches – reduce and offset – must work together, not against each other.

Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Hydropower China Project, supports local communities through employment. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects support conservation projects in Victoria's Annya State forest land in Australia. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Bac Lieu Vietnam Wind Project, supports local economies and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Kariba REDD+ forest protection in Zimbabwe, supports local communities and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Kariba REDD+ forest protection in Zimbabwe, supports local communities and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Hydropower Project in China, supports local economies and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Bac Lieu Vietnam Wind Project, supports local economies and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i>
 

#2: By paying somebody else to reduce emissions, carbon offsets enable ‘guilt-free’ pollution

The argument here is that carbon offsets provide a ‘licence to pollute’ – allowing individuals and organisations that purchase them and carry on with business as usual without changing their emissions-intensive behaviours.

However, this is not true: accepting a price on carbon creates an incentive to reduce emissions to keep costs down. On top of this, there are many other benefits aside from emission reductions that carbon compensation projects create. We’ll come to those later.

#3: Carbon offsets remove the incentive to reduce emissions or decarbonise carbon-intensive activities, like flying

To offset unavoidable emissions, organisations can buy carbon credits. As more and more people, businesses and industries adopt emission reduction strategies, the price of carbon is driven up further. Pricing carbon helps incentivise emission reductions and drives innovations in low-carbon technology for emissions-intensive activities – like flying.

Speaking of flying, a new source of demand for carbon offsets is imminent as the aviation industry will be required to cap emissions at 2020 levels – as set out by the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA, learn more about that here). This will drive up the price of carbon even further, thereby encouraging the industry to develop low-carbon alternatives to flying.

#4: Carbon offsetting schemes do not work and emission reductions may have happened regardless

This argument is most commonly made about the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established by the Kyoto Protocol to allow countries to meet emission reduction targets by purchasing carbon credits – called ‘certified emission reductions’ (CERs) – from projects in emerging economies.

The CDM has been scrutinised because its actual effect on global emission levels is hard to prove. Some argue that the emission reductions claimed under the scheme would have occurred even without it. This is where the concept of ‘additionality’ comes in.

Additionality is a mandatory component for carbon offsetting projects. It ensures that emission reductions claimed by projects are actually ‘additional’ to what would occur in a ‘business as usual’ scenario. Moreover, the CDM and standards that have followed – like Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Gold Standard – have been subject to ongoing review for over a decade to ensure additionality is achieved. As a result, methodologies and verification procedures are continually improved.

What further is indisputable is the billions of dollars in investment that the CDM and carbon markets drive into climate action. The CDM has thousands of registered climate protection and renewable energy projects, which would never have been established without the finance created by the carbon markets. The CDM also provides a framework for continuing climate action; the Paris Agreement includes a similar mechanism that will allow countries to meet their nationally determined contributions using offsets: Article 6.

#5: Emission reduction projects are bad for local communities

It is unfortunately true that there have been reported cases where emission reduction projects have had negative consequences for local communities. However, not all carbon credits are created equal and these cases are the exception, not the norm.

The best way to ensure that carbon compensation does not affect communities negatively is by doing the research. Source for example carbon credits from reputable project developers with projects certified by robust, best practice standards.

World Expeditions Travel Group purchases carbon credits from leading sustainability solutions provider and project developer, South Pole. All of South Pole’s climate protection projects are certified under robust certification standards like the Gold Standard and VCS. Besides, community engagement is a key step in the project development process. First of all, projects must be approved by local stakeholders in both the development and implementation phases. On top of that community consultation is performed on an ongoing basis throughout monitoring and verification cycles. Not only do these projects reduce emissions – they also create real, positive co-benefits for the local communities in which they operate. 

So, while we agree that carbon compensation is not the solution to climate change, it is an important step in the right direction. And it’s a step that we can take right now to drive finance into climate protection projects and help bridge the gap between today and a low-carbon future.

When you travel with World Expeditions Schools you can do so with the knowledge that we have calculated the emissions produced by your land arrangements. For every kilogram of carbon produced, we invest money on your behalf into projects that reduce or remove carbon elsewhere.

School travel to China
For centuries the country was a closed book to the world beyond her borders. Outsiders had yearned to visit this mysterious civilisation however little was known by most about this extraordinary land and its people and only the truly adventurous, like Marco Polo, even considered attempting to navigate their way around this nation.

It’s only since 1976 that tourism really started and today China is a must-see destination for everyone. China has been modernising at a rapid pace, with cities such as Shanghai a testament to their evolution. With its young middle class population the Chinese are also quickly developing a taste for consumerism culture that at one point in time no one could ever have imagined.

As much as China is keen to display its stunning scenery, historical sites and impressive cities, it is also dedicated to conveying something about how its society works. This contrast between the old world and the new is what makes China such an alluring travel destination. Although its political system has set it apart from the west, China is now moving forward in leaps and bounds, especially in the areas of trade and commerce. The major cities are indicative of the burgeoning economy of modern China.

Within the almost four million square miles of China's vast territory live more than 1.3 billion people, which makes China the most populated nation on earth. Initially, foreign visitors were only allowed to see a fraction of what the country had to offer, however, today it is possible to visit as many as 60 different areas. An increasing number of historical sites are also being restored and opened up to viewing for foreign tourists.

China never fails to conjure up a myriad of feelings, images and a sense of mystery. Its history cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs in this article. To fully appreciate the events that have shaped the country and its people, students should take the time to read at least one of the many excellent books available on China and be prepared to be drawn into tales of adventure, betrayal, love, life and absolute amazement.

School group travel in Chin with World Expeditions Schools.

TRAVELLING IN CHINA

As in the days of Marco Polo, travellers are still regarded as honoured guests and the locals delight in watching you watching them. Within the relatively short time that China's doors have been open to the West, few tourists have visited the rural parts of the country, including the remote region of Yunnan, which is famously home to Zhongdian, the city which gave the inspiration to the mystical Shangri –La.

So where should one visit in China? From Beijing in the east to the lands of the Uyghur people in the far west, there are a million and one places to consider in between. The following are the most popular places right now.

The Great Wall of China: China's Great Wall needs little introduction. What you need to know about it is the best way to experience it. Get away from the restored sections and the large crowds to trek along a remote section of the Great Wall outside Beijing in Hebei Province to truly appreciate this monument. The scenery is vast and diverse as you trek your way through swaying corn cropped fields to distant green river valleys with one of the great wonders of the world as your backdrop. While there are opportunities to stay in designated accommodations, camping near to the villages will provide you with true rural hospitality in the 'real China' and allow a rare interaction with the local people. The opportunity to visit a number of sections of the Wall will make your school adventure even more special.

Discover the ancient Silk Road cities and history: The Romans, it is thought, first encountered silk in 53 B.C during their campaigns against the Parthians. Learning from Parthian prisoners that the silk came from a mysterious tribe in the east they sent agents to explore the route, which became one of early history’s most prized trading routes between the East and West. The birth of the Silk Road in China came as the Warring States period was brought to an end with the consolidation of the Qin Dynasty. This saw the unification of language, the standardisation of systems and the birth of Xi’an as the capital, as well as the joining of the sections of the Great Wall.

Perhaps the most significant commodity to be carried along the route was religion. Buddhism came to China from India along the northern branch of the Silk Road. Various emperors sent missions to India to learn more about this mysterious religion. Slowly, as merchants, pilgrims and missionaries came into contact with Buddhism it spread along the route and stampas, monasteries and grottos bearing murals and Buddhist artwork, began to appear, with some of the finest examples in China found near Dunhuang. For students of history, the Silk Road is a fascinating project.

Beijing; Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square: Beijing is an extraordinary city with a wealth of iconic attractions, where local knowledge is essential if you want to get the most out of limited time. Highlights include Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and everyone must do a walking tour of ancient Hutong District to get a real vibe of this amazing city.

Xian and the Terracotta Warriors:  Xian is the traditional starting point of the Silk Road. This old walled city, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of old and new China as the modernised new city bustles around the quaint, winding lanes of the Old Quarter.

The Wild Goose Pagoda is a classic example of Chinese temple architecture. Built in 652 AD it houses Buddhist Scriptures brought back from India along the Silk Road.  The Shaanxi History Museum, built in huge classical-Chinese style, houses a collection of chronologically arranged items and includes material previously housed in the Provincial Museum, with many objects that have never been on permanent display before The Muslim quarter of Xian provides a different feel to the city with its elaborate markets and the Great Mosque.

The real attraction of the city however is a discovery by local farmers in 1974 of the tomb of Qin Shihuang with its army of terracotta warriors.  Each warrior stands over 6 feet tall and has different features and characteristics.  Some stand in a vanguard with crossbow and longbow bearers; others hold spears, daggers and axes at the ready. They are accompanied by dozens of horse-drawn carriages and enormous terracotta horses. The sight of the warriors arising from their muddy grave, some intact, others still submerged in the ground, is an extraordinary one.

Cruise the Yangtze and Three Gorges: The Yangtze River is the longest river in China and the third longest waterway in the world. Over millions of years it has carved its way through the surrounding mountains creating the uniquely beautiful gorges now known as the Three Gorges. A cruise along the Yangtze is a must if time allows.

See Pandas in Chengdu: A recognised symbol of China, the Giant Panda is also an endangered animal. With fewer than 1000 left in the wild a visit to the Panda Breeding Research Centre in Chengdu is a unique opportunity to see these animals in an environment that mimics their natural habitat. This centre leads the world in research into the rearing and breeding of Pandas and your visit supports this ongoing work.

Explore Shangrila (Zhongdian) & the mountains of the Yunnan region: Wedged between the upper tributaries of the Mekong and Yangtze Rivers, and the vast Tibetan Plateau, Northern Yunnan is one of the most spectacular regions of China and contains approximately one third of all China’s minority groups. One can create a superb itinerary in this region alone. Visit the stone forest outside of Kunming before heading to the ancient city of Lijiang set beneath the Snow Dragon Mountain. After the dramatic Tiger Leaping Gorge visit lush Tibetan villages and travel on to the high plateau that defines the borderlands of Tibet. It is here that you can view the sacred peak of Kawakarpo in the spectacular Meili Snow Mountains - an important place for pilgrims from Tibet.

Kashgar Markets: You wouldn’t know you were in China, or the 21st century for that matter, at the Sunday markets in Kashgar. Kashgar is in Uyghur territory on the far west side of China and was an important city during the ‘Great Game’, a strategic rivalry staged between Britain and Russia in their attempts to secure the Central Asian states.

This article really only touches on what you can do in China. Diversity in landscape and depth in history are two things that are abundant in China and to truly appreciate these natural and cultural wonders using an experienced organisation that can provide quality local guides will ensure that your students have a memorable experience of China.

 
Disconnect to Connect on a School Trip Abroad

How a school trip abroad can help bring back real communication

On returning home from my travels this Summer I squeezed onto a packed commuter train at Gatwick, carefully trying to avoid knocking into too many people with my rucksack whilst on the search for an empty seat. A little boy of not more than seven beamed as I sat down opposite him, his bright eyes seeking out mine, clearly fascinated about where I had come from. Was it the rucksack he was drawn to? Had he found it funny that it was just that little bit too awkward to walk down the aisle with? Did I have a dirty mark on my face? Oh no he’d just found the only other person in the train carriage not wearing headphones lost to a world of technology – he wanted to do the strangest of things … talk! 

We passed a wonderful hour. He’d been to London (his first time in the capital). Seen Buckingham Palace (not the Queen unfortunately). Helped his Mum at work (wouldn’t want to do that every day). Explained that the mass of clothes next to him was his sleeping sister (exhausted from their adventures). Quizzed me about who might live in the castles that flew past the train window (do all those fields belong to the castle?) Those around us continued to exist in their own bubble, knees bizarrely touching, shoulders rubbing, eyes averted and brains and minds intent on their solitary fix.

What are we teaching our next generation? 

That it is wrong to talk to complete strangers under any circumstances? That it is awkward to make eye contact? That last night’s fictional episode is more important than the day the person opposite is having? Are we deskilling our children? Are they able to recognise facial signals, respond to conversation starters, confidently engage with others and develop social skills in order to form positive relationships and real friendships?
 

Unplug to unwind. Tune out to tune in. Disconnect to connect.

 
A recent experiential learning trip to Morocco with a group of my secondary students has given me hope. As organisers of the trip we explained prior to enrolment that students were not allowed to take mobile phones with them for a number of reasons. It was fascinating to watch the results. 
 
Disconnect first, in order to connect with each other

The initial reason, given to us during our original staff training, was partly due to the poor signal in many of the parts of the High Atlas Mountains. On top of that, it is essential that if there is a difficulty or even an emergency that students have to deal with, that they are able to do so without feeling the need to immediately text parents back at home. Students need to work as a team, support each other, react to the situation at hand and learn from the experts. Our local guides had both the equipment, and more importantly, the knowledge of the surrounding area to get messages through if required. Broken and confused messages received by worried parents who are unable to help cause unnecessary angst. Besides, a student who has successfully overcome feeling unwell, upset, homesick or just simply exhausted comes back from their school trip abroad as a far stronger and independent person.  
 
There was no pressure to pose for selfies
 
Our students found the lack of a phone disconcerting at first. Many panicked, thinking they had left it on the coach or in the airport, but it didn’t take long to feel a new found sense of freedom. There was no risk that they were going to lose, scratch or drop their phone. Or worse still, be the target of theft. There was no pressure to pose for selfies, pout and post or even consider what their friends were doing that evening at a party they were missing. There was no worry about a bad hair day or whether the clothes were right – we were there to live alongside, support and build contacts with the Moroccan community in a beautiful part of the world that relies, for the fragile present, far less on modern technology.

Entertainment had to be technology free

The sheer joy of watching students bond as a group, making friendship bracelets, playing cards, creating ball games, doing yoga and talking, really talking, was a breath of fresh air. Not just for those of us old enough to remember a different world, but also for those students who have known nothing other than the technological frenzy of social media they have been born into.
 
Enjoying breakfast in Bhaktapur, just outside of Kathmandu |  <i>Greg Pike</i>

Communication was real. Individuals had to pick up whether members of the group needed help, support, distraction or time alone. Their soft skills flourished. Communication with those speaking a different language had to be carefully thought out, expressed through gesture or the simplicity of a smile.

Through the senses

The trekking in Morocco’s High Atlas is demanding both physically and mentally. To truly experience the challenge and the splendour, whether in Morocco or any other destination for a school trip abroad, it is paramount to do so through the senses. A quote I saw on my own travels in Estonia summed up the need to embrace the world not from behind a phone or through the ubiquitous headphones but through the heart and through the people around you:
 
Hiking means looking with one’s own eyes, listening with one’s own ears, thinking with one’s own mind and feeling with one’s own heart.
– Edgar Kant, geographer & economist

There is an irony that due to the close friendships formed across a quite disparate group the students are using their phones to remain in contact with each other since their return and going their separate ways. Likewise, once the bundle of clothes that was the sister woke up, my train companion grabbed an iPad to challenge his sibling. Technology is undoubtedly here to stay. But we must ensure that, despite the obvious advantages, we provide our children with opportunities to disconnect in order to connect, before we all forget how.

Article is written by Jo Biddle, who travelled on a school trip abroad with World Expeditions Schools in July 2019. Pictures from World Expeditions Schools image library. 
 

What does 'Disconnect to Connect' mean?

To maximize the benefits of the travel experience, students need to be free to be fully in the moment, engaging in the activities on offer and focusing on the people they are travelling with. This blog article by the Huffpost explains it in another way. 
When phones are down (students are disconnected), eyes are up, freeing students to look around and notice things (they are connected). Without phones, students are open to receive information from all their senses, allowing them to fully engage in the travel experience, to maximize the potential for learning and growth. It also gives them the chance to top up their creative fuel by being in tune to their own thoughts and responses in a way that is not possible when they are beholden to the phone. 
 
 
Eliminating Plastic From Our School Treks

The Himalayan nation of Nepal has stepped up in banning single-use plastics in the Everest region, which will take effect in January 2020 in the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu province. All plastic drinking bottles and plastics of less than 30 microns in width will be banned in the area. 

With plastic packaging accounting for about half of the plastic waste in the world, here's how we are leading the way in eliminating its use on our treks.

Fast facts: How big is our plastic problem?

  Humans buy around 1 million plastic bottles per minute.
  Half a million straws are used in the world every day.
  It is estimated that almost 10 million plastic bags are consumed worldwide per minute.
  79% of all the plastics ever produced have now been discarded. Only 21% of plastics are still in active use.
  Each year, about 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean, with reports warning that there will be more plastic than marine life in the oceans by 2050.
  By 2050, an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
  Because plastic is long lasting and durable, most do not biodegrade; only certain types of plastic waste can be recycled. Plastic waste is therefore either destroyed, converted to fuel or energy via incineration or pyrolysis, disposed of in waste management systems or discarded where it ends up in the natural environment.
  Single-use-plastics frequently do not make it to a landfill.

Worst plastic offenders

1. Plastic bags

2. Coffee cups and lids

3. Straws

4. Single-use bottles

Other offenders: balloons and their sticks and ribbons, chip and snack packets, food containers, plastic cutlery and sanitary products.

What can we do about it?

Making the switch from plastic to sustainable alternatives, as well as making responsible travel choices – such as bringing along a refillable water bottle, can make a positive investment in the future of our environment. Read these eight ways to avoid plastic when you travel.

Travel sustainably: how World Expeditions Schools is eliminating plastic

Leading the way in responsible travel, our latest green initiatives in Nepal allow travellers to avoid the use of disposable and single-use plastic throughout their Nepal trip. The Kathmandu hotel we use has a water dispenser with potable water available for students to refill their reusable bottles, so that travellers aren't contributing to the plastic problem in the poor, landlocked country.

“While water on the treks has been boiled and provided to trekkers for many years, we are delighted to totally eliminate the need for plastic bottles from the moment the client arrives at the hotel.”

“Providing our clients with access to potable water throughout their Nepal experience is the final step in giving our clients the confidence to know that they are travelling green in Nepal,” says World Expeditions Responsible Travel Manager, Donna Lawrence.

In addition to phasing out single-use plastic bottles, our Nepali kitchen crew are trained to minimise plastic waste in trek kitchens, which is especially important in remote regions, when responsible disposal becomes more difficult.  We minimize the use of plastic by buying fresh produce from local farmers whenever possible, which has the dual benefit of creating income for subsistence communities and reducing the need of packaging and excess plastic.

Our credentials in eco tourism in Nepal are unrivalled:  We're proud to follow the seven principles of  Leave No Trace on all our treks and we're the founding partner of the 10 Pieces environmental initiative, which encourages trekkers to pick up 10 pieces of plastic or paper (or more!) to help reduce the litter problem through their collective effort.


Sources: Cleaseas.org, Earthday.org, Report from Science Advances, 2018 Outlook report from UN Environment.

#SaveTheAmazon: Amazon Rainforest Appeal

We all need the Amazon. Now it needs you. Donate to the World Expeditions Foundation's appeal to protect the forest, its wildlife and local communities affected.

Fires are raging through the Amazon rainforest, primarily in the Brazilian Amazon, gripped by its most vigorous fire season since 2010. The media images we are seeing are devastating, showing the extent of the fires and the subsequent smoke which is impacting Brazil and its neighbours.

NASA reports that, “while drought has played a large role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought.” Studies show that the rainforest is at tipping point, with large fragmented sections at risk of transforming into a drier ecosystem which could result in the severe loss of species, the acceleration of climate change and spell disaster for the indigenous populations who call the forest home.

Home to a million people and three times as many wildlife, the Amazon is also the largest piece of rainforest in the world.

Often referred to as ‘the lungs of the earth’, scientists warn that the extent of this year’s Amazon forest fires will make the Paris climate target more difficult to achieve as tree cover loss from forests is estimated to account for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions, while trees are also said to provide more than 20% of climate solutions. Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide, they also then lock carbon away.

How you can help

Want to support those working to arrest the damage? Donate to the World Expeditions Foundation’s Amazon Forest Appeal and 100% of your donation will be directed to Earth Alliance to be distributed to local partners and indigenous communities working to protect the forest and its wildlife and to mitigate fire and its effects on local communities.

Earth Alliance is an environmental foundation created by climate change crusader Leonardo DiCaprio and his philanthropic friends.

Travel advisory information

The scale of the region is so large that the areas where we operate our jungle trips are not affected by the fires and there is no risk to our travellers or our traveller’s experience on any of our trips in Peru or Ecuador. We will continue to monitor the situation and contingency plans will be enacted if required.

As always, the safety of our travellers is our foremost priority and one we will not compromise on. We will continue to support the preservation of this vital wilderness and those who live and work in it.

First published on worldexpeditions.com on 30 August 2019.

9 reasons active outdoor travel is good for students

There’s something special about embarking on a trip into the unknown and really experiencing the world. Whether it’s a trek into the mountains or cycling along rural back roads, an active school adventure can benefit a students physical, mental and emotional state.

However our community is changing. The evolving trend for more comfortable travel supports the headlines about our growing sedentary lifestyle. Most alarmingly, many of these reports point towards today’s youth. Increases in child weight gain, depression and an addiction to an electronic umbilical cord which pumps out advertisements heralding the benefits of manufactured foods and even more computer activity has seemingly caused a rapid decline in the time spent outdoors by children. 

With all the advances in modern living through an increased urban lifestyle, we’re worried that the next generation will be passed on the concept that nature is not our friend and that it offers little benefit.

It’s concerning that concepts that helped to inspire terms such as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ and ‘Protective House Arrest’ - both coined by American author Richard Louv – have sprung into mainstream thinking. The idea that it has been a removal from nature that could be causing the health problem within kids, as well as the idea that this removal is being encouraged by parents who believe that the outdoors is a dangerous place, is something that worries many of us who have learned the exact opposite during our formative years.

While there are many types of educational travel experiences on offer for students, here's 9 reasons why we believe combining active travel elements in your school trip is a wise option.

1. Spending time outdoors reduces stress

There’s a reason why there’s a smile on everyone’s face after they’ve come back from an active adventure. 

Australians are some of the most stressed out people in the world, with a recent report reporting that stress levels have been rising around the country for the past five years. Thankfully, research suggests that nature walks can reduce stress, as well as boost levels of attention, which is very relevant for students.

Gregory Bratman, the lead author of the study, said that 'nature experiences, even of a short duration, can decrease this pattern of thinking that is associated with the onset, in some cases depression.'

2. Nature makes exercise easier

Some kids have tdifficulty motivating themselves to get fit. So, make it fun and give them a goal to aim towards.

Research conducted at the University of Essex suggests that exercise feels easier when you are viewing the colour green, such as on trees, grass and other plants in nature.

The study conducted tested cyclists pedalling in front of green, red and grey images. Those who pedalled in front of the green screen reported that they felt lower exertion during their cycling, as well as displayed less mood disturbances than the other participants.

3. Nature can rejuvenates your soul

One of the best reasons to spend time outdoors trekking and cycling is that it can reinvigorate your mental state. Studies have shown that viewing natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, which can release endorphins and trigger a mental boost.

An interview by HuffingtonPost with a Seattle-based environmental psychologist states: 'In addition to helping decrease stress levels, spending more time with nature shows a shift toward more positive moods... the theory is that we respond positively to things that are good for us. Trees offer shade, protection and often have fruits and nuts, so they are a source of food as well as protection and comfort.'

Ultimately, we tend to be drawn and attracted to things that are beneficial to our survival, which is one of the reasons why trees and other natural elements can help lift our moods.

4. Gain a sense of accomplishment

Regardless of age and size, taking on an overseas adventure can create feelings associated with personal achievement. The greater the challenge, the more sense of achievement we feel when we accomplish those goals.

5. Travel increases your self-awareness

A bi-product of travel is raising your self-awareness and it’s one of the most beneficial parts of taking on an adventurous school trip overseas.

Adventure travel brings you closer to your “inner self”, giving you the chance to examine and challenge yourself in ways you didn’t think were possible.

Stepping into the unknown and taking a risk demands our increased attention and can bring an intense state of self awareness – one of the reasons that people, such as mountain climbers, engage in adventure activities.

6. The outdoors can make you smarter

Immersing a child in the outdoors can increase their higher order cognition in more ways than one. This study found that brain scans taken after exercise showed that the participants had greater and more focused activity in the prefrontal cortex than they did before.

What’s more, active adventures help increase activity in your hippocampus, the brain’s main “storage unit”.

7. Forge new friendships

After an adventure it's not uncommon to see bonds form between students who prior to the trip perhaps weren't as close. The common goals shared of achieving a physical challenge can bring kids together.

Embarking on a challenge with other people can bring them closer together; sharing the trials and the triumphs gives them something to bond over and forms relationships that'll embed deep in their memories for many years to come.

8. Learn new life skills

Travel develops a child in any ways. From problem solving to growing confidence and building, resilience, the experiences gained from entering new surroundings and immersing yourself in a different culture creates exciting challenges that can enable students to expand their skill set.

Taking part in a Service Learning Project only enhances the opportunity to grow as you work alongside local people to achieve a common goal for the benefit of both the host communities and visiting students.

9. Know that you're making a difference when you travel ethically

There’s more to travel than just experiencing nature’s finest spaces. Embarking on a trip to some of the world’s most remote and untouched corners puts money into the local economy and helps preserve these pristine landscapes.

As many of these far-flung destinations are located in some of the world’s poorest countries, eco tourism helps these countries in their efforts to save and preserve their land through organisations that ultimately aim to save the planet.

Adventure travellers are needed throughout the world to support these initiatives with their tourism dollars. Also, travelling with eco-friendly and responsible travel companies can have positive changes on animal welfare, waste management, porter protection, communities in need and sustainable development – check out our Thoughtful Traveller guidebook for more information.

If you would like to talk to our team about tailoring an active outdoor educational trip for your school, start designing your journey here.

 

 

Tanzania's Plastic Ban: What Students Need To Know

As of June 2019, plastic bags were no longer allowed into Tanzania, as the country stepped up in the global movement against single plastic use.

Special desks will be designated at border posts and airports for travellers entering the country to surrender their plastic bags. The strict government initiative hopes to cut down on plastic waste in the country and to help preserve the natural beauty of Tanzania.

The United Republic of Tanzania released a notice for travellers wishing to visit the country that "all plastic carriers, regardless of their thickness, will be prohibited from being imported, exported, manufactured, sold, stored, supplied and used in Mainland Tanzania."

Visitors must avoid carrying or using plastic carrier bags for items in their suitcase or in their hand luggage. However, ziplock bags specifically used to carry toiletries are permitted as they are expected to remain the permanent possession of visitors and to not be disposed of in Tanzania.

When you arrive into Tanzania carrying items in a plastic bag, customs and immigration will confiscate the bag. We suggest bringing a few cloth carry bags or stuff sacks (which pack down to nothing) from home to store your personal items and laundry.

Tanzania is not the first African country to take a step towards removing plastic bags. It follows Kenya, Mali, Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, South Africa, Rwanda and Botswana, all of which have already either banned plastic bags completely or now charge a tax on them.

The plastic waste issue for African countries is serious.  At one stage, it was suggested South Africa had named the plastic bag its national flower, since there were so many bags littering their landscape.

This situation is not new and many countries across the globe are slowly following suit. So far, 65 countries have imposed bans and another 31 countries impose a tax per bag.

The Earth Policy Institute estimates that a trillion plastic bags are used throughout the world each year.

Fast facts: the plastic issue

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which almost always comes from some form of fossil fuel.  Although shopping bags are recyclable in the short term, many pollute our landscapes and waterways, blocking drains and sewerage pipes and killing marine animals. Longer term, plastic bags never break down fully, remaining micro plastics, which release toxins into the environment, to be ingested by animals and entering the human food chain. 


How to reduce plastic use when you travel

Countries around the world vary in their commitment to ban plastic bags, but you can make a difference to the war on plastic bags when you travel. Travel with reusable bags, so when you are offered a plastic bag you can politely refuse. Consumer sentiment cannot be underestimated in the drive to minimize plastic. 

Another action that can make a difference is to collect plastic bags that blemish the natural landscape and end up in waterways, removing them from the environment and finding a responsible method of disposal, such as a recycling plant.

Our 10 Pieces program has been encouraging trekkers in many destinations to collect paper and plastic litter from trails.  Since February 2018, on Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, more than 110 trekkers have volunteered to participate in the program with plastic bags being the number one item collected.

Litter that is collected by trekkers is carried off the mountain by porters and handed over to National Park Rangers for proper disposal. The initiative has even encouraged other people on treks to follow suit in picking up rubbish.

A small effort can collectively make a huge difference by placing the issue at hand in the spotlight by helping educate mountain communities on the negative consequences of litter for the benefit  and the health of their animals and people.

Written by Donna Lawrence, the Responsible Travel Manager at World Expeditions.

Service Learning: Tips for Volunteering Overseas

Tips for Students Volunteering Overseas


If you're in charge of organising your school's overseas Educational Travel trips the following information will help you ask the right questions of your Educational Travel provider to ensure you create a  responsible, truly worthwhile experience for both your students and the host communities you plan to visit or help.
 
Students on Cambodia Service Learning tripStudents on Cambodia Service Learning trip


Valuable and sustainable projects

When choosing a volunteering experience overseas be sure to use a reputable organisation, to ensure that the work you will be doing has a positive impact on the community and that it fulfils a real need.

Questions to ask:

Is the development of the volunteering experience consultative?

Has the community been involved in the decisions from the outset? Is the work needed and wanted and is it a priority for the community? Volunteer experiences that consult with or are led by the heads of the local community are usually very successful because early ownership of the project by the beneficiaries ensures long-term sustainability.

Is the volunteering collaborative?

Are you working along side members of the local community?

Is the project sustainable?

After you leave will the project continue to benefit the community? A sustainable project engages the local community with the aim that they will become self sufficient and able to operate the project themselves in the future.

Is there a transference of skills/knowledge?

Will you come away from the experience with new skills, new insights and new understandings? And are you able to leave behind the same? A transference of skills -both ways - is an ideal volunteering experience, one that is enriching for both parties.

The welfare of children in the tourism setting

Children working and living in tourist areas are especially vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Here are some things to consider when interacting with children during your travels and overseas volunteering experiences;

  1. Child begging or selling on the street: our natural reaction is to give to a child, but often this just compounds the problem. To break the cycle it is better to support their families and communities by donating to reputable children’s charities that are working to change the situation for the long term.

  2.  Ask yourself "would this be ok in my home country?": If the answer is 'no' then you should probably not participate. Some examples, would it be ok to teach children in a school setting even though you are not qualified? Is it ok to take photos of children without the permission of their parents?

  3. Orphanage tourism: Legitimate orphanages employ local people to care for the children and will not allow strangers to walk through their premises to look at and interact with their vulnerable children. Corruption is rift through orphanages in South East Asia, Nepal. Remember that children are not tourist attractions. Each child deserves a stable and caring environment

  4. If you are going to have contact with children during a volunteer experience make sure that the organization you are with has a child protection code of conduct in place and that they ask you to provide a background check.


  5.  

If you suspect a child is being abused tell your guide, or report it to the local authorities or your embassy in that country.
 
Working on Service Learning project in CambodiaStudents working on a Service Learning project in Cambodia


 

The welfare on animals in the tourism setting. 

Volunteering with animal welfare agency requires some due diligence to ensure that you are not inadvertently harming animals instead of helping them. Two such cased of animal exploitation in the tourism setting that are currently receiving much attention are elephants and lions.

Elephants

With so much research and evidence pointing to the fact that riding on the back of an elephant is damaging, travellers should steer clear of this experience. The best way to experience an elephant is in the wild, from the safety of a vehicle, in a national park or reserve where the elephant is not in captivity and able to display its natural behaviours. Many elephant sanctuaries / orphanages are a tourist trap, existing for the tourist dollar and not welfare of the elephants. If you must volunteer at an elephant sanctuary / orphanage do plenty of research and critic the orphanages on the following criteria:

  • Is the aim to rehabilitate and release elephants into the wild. Or are the elephants kept in captivity because they attract the tourist dollar?

  • Are you able to have physical contact with the elephants? If yes, remember that the only way you can have safe unprotected contact (no barrier between you and the elephant) is if that elephant has been 'crushed' - a painful process that a baby elephant endures that essentially 'breaks its spirit'. Help break the cycle and resist the opportunity to touch an elephant.

  • Are the elephants kept in chains?

  • Do they offer rides on the back of the elephants?

  • Do the elephants have recent puncture wounds?

  • Do the mahouts ask for payments for photo opportunities?

  • Are baby elephants chained to railings so that tourists could pet them?

  • If the answer is yes to the above 5 questions, then the motives of the sanctuary/orphanages is questionable and you should reconsider volunteering.


  •  
 
Elephant's in the wild, TanzaniaElephant's in the wild, Tanzania


Petting Lion Cubs, Walking with Lion experiences and volunteering with Lions in South Africa

Many unsuspecting tourists and volunteers in South Africa inadvertently contribute to a terrible industry called Canned Lion Hunting. Under the guise of lion conservation, lions are breed for the sole purpose of “canned” hunting. Today, anywhere between 7,000 and 8,000 predators, most of them lions, are being kept in cages or confined areas on over 150 private farms across the country. Used for a host of revenue streams – cub petting, raising “orphaned” cubs (actually cubs are removed from their mother a few days after birth which brings her back into oestrus to continue the breeding machine cycle) and “lion walking” young adult lions are ultimately shot in “canned” hunts. Close to 800 lions are killed each year by trophy hunters in enclosed or confined areas with little or no chance of escape, while hundreds more get killed and shipped to the East for the burgeoning lion bone trade.

Despite the claims of the operators, all leading conservationists and lion ecologists agree there is absolutely no conservation merit whatsoever in any of these practices.

By supporting these  “lion reserve” facilities day visitors or volunteers are directly contributing to the funding of this industry, and the misinformation that confuses conservation messages and priorities, resulting in a misdirection of valuable conservation funding away from the real threats facing wild animals.

There are a number of organizations campaigning against this Canned Lion Hunting

Take a look at: www.fortheloveofwildlife.org.au or www.facebook.com/volunteersbeware

 
Doing My Schoolies Differently in Nepal
In December 2018, I was lucky enough to journey on one of the most amazing alternative schoolies adventures to Nepal run by World Expeditions Schools.

There was no better way to conclude a year of hard assessments and exams that entailed my final year of schooling than getting out into the world, experiencing something entirely new and completely different - like trekking in the Himalayas and visiting rural communities - which made this trip so special and unique.

Trekking in the Himalayas

During the 13 day Alternative Schoolies program, we trekked a small section of the beautiful Annapurna mountain range and helped repair a remote high school. This expedition allowed me to gain a richer understanding of the Nepali - in the cities and in the villages - its dynamic culture, diverse society, religions and its history.

School Leavers Having Fun with the Nepali Locals

A day of sightseeing in the capital city of Kathmandu launched our journey where we acclimatised to the atmosphere of Nepal and its physical, spiritual and social climate. The great contrast of Nepal’s two main religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, is illustrated when visiting their temples - the major Hindu shrine, Pashupatinath, and the Buddhist stupa at Bodhinath.

A large element of the Hindu religion lays in its belief of an afterlife and performing an appropriate send off for their deceased so that they may be reincarnated. At the Pashupatinath, we experienced an extremely moving and overwhelmingly powerful funeral proceedings. While feeling dualy fortunate yet out of place to view the funeral processions, it was an experience hard to forget. Contrastingly so, the Buddhist Stupa provided a more enlightened understanding of its peaceful relationship with each other and our world.

Flying to Pokhara was another adventure in itself. The small, jet propelled plane was no surprise but the awesome mountain peaks took my breath away. The city of Pokhara is on a beautiful lakeside which we got a paddle boat across to climb the World Peace Stupa, revealing extensive views of the densely populated city.

Pokhara in Nepal

Himalayan peaks provide the most spectacular views for a wholesome schoolies trip that will leave you feeling refreshed after a tiresome year and invigorated to explore the world further. In the Annapurna region, 360 degree views include infamous mountains including Fishtail, Annapurna South and Machapuchare. Around every corner were dramatic views of vast mountain ranges and opportunities to engage with the people of the villages we passed through.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trek took us from the lakeside city of Pokhara to Dhampus, Pothana, Tolka, Landruk, Ghandruk and finally to Jhobang where we completed our community service project. The trekking itself was actually very pleasant as it was only an introductory grade and supported by porters and sirdars, camping bases and the most delicious meals - ranging from traditional cuisine to westernised foods when you were feeling a bit homesick - prepared by cooks that travel with you. You only need to carry a day bag on your trek and you won’t go hungry; it’s my promise.

School Leavers Trekking in Annapurna Nepal

It was the perfect trip to ease into a future of more worldly explorations as heavy, but essential gear such as tents, sleeping bags and beds were provided and already set up for your arrival at the World Ex Eco lodges. With breakfast, lunch and dinner provided while hiking, it gave us the ability to indulge in the beautiful surroundings and wholly experience the nature of the trek - authentic mountain culture.

Eco Lodge in Annapurna Region in Nepal

The volunteer work that we did in Jhobang Secondary School in the final days of trek was so memorable and meaningful. Many schools in the remotes villages of Nepal are in desperate need of renovations so it was an incredibly poignant part of our trip. Working with the locals to repair and re-paint the buildings of the school, playing and practicing English with the students, observing and immersing ourselves in village life was a powerful experience that words have trouble describing. You’ll definitely be left wanting to do more.

School Leavers Repairing School in Nepal

Helping a Remote School in Nepal

Back in Pokhara, we had a day to further explore the town by shopping or doing some of the adventure activities offered in the city - such as paragliding and zip lining. After which we then flew back to Kathmandu for our last day in the capital city. We visited the Monkey Temple early in the morning which I highly recommend as the morning views are remarkable and the monkeys are cute, but extremely cheeky. The best place for shopping was Thamel which is a relaxing 15 minute stroll from where we were staying. The commercial neighbourhood is the centre of the tourist industry in Nepal and was bustlingly busy with people, cultures and art.

Overall it was a transformational trip of a lifetime that I whole heartedly recommend to all.

School Leavers and Nepali Kids in Nepal

This article was submitted by Indigo Axford, who travelled on our Alternative Schoolies in Nepal. Check out our Alternative Schoolies to Nepal, Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam.
9 Tips on Responsible Gift Giving
After spending time with local communities and forging relationships with them in developing countries, students may want to offer a gift to express their gratitude. However, their best intentions can cause unintended issues in these countries.

Often, gift giving can result in locals becoming dependent on hand outs. It can create jealousy within communities and cause internal conflicts if some beneficiaries receive gifts while others do not.

At its worst, certain gifts can also result in health problems. For example, if lollies and chocolates are distributed to young children in an underprivileged region with limited or no access to oral healthcare, this will contribute to their development of gum disease and tooth decay.

“In some cases, material goods given are not something the community needs, and may end up being something members cannot use – such as a remote control race car that require batteries or an electronic device that requires regular charging,” says Donna Lawrence, Responsible Travel Manager at World Expeditions Schools.

While gift giving is a lovely gesture, it is important to be considerate and mindful of the presents your students offer to communities.

Here are nine tips to share with your students on how to give presents responsibly:

1. Don’t make assumptions about community needs. Plan ahead. If your students intend on giving to a school, hospital or organisation, contact them in advance to find out what items they need and purchase and hand deliver the products.

2. Avoid giving drinks or foods that are high in sugar, especially when it is clear that dental health care is not available. Poor nutrition is often worsened by consuming sweets. Instead, buy fruit from the local market, which will provide children with a nutritional treat and support local businesses.

3. Avoid giving directly to an individual; rather, give to the head of the community or the head master of the school so that they can distribute the gifts fairly. Don’t be offended if this occurs once you’ve left.

4. Don’t give gifts to children begging on the street. It reinforces the bad situation they are in. An alternative is to donate to a local charity that works to keep children off the streets and to stay with their family and in school.

5. Don’t give gifts that are broken or damaged, unhygienic, dangerous or which contribute to waste. Think of the waste your students' gifts will generate over time. Avoid donating plastic toys and choose pencils and crayons over pens. In more remote regions, there are no waste disposal facilities, so your presence will be around for much longer than you think.

6. Be aware of the limitations of a gift. For example, giving a gift that requires batteries that are not readily available to the recipient or are expensive locally. Instead, give manual or solar powered torches. Some houses do not have electricity at all or experience frequent power cuts.

7. Think practical over superficial items. In remote regions, communities have a huge need for basic necessities. Items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, sanitary kits, hairbrushes and hair ties are very practical.

8. Don’t give out medicine. Each country has different laws about the use of medical supplies and medications, and some pharmaceutical drugs are not permitted. Instead, consider practical supplies such as bandages, thermometers, gauze, as well as hygiene products and re-usable sanitary items to help prevent the spread of disease. You can also consider donating to charities or organisations that support local hospitals or medical centres.

9. Share your time and skills instead of a material gift. You can join a community project to help make tangible change in underprivileged areas, such as completing grass-root construction projects in villages of Cambodia, Romania and more.



If you are unsure of an appropriate gift, ask your travel company or the school, hospital or organisation you are helping.

Want to learn more about how to travel, give, grow with your students? View our current community projects and read our latest The Thoughtful Traveller e-book.
Volunteering Overseas: What to Consider
People generally volunteer to do something meaningful and experience a new culture. However, some volunteer-sending companies may be more concerned with creating a ‘life-changing’ experience for the volunteer, with less focus on the purpose and the needs of local communities.

For instance, the growth of orphanages, in many cases, directly corresponds to the increase in tourism numbers that have been driven by well meaning but uninformed tourists who volunteer and donate to the orphanages.

There are now millions of children sent to live in orphanages, away from their families as it is deemed to be the only way these children can get an education.

However, decades of research show that growing up in a residential care institution is harmful for a child's development and well-being. This has led to a global effort to move away from this model of care as a response to poverty.

We are a division of World Expeditions, which is on the working party of the Rethink Orphanages Network, an organization working to prevent the unnecessary institutionalisation of children in developing countries.

Here are 10 things to look for to make sure your time overseas is spent making a genuine difference:

1. Track Record
Look for evidence of past achievements and how programs are monitored and evaluated.

2. Integrity
A growing number of companies have ceased orphanage volunteering. Find out who.

Since 2013, we’ve removed all instances of orphanage tourism from our trips when research first revealed a direct relationship between the increase in the number of orphanages in developing nations and the increase in tourism numbers. We hope that our involvement will encourage other companies, and travellers, to avoid orphanage tourism.

3. Accountability
Some organisations recruit volunteers for their own programs; others act as ‘volunteer brokers’ and may not have end-to-end accountability for the project or your safety.

4. Selectivity
Expect to apply to volunteer and be vetted as if you were applying for a job or university. You should also receive pre-departure support.

5. Credibility
Emotive language like ‘saving the world’ or ‘giving children the love they need’ may be used to recruit volunteers, but it’s not an indicator of quality.

6. The ‘Need’
Make sure your role will enhance local capacity – e.g. by providing training to, or working with, local people to meet a short-term skills gap.

7. Sustainability
Check there’s a project end date, not a long-term dependency on volunteers.

8. Skills Match
What do you have to offer? Skills in high demand include digital, monitoring and evaluation, fundraising, language and computer skills. However, some community projects may not require specific skill sets.

9. Suitably Qualified
Avoid placements for which you are not skilled or qualified – e.g. teaching or caring for children or providing medical care.

10. Learning Opportunity
How will you apply what you’ve learnt back home? Employers will be interested in evidence of impact, not just the fact that you have volunteered overseas.

Did you know, globally, an estimated 80% of children in orphanages have a living parent? Watch this short documentary revealing the untold story of orphanage tourism.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUUjPvnWFgM&w=1180&h=664]

The solution to orphanage tourism is to re-direct support away from orphanages towards programs that help to strengthen communities and keep families together.

Want to make a difference? Join our Alternative Schoolies where you can help marginalised communities and give back to the world.

If you are a teacher and want to get your students involved, you can include a service learning element in your next school program - simply get in touch.
 
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