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Trekking, Building and Learning

by Michael Ford last modified 07 Aug, 2017 05:11 PM

A travel report from Nicaragua by the Revd Deb Smith, Rector of Wyke Regis All Saints with St Edmund and a Governor at All Saints, Weymouth.

Trekking, Building and Learning

Photos by Mikaela Toczek

When I told my parishioners I was heading off to Central America to go trekking up volcanoes and zip-wiring through the jungle canopy, with a spot of scree-surfing thrown in, they tried not to laugh.

Photos on Flickr; photos on Facebook

I admit I’m not the world’s greatest adventurer. Though they were encouraging, some looked a little doubtful, and perhaps wondered if they might be heading into an interregnum.

The opportunity came through my involvement at All Saints School Church of England in Weymouth, where I am a governor.

An ageing parish priest might not be the most useful person to bring along, but for me it was a great privilege and a wonderful experience getting to know the students on our travels – some of whom I’d baptised as children or married their parents, or simply seen over the years as they moved through primary and secondary school.

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Nicaragua is Central America's largest country and one of the most diverse with its volcanic, mountainous and jungle environments. It is also one of the continent's poorest countries, and part of our trip involved working with a village community doing some building work on the school.

The trip was run through World Challenge, a leading provider of school expeditions. Our leader, Mikaela, had lots of experience, as did the members of staff from school.

Trekking, Building and Learning- smiles

The philosophy of World Challenge is to equip the youngsters themselves to take the lead. Long before they set off from Weymouth, All Saints pupils had to show commitment by fund-raising to make the trip. Over the two and a half weeks we were away together, they made all the decisions, planned our travel, co-ordinated the work and the trekking, and budgeted our shared funds.

We spent some time in the colonial cities of Granada and Leon, where we got a flavour of the culture in the hectic markets, and the vibrant street art – as well as meeting some of the old Sandinista rebels who tell the story of Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution.

Time spent in a small rural community centred on the school where we helped to build a new dining room. We worked in 35 degree heat, breaking up huge rocks to dig out the foundations and sleeping in the classrooms. Every day, children would come in to see what we were busy with, and stay in the afternoons to play games.

The trekking was pretty tough too, scaling several volcanoes in the heat of the day. Cerro Negro, a live volcano which last erupted in 1999, also gave us the chance to try sand boarding – which we had to do in a sudden storm which blew up out of nowhere. This meant we hurtled down in the hail, unable to see a thing, which just added my sense of terror!

It was a tough trip in many ways, but the youngsters embraced it. They didn’t moan (well, hardly ever!), and pushed themselves to do things they found difficult. They saw first-hand the poverty many people live in, and expressed a sense of renewed gratitude for the privileges they enjoy.

They gave up their phones and all contact with the world for the duration, which meant we had loads of great conversations, games, banter and laughter.

And they all encouraged me immensely. I’d never have launched myself out on a zip wire or come screeching down the side of a volcano without them and their good humour and friendship!

I returned filled with admiration for the staff in our schools who enable our youngsters to experience something so amazing and so out of the usual, so out of their comfort zones.
I was even more impressed with the youngsters themselves. For all of them, it was their first time away from home without their parents.

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