Discovering Diverse Central America!

Costa Rica and Nicaragua are two of the world’s most biologically diverse regions, home to spectacular wildlife, volcanoes, mountains and jungles. For four challenging weeks, these countries were also home to a team of 17 girls from Shelford Girls’ Grammar!

Despite the huge stretches of beautiful Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, the girls were not there for a relaxing beach holiday but to embark on their very own World Challenge expedition.  The team set out on their journey to lead and challenge themselves, their peers and their teacher in this incredible setting in November 2013, leaving behind their creature comforts, families and social media!

A World Challenge journey begins long before teams step foot on the plane. The expedition consists of four key phases which Challenge team members have to negotiate and finalise before departure. These stages include a sustainable project in a local community… the Shelford girls focused their fundraising efforts towards unleashing their inner entrepreneurial spirits, on bake sales and car washes.  Under the guidance of their teacher Emily Hamilton, the girls spent many months prior to their departure researching their destinations, getting to grips with the logistics and infrastructure challenges of travelling in the developing world, taking ownership of their itinerary, treks and projects and learning to work together as a team.

Here are some of their thoughts, experiences and highlights from their World Challenge journey:

“Before I left for the expedition, I was full of mixed emotions. I was really excited about exploring a new country, immersing myself in a different culture, seeing the sights, trying new food. I was a bit nervous as I had not been able to learn very much Spanish before leaving, and it was my first time travelling overseas without my parents or family or to a developing country.” Izzi (student)

The first taste of the expedition experience for teams is their pre- expedition training camp, a chance for the team to test their skills and don their backpacks for their first team hike:

“A weekend away in the idealistic location of Daylesford, sounds relaxing… in reality September weather meant it was cold and wet, not a good combination with tents! Though spirits remained high as the girls took control, organised food for the weekend, set up camp and had their first experience at hiking in large numbers. This overnight experience lead to mixed feeling amongst the group; for some it calmed any nerves surrounding the physical challenge, for others the realisation that living conditions would be remarkably different from home brought forth new nerves and for everyone the sense of excitement grew.

shelford3As the expedition grew closer, amidst a flurry of last minute essential shopping, “Build up Day”, the girls’ last chance to go through all their kit and essentials for their expedition, came and went and we were off. As a staff member the feeling of being responsible for the health and wellbeing of 17 students had sunk in … this was a large undertaking, and yet the overall feeling of excitement for the adventure that lay ahead could not be dampened.” Emily Hamilton (Staff)

Over the course of four weeks the Shelford team was able to experience the diversity of regions across Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The students undertook a 4 day trekking experience in Zona de los Santos, Costa Rica, which put their camping skills to the test! The Community Project phase was completed in Nuevo Esperanza Primary School, in a small village just outside Granada, Nicaragua. The girls got stuck into some basic construction work, helping the school to finish two classrooms by painting the interior and exterior and helping the builders to lay tiles.

“One of the most memorable moments was when we finished work on our Project Phase, because it was the end of a long week of difficult work. After returning from World Challenge I feel like I have become a more open- minded person and I have learnt how to solve problems.” (Alex)

“It was amazing working on the project, as we met so many people living in extreme poverty, but they were so happy and positive about life. I loved the vibrant colours and feel of the main cities, but mostly I enjoyed meeting new people who were all so friendly.”  (Tara)

At the end of it all the team from Shelford Girls’ Grammar came back to Australia with memories of a shared experience that will continue to inspire and motivate them.

“It is impossible for me to choose one single, memorable moment from this huge, exciting trip. For me, the little things were often just as important as the major milestones of the trip, simply because it was so unlike anything else I have ever completed before. Some memorable moments were completing the two classhelford2srooms as part of the Project Phase of the trip in a small, poor village outside Granada, finishing the main trek through cloud forests in Costa Rica with a heavy backpack, pushing through the heavy rain and mud; and my lunch being stolen at a Pacific beach in Costa Rica by a racoon!” (Izzi)

“From the perspective of a teacher, seeing the girls grow as both individuals and as a group, was fantastic. Throughout the trip you could almost pinpoint a moment for each student that made them more resilient or more confident in their own abilities. I was able to watch each one blossom into an independent, mature young woman. Organising a group of 17 girls is a mammoth task, and even more so when you need to stand up and delegate to the students in the group… their ability to work as a team improved with each passing day.” (Emily Hamilton)

Many thanks to challengers Izzi, Tara, Alex and teacher and School Leader Emily Hamilton for their hard work and determination and for sharing their expedition experiences with us.

If you’d like to embark on a World Challenge expedition please phone 1300 728 568, for more information and an insight into our destinations.