This story was first published in Vol.54 of In Alliance, the official magazine of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia. To learn more about AGSA click here.
Travelling overseas pushes you out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. Imagine doing that for the very first time as a student with a group of your peers by your side and the knowledge that as a team you will be responsible for the success of your journey! It takes courage for young girls to step up to that challenge, which is exactly what 21 students from Westlake Girls’ High from Auckland did in December 2014 when they travelled to Morocco for an adventure of a lifetime.
In Morocco the two teams, along with their School leaders Naomi Burge, Donna Pike and Linda Clouston, spent an exciting few weeks exploring the vibrant and colourful cities of Marrakech and Ouarzazate, journeying across the plains between the High Atlas and Anti Atlas Mountains, trekking through remote Berber Villages up to the spectacular Dades Gorge Pass. But much more than that, the students were able to make decisions on the day-to day responsibilities and manage the budget for the duration of the expedition.
School leader Naomi Burge reflects on this:
“There were times I wanted to intervene, but if the Expedition Leader didn’t step in I kept quiet too. This benefited the students immensely as they soon learned that they had to be self-sufficient and not expect the adults to sort everything out for them.”
Challenger Kimberley Bellas: “I had the opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and learn new things about myself in each phase which was my ultimate goal”
The concept of a student-led excursion is an unconventional one but it allows for more powerful learning outcomes than traditional overseas school tours. These students spent many months before their departure preparing for their expedition. Supported by their teachers and World Challenge staff, the girls’ worked together as a team to develop their goals for their time abroad.
“We had weekly meetings where we watched DVDs about the destination country, learnt some Arabic language, had shared lunches of Moroccan food and so on. The work that the students did to save up the money for the expedition was crucial, as it exposed them to the job market, made them think of inventive fundraising ideas, and gave them a goal to be disciplined with their spending. All of these things combined had a strong effect on how they valued the expedition.” Naomi Burge
World Challenge participants often cite the community engagement phase of the trip as the most powerful and memorable. The students from Westlake worked within a village primary school in Tifoultoute, which is located about twenty minutes outside of Ouarzazate.
The concept of young students volunteering overseas is one that has grown in popularity in recent years, as has the profile of international development as a discipline. For this reason it is important that travellers partner with local development organisations who have both the expertise and ownership to drive lasting change. In Morocco the students were able to work hand in hand with the local community to ensure that they had a genuine, positive impact.
“The school was made up of 3 classrooms, which were very basic, uninsulated, poorly resourced, with cracked windows etc. Outside the classrooms was a large courtyard of dirt and rocks, a small toilet block (which we discovered had only been installed the previous year by another volunteer team) and a water fountain. This was enclosed by a masonry wall which was in the process of being added to, for security. The facilities were shockingly basic, but all of the people – children, teachers, parents – were just lovely and so pleased that we were there.
The girls were quite taken aback when we went to the school and saw how lacking it was. This made them more determined to make a practical and useful improvement to the school, we refused to be a school team that just painted a mural! Once the plan was set to construct the footpaths, the girls organised the material and labourers, managed the budget and just got stuck in! They all did lot of manual labour in the 6 days, such as concreting, without complaint. The best part was before and after school though, when we played with the children. It didn’t matter at all that they didn’t speak the same language, and we all became so fond of them. There were many tears when we had to leave! Working in the community and interacting with locals in a non-tourist setting was one of the most impactful aspects of the expedition for the girls.
What the adventure did for them can’t be quantified, it was life-changing. Even for myself, I’ve travelled widely and lived overseas, but this expedition blew my mind and taught me so much about myself.” Naomi Burge
“It was very physically challenging and full on and it challenged a lot of the things we take for granted. It challenged my idea of necessity and what actually falls into that category” Challenger Dale Fleming
“One of the main things that I have learnt is how fortunate I am and how grateful I should be for my life. I learnt that for some people what we take for granted is a luxury.” Challenger Yuni Han
We thank School Leader Naomi Burge and the team from Westlake Girls High School for sharing their experience with us.
Over 250 students from several Alliance-member schools across Australia and New Zealand have recently returned from expeditions to developing world destinations all around the globe and we hope that every one of them enjoyed the same journey of self-discovery and adventure!