If you’re taking 14 girls – many of whom haven’t ventured outside of their home continent of Europe – out to Tanzania for three weeks, then you’d better make sure they’re prepared. You also have to ensure that they’re being looked after by someone who is suitably qualified and experienced to help them get the most out of the experience.
I may be a well-travelled person, and I may have years of experience of working with teenagers, but suitably qualified to lead 14 teenagers aged between 15 and 18 through a third world country I ain’t. So this is where Wilderness Expertise, the company we’re going to Tanzania with, come in.
There is a lot of ground to cover in the build up to the expedition, and Wilderness have a structured program in place to ensure this can happen. The cornerstones of this are two training weekends they call ‘UK1’ and ‘UK2’. The latter consists of a weekend spent camping/trekking in remote, rural location. The former sees the team get together to plan out an itinerary, discuss kit and group roles, learn how to manage money, and so on.
Our expedition leader was Sarah, a seasoned lady who has an impressive set of credentials – including saving the life of a fellow mountaineer near the summit of a Himalayan peak no less. The first thing she did was get the girls to pick a leader for the day (they chose Emily*, as she was oldest), and then sat them down around a table to ask them what they were most looking forward to about the expedition.
To my pleasant surprise, the most common answer wasn’t something like “to go on a safari”, but their working on the library project and meeting the kids of the KYGN school. There was one notable exception though – Elena, one of the, shall we say, less conscientious girls at our school, said something along the lines of ‘well, I can’t wait to leave school so this is something to keep me going.’ Definitely a girl to keep an eye on, that one.
A huge part of this expedition is developing the potential of the girls: it’s not a package holiday! They take on a lot of responsibility, and one of the main things is budget management. So one of the girls’ first tasks was, with a limited amount of money, head out to the local supermarket and buy food for 17 people. This they did well…although I could have done will a little less of the dips, personally!
Then it was on to the all-important itinerary planning. This was the first step in ensuring the girls took ownership of the expedition so that they, with guidance from us, determined not only where (provisionally) we would go and when, but also to educate themselves about Tanzania. After a unanimous decision was made that we go to the KYGN School first – it was the main reason for our trip after all – it was a case of getting them to research and explore our options.
Seeing this up close was a chance to observe the group dynamics for the first time. Here’s a few early observations:
- They were very reliant on the adults at first, me in particular because they knew I’d been there less than a year previously (Quote – “Why aren’t you allowed to help us?”).
- Once they gradually relied on us less, the younger ones would then be reliant on the older ones to make decisions, hence them choosing Emily to be leader for the day.
- Like many teenagers, they seem to think a Google search is always more efficient; this despite several guide books that Sarah had brought in for them being at their fingertips.
- They sometimes did go down the route you might expect: e.g. keen to stay in Hostels rather than tents for the safari.
- They sometimes took me by surprise with their choices: e.g. no one wanted to go for lazy loafing on the beach for a day or two.
- Elena had to be told off for going off on her own to text when everyone else was busy researching the itinerary.
- Natural leaders emerged – particular standouts were Ellie (collated and fed back research notes), Molly (excellent number crunching) and, especially, Mandy – who marshalled the sometimes disparate sub-groups so that they were on the same page.
They only had a certain amount of time to put the itinerary together. It wasn’t, I should add, a simple case of picking a bunch of fun stuff to do. They had to factor in transport times (roads are bad in East Africa and travelling at night is a no-no), the limited budget and ‘admin days’ (to wash clothes and the like) as well. For seasoned adult travellers this can be time consuming stuff, never mind teenagers doing this sort of thing for the first time.
It wasn’t always easy, then, but that’s the way it should be. After finishing up with Sarah talking the group through kit required for both UK2 and the expedition itself, our provisional itinerary was finalised. Excitement was duly building! It was time for all and sundry to get their kit together, and reconvene a few months down the line for the next training weekend – camping and trekking in the wilds of Wales.
*Names of the girls have been changed