Last week I was lucky enough to join the 10th grade class on their trip to Camp Amazonia near the communities of Rio Blanco and San Alberto in the Amazon Jungle. It was my tenth school trip in as many years and each has been unique in its own way. This was my first time taking high school students on a trip and I can now say I’ve traveled for a week with every grade from 3-10 except 9th grade. This trip included lots of hard work to help the local Kichwa communities, team building, cultural activities, and a trip to the Jumandi Caves. At the end of the week everyone was exhausted but there was also an overwhelming sense of achievement!
Every time I take one of these trips there are wonderful examples of how amazing young adults can be when they are pushed out of their comfort zones. This past week certainly did that, kids and adults alike were challenged in situations that went well beyond our everyday routines. Right from the start we got right down to business with some hard work in the morning and then again after lunch. We started the day in the rain and ended in fierce heat and sun. Not only were we pushing ourselves hard to help these communities but the weather was pushing us as well. However, by the end of the night everyone made it to dinner with a smile on their face and a sense of satisfaction in their hearts.
The sense of community that develops over the course of a week like this is impressive to say the least. Students who are struggling for one reason or another are picked up by their classmates without any teacher intervention. Classmates who hadn’t really engaged with each other in the past can be seen walking, working, eating, and hanging out together. New friendships are formed and old bonds are strengthened. As important as community can be in international schools, trips like this are crucial!
I’m not sure there are words to express how impressed I was with the efforts of the 10th grade group over the course of the week. Through torrential rains, back breaking work, spiders and other critters, these kids stepped up in a huge way. The work they did this
past week will benefit those communities for years to come. Our students may never return to this area but their mark has been made, their efforts were not in vain.
What I Learned About Myself
While this was a tremendous learning experience for our students there were also some great takeaways for me too. This trip was, by far, the most physically challenging of the school trips I’ve enjoyed. I’m not shy about some hard work and I enjoyed every second of getting my hands dirty this week. However, I learned a few lessons of my own through this experience.
First off, I used to think that I would do pretty much anything to be out of the rain. I HATE rain, or at least I used to think I did. I mean, I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm but that’s conditional on me not being caught in the down pour. In the Amazon, when it rains, it pours. When it pours in the jungle there’s just no way to avoid it, no way to stay dry, get dry, or even remember what dry feels like! However, it’s warm outside which makes being wet much more tolerable than I had ever realized. In fact, by the time we got to Thursday and got stuck in yet another torrential downpour I was so used to the rain that I soaked it up and enjoyed every last drop. I learned that I could manage being wet, even soaked with boots full of water!
Another great reminder for me this week had to do with being prepared. While I was prepared with all of the right materials and supplies, some of the kids weren’t. Usually I pack extra and plan for this situation but for some reason I didn’t this week. I gave up my gloves and came home with some blisters as trophies. Not all of our kids had the proper footwear but thankfully Camps International had extra boots. Finally, when it comes to being prepared in the jungle…bug spray is your best friend, I got lazy at the end of the week and my legs got eaten up! Pack heavy and take extra gear, especially if you’re staying in cabins and not carrying it around all week.
At the end of the week I feel extremely thankful that I was able to join this experience with our 10th graders. We made a difference in that community, we learned about the Amazon, and we grew closer as a group. Working alongside this inspirational group of young adults made me a better person and a better educator. The best news is that I get one more week, this time with 7th grade…I can’t wait!!