A group of 30 students from Wilmslow High School recently took part in a 4 week 'Camps International' expedition to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands visiting different disadvantaged communities, ranging from the Amazon jungle to the rainforests and the Andes mountains.
Most of the trip was spent living alongside these communities - learning the language, understanding the local culture and being heavily involved in community work. In the rainforest area of Esmeraldas, students helped to build a much-needed medical centre and toilets for the local school to replace the 'squat toilet' which was in a solitary wooden shack and used by everybody in the school.
Wilmslow High School students also taught English to the local children, bought them diverse gifts (such as sports clothing, stationary, sanitary towels for the older girls, fidget spinners for the younger children and inflatable footballs) and played football with the locals - who thrashed them.
The project work in the Amazon rainforest involved students building play equipment and a stand for the local community football pitch. They also repaired and painted the school desks, helped by the local children, and made a path through the rainforest so that the local people could access the nearby river more easily and safely.
In the Andes, the group designed a mural for the local school, made compost, planted vegetables for the school garden and also dug holes for septic tanks.
Whilst the project work in the Galapagos Islands was supporting local farms who are beginning to farm organically by cutting down elephant grass and bamboo leaves to make compost and move boulders to produce a compost pit for the farmers to use. In addition, they spent three days snorkelling, watching the giant Galapagos tortoises and relaxing on the beach.
Anne Coffey, one of the four members of staff who accompanied them on the trip said "Throughout the four weeks, all students were very 'hands-on' and acquired many new skills, such as sawing, hammering, chiselling, making cement and plastering. All students rose to the challenges that the demanding physical work presented, remaining positive and working as a team throughout. Their hard work, positive attitude and desire to learn was commented on by different community leaders throughout the trip.
"They learned conversational Spanish and some basic Quechan too, and were welcomed warmly by all the different, often remote, communities that they met. They ate local delicacies such as guinea pig, had bucket showers in wooden shacks, attempted to learn elaborate local tapestry and got involved with several traditional dances that the indigenous people performed. Throughout the trip, every single student was a credit to Wilmslow High School, displaying the values of Behaviour, Pride and Success throughout. They have made their mark on some of the most disadvantaged people in Ecuador, and the work that they began is still being completed by other volunteers working for 'Camps International', ensuring that everything that they do has a real purpose and will make a real difference to everyone that they worked with throughout the month. All staff involved with the students are immensely proud of them."
The students signed up to the trip over 18 months ago and their first challenge was to each raise £4500 to cover the costs. There were many varied and imaginative ways in which they raised the money, including dog sitting and childminding; making and selling chocolates; bag packing at local supermarkets; coaching younger children in football, tennis, English and Mathematics; sponsored runs and mountain challenges; sponsorship from local businesses; selling refreshments at WHS school events and Saturday jobs.
Anne Coffey added "The students' commitment to their fundraising was very impressive, and showed from the start what a hard-working and resilient team they would be."