Open­ing paths to un­der­stand­ing

‘Vol­un­tourism’ among school stu­dents has grown ex­po­nen­tially in re­cent years

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

BENE­DICT Wong still dreams about the ‘‘all you can eat’’ ice-cream of­fer for about $5 that he dis­cov­ered on his trip to Viet­nam as part of a World Chal­lenge ex­pe­di­tion in Jan­uary last year.

But the Year 12 cap­tain at St Ives High School on Syd­ney’s north shore knows it’s the deeper con­nec­tions he forged while on tour that will en­dure and also that his exam re­sults at the end of the year will reap the ben­e­fits of his jour­ney.

‘‘The most pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence was prob­a­bly the team­work and col­lec­tive ef­fort,’’ Bene­dict says. ‘‘Vis­it­ing a de­vel­op­ing coun­try of huge his­tor­i­cal and so­cial sig­nif­i­cance and see­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of ev­ery­day peo­ple also boosted my un­der­stand­ing of many of the top­ics I’m study­ing in his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy.’’

Bene­dict is a new kind of trav­eller, one of the many alumni of school ex­pe­di­tion pro­grams such as World Chal­lenge, which seek to shape a gen­er­a­tion of global cit­i­zens by in­cor­po­rat­ing ex­po­sure to de­vel­op­ing cul­tures and the de­liv­ery of a vol­un­teer com­mu­nity pro­ject.

The mar­ket for ‘‘vol­un­tourism’’ among school stu­dents has grown ex­po­nen­tially in re­cent years. By Septem­ber, World Chal­lenge will have close to 7000 Aus­tralian and New Zealand stu­dents en­rolled in its pro­grams, rep­re­sent­ing a sev­en­fold in­crease in the past four years.

‘‘Over­seas travel is an im­por­tant part of a school cur­ricu­lum. In ad­di­tion, most schools en­cour­age their stu- dents to take part in some form of ser­vice ac­tiv­ity,’’ says Daniel Donati, World Chal­lenge Asia Pa­cific di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing.

‘‘Al­most ev­ery school now of­fers some sort of ser­vices­tyle trip to com­bine th­ese two im­por­tant ele­ments of a stu­dent’s learn­ing. World Chal­lenge fills this gap by giv­ing our ‘chal­lengers’ the chance to gain a more global per­spec­tive, as well as do­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful in the pro­ject work they un­der­take.’’

Viet­nam is one of 50 des­ti­na­tions vis­ited by World Chal­lenge. Itin­er­ar­ies typ­i­cally in­clude cul­tural im­mer­sion, trekking, a com­mu­nity or con­ser­va­tion pro­ject and ap­pro­pri­ate leisure time. ‘‘For the [Viet­nam] pro­ject, we spent a lit­tle over a week in a kinder­garten in Hue, help­ing to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment of the school,’’ Bene­dict says. ‘‘We painted walls, built sand pits and got the chance to in­ter­act with some of the kids.’’

Stu­dents spend about a year plan­ning their trip and are en­cour­aged to pay for it them­selves by find­ing part-time work. Par­tic­i­pants re­port an im­prove­ment in self­con­fi­dence, re­silience, re­spon­si­bil­ity and de­ci­sion­mak­ing skills. And for those who have trav­elled only to de­vel­oped coun­tries, the ex­pe­ri­ence de­liv­ers a thought­pro­vok­ing per­spec­tive on both in­de­pen­dent travel and the poverty in which much of the world lives.

How do poor com­mu­ni­ties ben­e­fit from vis­its by chil­dren who come from rel­a­tively wealthy com­mu­ni­ties? ‘‘Whether it be the ba­sic con­struc­tion of a shower block or man­power to help dig a trench for a sew­er­age pipe, our teams have left many tan­gi­ble lega­cies be­hind,’’ Donati says. ‘‘Some­times just the pres­ence of in­di­vid­u­als from an­other part of the globe can en­rich the lives of peo­ple who, in many cases, have very re­stricted ac­cess to the out­side world. Th­ese com­mu­ni­ties also ben­e­fit from the op­por­tu­nity to learn about a dif­fer­ent way of life through shar­ing sto­ries and ideas.’’

world­chal­lenge.com.au

ALEX HJORTH

Syd­ney stu­dents Bene­dict Wong, right, and Boaz Ng trekking in Viet­nam

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