Searching for something to do
Sophie Wardell has gone from not having much to do with her weekends to not quite having enough time to do everything.
Four years ago, she joined Tauranga Youth Search and Rescue — triggering the turnaround.
“This is my fourth year being involved,” she says. “I was always a really intense kid and didn’t really have anything to do on my weekends and hadn’t committed to anything. My sister’s best friend did YSAR and came over one day, and was really recommending it and I was the perfect age.”
She says YSAR is a now a huge part of her life.
“I love being out in the bush and tramping and making new friends and learning new things.”
Sophie was one of four teenagers who, with two instructors, spent two weeks in the US where they joined a major search and rescue exercise inside Yosemite National Park. The team spent two weeks training and exchanging ideas with the Marin County Search and Rescue team.
“It was absolutely amazing — I loved it so much.”
Sophie says YSAR is like doing an Outward Bound course or Spirit of Adventure experience — but for a prolonged period.
“You are learning all those same skills — bushcraft and navigation and safety — and the skills you learn are transferable. You can use them everywhere.”
Sophie plans to join the New Zealand Navy as a medic, and says she has no doubt the skills she has learned will help.
If she isn’t accepted she says she is likely to join either St John or a volunteer fire brigade.
YSAR general manager Steve Campbell says instructors immediately noticed Sophie when she joined YSAR in Feb 2015.
“She was a very shy young girl,” he says. “Yet right from the start the instructors identified in her this unique fortitude where, although shy, she would give everything a go, from difficult navigation exercises to stepping up to taking leadership roles in groups.”
He says Sophie has developed into an amazing person, full of energy, reliable, confident in her personality and she possesses a willingness to help out wherever she can.
“Sophie has taken up a leadership role in YSAR this year and her input is invaluable. Both students and leaders look up to her and the example she sets in the organisation.
Steve says Sophie is a great example of the kind of personal development that happens when students join the organisation and it’s the reason instructors devote hundreds of volunteer hours to the programme.
“It’s pretty fantastic to know we’re helping to develop these multi-skilled young people who’ll be invaluable to their community. Some of them will go on to save lives but they’re also going to be great human beings.”
YSAR was launched in Tauranga a decade ago by former police officer Steve and several colleagues who recognised existing search and rescue volunteers were ageing and numbers were dwindling. They designed a three-year programme that annually accepts about two dozen new students from around the Western Bay of Plenty. In February this year, the programme was delivered to young Aucklanders for the first time and it has attracted interest from Singapore, Canada and beyond.
Successful applicants are aged between 14 and 18 and, since that first intake in late 2008, more than 275 teenagers have attended weekly classroom lessons and monthly camps. During field exercises, the students spend all weekend in the outdoors, primarily the Kaimai range.
They learn everything from tracking techniques, plant identification to drone operation skills as well as gaining coastguard and first aid qualifications. Every student is expected to participate in volunteer activities. Last year, their volunteer work included marshalling at the annual breast cancer fundraising night walks in the Pa¯pa¯moa Hills and aiding the Department of Conservation with pest control work.
“Our lessons have a serious lifesaving purpose aimed at teaching participants how to take care of themselves in difficult, sometimes hostile environments and to eventually be able to aid police and experienced volunteers with official searches,” Steve says.
“The course also opens up career pathways for many students, with a particular focus on the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) pathways.”
Applications for the next intake close on September 28. Details are on the YSAR website — www.ysar.org.nz
“Apply, even if you come to one camp and see if you like it or not,” says Sophie. “You can continue doing it or not, but I’d definitely give it a go at least.”
TE Puke High School and YSAR student Sophie Wardell.