SCHOOL OF ETHICS
A new concept for kids has come to Dubai and it’s a far cry from luxury water parks and brunches with bouncy castles. Camps International takes UAE youngsters to some of the poorest parts of the world. Anthea Ayache reports
School trips are not what they used to be, at least not if social entrepreneur and former British Army Officer Stuart Rees Jones has anything to do with it. Over the past 13 years the father of two has been wiping out amusement park away days, curtailing coach journeys and eliminating soil sampling geography jaunts.
Relegating rubbish excursions to the trash bins of the past, Stuart, 43, who now calls Dubai his home, has replaced the traditional school trip with socially responsible, lifechanging volunteer expeditions. His successful socially savvy company, Camps International, today sends more than 3,000 children a year on award-winning trips across Africa, Asia and South America. The aim? To provide children with a deeper understanding of the world through life-changing experiences delivering sustainable solutions for disadvantaged communities.
“These trips offer kids a level playing field,” says Stuart. “It doesn’t matter where your strengths and weaknesses lie at school – on expedition kids get the chance to develop life skills in an inspiring environment and we often see the quieter children step up as young leaders, ready to take on challenges.
“They learn self-reliance, perspective, team and leadership skills and most of all, they learn a great deal about themselves.”
The Camps International fully supported, curriculum-based trips allow children aged from seven to 18 to spend between five days and two weeks making a positive difference in permanent camps across the developing world, helping to bring education, clean water and healthcare to those less privileged than themselves in countries including Kenya, Ecuador, Peru and Tanzania.
From forest regeneration and orang-utan conservation in Borneo, to building classrooms and teaching students in Cambodia, the trips (that although vary come with a price tag of about Dh8,000) are focused on creating perspective-altering experiences for children of all age groups, something Stuart believes was critical for his own development.
“I left school with very few qualifications but I had a successful career as an army officer and have built a great business because of the experiences I gained outside of a formal learning environment,” he says. “Sometimes kids who are poorly behaved in the classroom and academically poor just need the right environment to excel.”
Commerce plus conscience
The Camps International model, which came to Stuart after leaving the army (“in a panic because my CV was rubbish”) and spending several years, as he says, “dragging people up Kilimanjaro and then dive guiding in Kenya”, is based on a commercial business that makes a positive contribution to the lives of the communities in which it works.
“We are a commercial tour operator,” says Stuart, “but our
The accommodation, such as this in Camp Maqui, Ecuador, is sustainable Wildlife in Kenya has been supported by Camps International Forget boring geography trips – on these school adventures you can really learn something!
From helping wildlife in Kenya and Borneo, to putting smiles on faces in Ecuador, youngsters are making a difference