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

Friday - - The Big Story -

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


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