Trek shows students the contrasts of Asia

By Melissa Allison-Forbes SWEATING, trekking and swimming are just some of the activities a group of students from The Helena Romanes School got up to during a summer holiday trip of a lifetime.

Sixteen students from the Dunmow school took part in a unique expedition in a bid to learn about different cultures and expand their life skills by visiting two very different parts of south-east Asia: Bangkok, the most cosmopolitan country in the region, and Laos, the most traditional with its small hill-tribe villages.

The students were on the excursion as part of the World Challenge Trip with teachers Kim Phillips and Anna Bendall, and world challenge leader Will Harris.

The first few days of the journey were spent adjusting to the humidity in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. The group trekked for a few days in Kanchanaburi for acclimatisation and visited the national park waterfalls.

Mrs Phillips, head of social science at HRS, said: “It was a hard day’s trek but it was well worth the effort and sweat as we got to enjoy swimming in seven waterfalls.

“We were fortunate to see monkeys up in the canopy around us as we trekked and one of them boldly walked over to steal our crisps and shot up in a tree to enjoy them.”

While in Kanchanaburi the group visited the Hellfire Pass and the museum dedicated to the prisoners of war; something which Mrs Phillips described as “shocking” and “heart-wrenching”.

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The expedition also brought the group to a tribal village in Laos where they stayed with families who allowed them to sleep in their homes on bamboo stilts. It was here in the village where they met an “overwhelming” challenge.

“We worked with a small community just outside of Luang Probang and put our efforts towards restoring a rundown school building,” explained Mrs Phillips. “We worked extremely hard as a team to renovate and paint the building inside and out. During our time living with the community we taught the children in the area games and some English. They taught us some Laos too.

“It was an overwhelming experience to spend time with a poor community, but we were motivated to give something to them which would change their lives for years to come.”

During their time in south-east Asia the group also enjoyed an elephant ride, learned jungle crafts such as making bamboo cups and chopsticks and how to cook a hot jungle meal.

The last few days involved a rest and relaxation in Ko Samet, Thailand, where they spent time on sandy beaches and enjoyed Thai massages. They were also able to eat food other than rice, and enjoyed pancakes, burgers and ice creams.

HRS organised the a world challenge trip every two years. Funding is raised by a series of events including fashion shows, casino nights, pamper nights and carwashes.

Mrs Phillips, who went on a trek two years ago, said that it is important for students to visit these communities as they experience things they wouldn’t get from books.

She added: “The best thing was to see the look on the students’ faces. It was a trip of a lifetime for them.”