Wednesday, 18 September 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Life-changing adventure for local students

Tuk Tuks, the Taj Mahal and curry for breakfast, were among the array of experiences taken in by Mercury Bay Area School students, Gracey Robbins and Emily James, during a trip of a lifetime in India.

The girls were part of an expedition organised through World Challenge, a company which provides students with the opportunity to travel to developing countries, with a focus on leadership, resilience and teamwork. Six other pupils and two teachers from Coromandel Area School were also part of the trip.

World Challenge expeditions see participants venture into barren landscapes, boldly tackle treks, handle budgets, book accommodation and take care of logistics. They also contribute to community led initiatives.

Just the transport alone in India was eye opening for the students. The group travelled on buses, day and overnight trains, tuk tuks and by foot. They also completed a week-long trek through the Himalayas to the Deo Tibba base camp - one of India’s best known and most spectacular hikes. The girls spent a week teaching English and maths in a women and children’s centre and explored the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers.

Gracey and Emily said organising their own accommodation, transport, budget and itinerary was initially extremely challenging due to the language barrier.

“As the trip progressed, we all came up with strategies that helped us better communicate and succeed in our selected jobs. Our group was very close, so we worked together, which made the experience a lot more manageable,” said Gracey. 

“We got to stay in a range of different places, including a few former palaces which was amazing. We also ate a lot of curry during the trip. We had curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so there were smiles all round when we found a cafe with western-style food.” 

Emily described the trek through the Himalayas as a breath-taking experience, with the students witnessing forest, snow and mountain scenery.

“We were climbing to great heights, so the altitude made it quite hard to breathe,” she said. “We were very impressed when we discovered that we had climbed higher than Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Mt Cook is 3,724 meters high and we climbed just under 4,000 metres,” she said.

The group had donkeys and horses to carry their tents and cooking equipment. At the end of the trip, all the participants performed a song combining both the Maori and Indian cultures.

“That was a stand-out part of our trip as we were all there connecting our cultures together as one,” commented Gracey who said her favourite part of the trip was working in the women and children’s centre.

“Seeing the young girls and women who have nothing, yet are still so happy, was a significant eye opener. It made me realise that it's not material items that make people happy, it's the love and laughter they have around them.”

“Although teaching was difficult due to the language barrier, the happy faces made it all worth it. For many of the children, all they wanted was affection, so after class we would stay longer and read them books, play games, dance and show them photos of our home here in New Zealand,” she said.

Emily’s favourite part of the trip was visiting the Taj Mahal.

“It was such a beautiful site. I also enjoyed exploring the rest of the Golden Triangle. The old buildings, forts, gardens, markets and palaces were beautiful, and it was really cool experiencing something completely different to what we see in New Zealand.”

Both Gracey and Emily say that the World Challenge expedition was a very special opportunity they will never forget.

“It was a life-changing experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I learnt a lot about the way different people live and feel honoured to have been a part of the journey,” said Emily.

“One of the best moments in the trip happened right before we left,” said Gracey. “A young girl came up to me and said, ‘No matter how bad your day is, always keep a smile on your face and dance away the bad’. This was a significant and beautiful moment I will remember forever.”

Pictured: Two students from Mercury Bay Area School and six students from Coromandel Area School recently travelled to India as part of a World Challenge expedition. From left to right - Nakita Marx, Mischa McCauley, Emily James, Reef Townsend, Gracey Robbins, Taleisha Dawson, Alex Sowerby and Emma O’Brien.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.