06 Mar Trek Leaders Depart: But What Do They Take Back?
By Andrew Hepworth , Head of Outdoor Education
As the third annual Trek Leader Course comes to an end and the students begin their travel back home to remote rural areas of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, we begin to reflect on the impression that the course has had and what the students will take back to their personal and professional lives.
In my mind there are three distinct themes that can be used to evaluate the learning that has occurred. Firstly, I believe that there has been unique learning from peers, secondly, the students take with them a lot of practical implications for practice and finally, I believe that the students have departed with great insight towards their future careers working in the outdoor sector.
Learning from Peers
Embedded within the Trek Leader Course concept is the value of selecting students from across Uttarakhand and Himachal. As the course leader Akshay Shah puts it: “we have students coming from varied backgrounds and geographical areas that are very distinct, there is a lot of scope for these participants to learn about lifestyles, livelihoods and different ecosystems.”
This diversity in the student body allows for significant peer learning to take place, where students from a range of outdoor guiding practices are well placed to inform each other on relevant and meaningful ideas regarding their professional lives. During the feedback sessions many of the students indicated that learning from others on the course was an asset and complemented the experience significantly.
As one student commented, “I have been fortunate enough to spend time with guides from other areas in Uttarakhand. I have been able to ask them a lot about their jobs, from river guiding on the Ganga to high altitude guiding in the Spiti Valley. I have made good contacts that I will benefit from in the future.”
Gaurav Gangola who was instructing on the course added: “The students have been keen to share their knowledge and experiences from birding to guiding and even sharing practice on agriculture. There have been some excellent role models amongst the group that have had an inspiration on some of the other students. At night in the tents I have heard a lot of discussion on the day’s learnings, a lot of informal reflection was taking place. Key to enabling these students to share and discuss is to create what we call a ‘positive learning environment’ in the field, this is something that we focused on early during the expedition.”
Just as Woodstock School considers diversity in the student /staff body an important factor in the development of an individual, this 14-day Trek leader course stood tall in being a diverse group of staff and students.
Practical Implications for Practice
The course curriculum consists of a wide variety of topics such as: anchor building and technical climbing and abseiling skills, leadership skills and styles, wilderness first aid, risk management, Leave No Trace principles, expedition behavior and management, the natural environment etc.
On working with the students throughout their time on the course, one reoccurring question revolved around ‘how will you take these skills back to your own practice?’ Students seemed to have clear ideas on how they would transfer these skills into their own individual working lives. As one student explains: “There are some very small but important and practical changes that I will make on my next trek with clients, firstly I will use the whiteboard at our camp to inform our young students of what to bring on expedition, I will teach the Leave No Trace principles and I will use the name tag idea to learn the students names, that way I can relate to the group more.”
Another student reflects by stating: “I am much more equipped to advise our clients and students on treks, I feel now that I have skills to address issues on safety and looking after yourself and others in the mountains, such as not getting dehydrated and staying warm even when it rains”
Gaurav believes that the leadership skills that were covered will be transferred to the students working lives and will enable students to take initiative, he goes on to say “seeing them [the students] on their first day and last day there has been a notable and important increase in the way in which a lot of them takeinitiative in the group setting. Leadership is a huge chapter for them in their industry, they now understand the four steps and can apply it back home”
Akshay is confident that the biggest learning that they can actively put to practice will be the Leave No Trace Principles as these remain common anywhere in the outdoors.
Insight towards Future Careers
Whilst many of the students will be content with improving their current practice as guides, I believe that this course has also heighted the awareness and responsibility of pursuing career aims for many of the young students. A sense of wanting to learn more and wanting to continue with personal and professional growth has been a result of the course.
Evidence for this can be seen across the feedback: “I want to now ensure that I continue to take professional courses, next year I want to take the NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) Basic Mountaineering Course and the year after the Advanced Course. I want to also make sure I am up to date with the first aid courses” explains a student.
Others looked to the future in a different way, outlining that fitness as an essential aspect of working in the outdoors and should be more a part of their daily life, learning how to cook in the wilderness by practicing at home was also mentioned.
Students acknowledged that progress will depend on regular reflection of current practice as they have done with their personal learning logs and reflective sessions during their time at the Hanifl Centre in the last 2 weeks.
One student went as far to say: “I will teach other members of my organization what I have learnt, from the cooks, to the guides. I want to focus on trek leadership in my company. Teaching our clients how to travel safely and leave as little impact on the mountain environment as possible is crucial. As we travel there are certain ways of behaving that will allow for a successful expedition.”
Other students commented on the outdoors playing a crucial role within society: “it is important that city people experience it and it’s important that we can make them understand that within our guiding”
Akshay trusts that this has been an eye opening experience for many of the students: “For a lot of the students this is their first exposure to a course of this kind, my feeling is that most of them are in awe of what is happening. This is certainly life changing for some of the students, life changing in the sense of what they are doing right now as part of their professional practice. The whole concept of the course isA to increase their professionalism by implementing practical skills, becoming more systematic in their approach and more competent in their practice.”
Anant Gangola (state head of the Azim Premji Foundation) was the guest of honour at the graduation ceremony. In his address to the group (in Hindi), he said that he considers the students as ‘ambassadors’ of the state because of where they live and the work they do. The impression that tourists/trekkers take back with them have a lot to do with their experiences in the mountains and now this group were capable of making a positive impression. He said that leadership came in many facets and spoke about 2 styles. He said that one style was to be the “pendent” in a necklace that attracts all the attention and another was to be the thread in the necklace that kept all the beads together.