AISA Tennis at YIS – 2016 season

This photograph was taken at the end of the AISA tennis tournament hosted by YIS October 14/15th 2016. Out of 4 schools competing, our boys varsity team came third (almost took 2nd place – it was so close) and our girls varsity team took 2nd place. In addition to these great performances, the boys also took the Sportsmanship Award. It was two full days of tennis and the standard was extremely high – so proud of our students – loved every minute, from the coaching (throughout the season), the camaraderie to the individual improvements of all the players including boys and girls varsity and boys junior varsity. Memorable times indelibly etched (Coach Stanworth and Coach Yoko)

Thanks for the good times you guys and also the wonderful gift -Kent tie, the Varsity Boys gave me. I shall wear it with fond memories around me.

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Advanced Academics as part of the GCD for Adults

In the early 90’s, having been overseas since the late 70’s, I decided to enrol on a Master of Arts in Education (Int. Ed.) degree course at the University of Bath in the UK . This programme of advanced study involving six modules and the completion of a dissertation offered me an opportunity to research in  areas of continued interest- international schooling, international education, internationalism and interculturalism. This course, to be completed on a part time basis,  lasted six years with each module being studied over a week’s summer school with a write-up of 6000 words having to be completed within three months for each module. Throughout the course, to meet those expectations, it required a great deal of self discipline, time-management, motivation, willpower and mental resilience on my part since at that time, I was both teaching and fulfilling the role of high school principal at Yokohama International School (YIS).

The modules completed were: Managing Staff Development, Methods of Educational Inquiry, Curriculum Studies, Assessment of Pupil Achievement, Education in an International Context and Management of Innovation. My dissertation of some 30,000 words was titled; ‘An International Education at Yokohama International School: From Theory to Practice’. This advanced research paper was completed in February 1998 and submitted in March the same year. For me, the learning encountered in successfully completing my M.A., based on a variety of factors; the depth of engagement, the approaches to learning, the perseverance, resilience, energy and time expended,  was highly significant. Upon reflection, I considered it a great achievement and personally truly awe-inspiring. The dissertation title was chosen deliberately since I wanted to give something back to my school having been there for almost two decades at the time of completion. I had the interest in and the passion for the school close at heart and purposely chose a challenging but realistic title to give more scope for my research. Based on authentic research, I wanted to share with the school my findings and highlight the areas of achievement for YIS, the things that had been done well and successfully, but at the same  time, recognise the school’s shortcomings and suggest areas for improvement. A school may be an international school by name, but does the school necessarily offer an international education and walk the talk – putting theory into practice. This was very much on my mind as I took this journey of rigorous and in-depth study.

It was an intriguing area of study and upon reflection, the whole six years  of researching, recording, writing, analysing and synthesising were something I will always look back on with a great sense of accomplishment. To date, numerous parts of my research have been used and quoted to support or refute articles written  on international schools and international education, and this gives me satisfaction and a feeling of pride knowing that my work has been of some use to others in the educational field.

So how was this journey for me? Thinking back to my first module, I swiftly returned to Japan upon completing the week of lectures, took my family to the in-laws’ cottage in the mountains and spent long hours in the evenings researching,  reading, and scripting. The day time was of course spent with the family. It was tough going and trying to complete 6000 words before the start of each new school year for six consecutive years was near impossible but I stuck it out.  Often, I had to grapple with the tasks which surrounded my day job that frequently spilled into the evening and the finishing of a module research paper. However, I knew I had to persevere and persevere I did. Each summer I would count the number of modules still to be completed, leave the family behind at my parents’  home and travel to Bath. I knew the journey like the back of my hand. During the completion of the last module, I additionally had to focus  on the dissertation, thinking of and planning on the title, abstract, chapters, depth, primary and secondary sources, types of interviewing, questionnaires (likert scaling, open-ended, numerical) and so on. Thinking back to the research practices in those days, I spent hours in the library reading relevant chapters of recommended books, research papers and completed a fair amount of photocopying including the use of microfiche. There was very little internet or online presence in those days and so the library was the hub for most students during the week of summer school. The chosen chapters which were included in the dissertation were; Introduction, International Education – a Literature Review, Yokohama International School, Further Analysis of Yokohama International School, Recent Research within Yokohama International School-Methodology of an Initial Inquiry, Analysis of the Inquiry, A Case Study, Conclusions and 5 appendices as the final piece of the  dissertation which included references, questionnaires from alumni, students, teachers, key personnel and a bibliography.

At the time of writing all these research papers, my family and I lived in a small modest apartment half way between school and my wife’s work. My desktop was in the big bedroom we shared with the children and  once everyone was asleep, I got to work as quietly as possible completing my research and writing. Those days were very tough indeed. During the little free time I had at school during the day, I recall sending out questionnaires for teachers to complete and setting up interviewing times with individual teachers and administration. Gathering data from alumni and key personnel who had since left YIS, required extra time outside of school, at weekends, at any time I had free. Interviewing sessions often lasted around an hour and then a further couple of hours had to be spent on analysing and synthesising the data collected. How  I achieved all of this, engaging and performing  at this high academic level over six years  is a question I still ask myself. Without doubt, stamina, resilience, commitment all played an important part in the completion of my M.A. in Education. Aside from the knowledge I acquired  as a result this educational research, I found I grew as a person, both intellectually and emotionally.  Meeting up with my professor for the viva voce was the pinnacle and highlight of that work particularly when he identified the depth of the dissertation research as being aligned to a PhD thesis. That made me even more proud of my achievement.

The dissertation has been read by many and from the outset, it was my wish that its focus would help to further develop YIS  in some ways, giving opportunities to celebrate all the positives and help to ameliorate some of the things that needed to be improved on. I achieved my goal in this field of advanced academics and that I should be proud of.  My experiences gained by completing my M.A. in Education both introspectively and extrospectively have been so valuable. Importantly, without the GCD acting as a catalyst, willing me on to reflect and curate these experiences, I would probably not have shared it to the world.

img_2393 Photo taken at Graduation July 1998

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Front cover                                       Copyright                                 Author  Declaration

‘Fit for Life’ as part of the GCD for adults

Fit For Life – Global Citizen Diploma extended element:

This element describes students who are able to provide evidence of and reflect on significant learning experiences… in TWO of the following three areas: (1) Practice of Activity: Students reflect on the development of a practice of regular and sustained physical activity. (2) Healthy Habits: Students demonstrate knowledge and understanding of nutrition, body mechanics and sleep requirements. (3) Habits of Mind: Students reflect on the development of habits that promote balance, resiliency, mindfulness and stress management. (This element will require TWO separate reflections)

Practice of Activity:

Background: During the football (soccer) season of 2012, I sustained a knee injury for the second time which unfortunately resulted in the complete tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament connecting the femur to the tibia. Besides being extremely painful, this injury closed the door for any further soccer until an operation and rehabilitation could be put into action. I have not yet had the operation but have been working on a rehabilitation programme with the the help of medical support, my own programs of physical activity coupled with a whole lot of self -determination and physical resilience to try to build up the muscle around the knee. I know rehabilitation will not take away the functional instability of the knee without surgery but at least it gives me regular practice and some sustained physical activity with some strengthening of muscles around the affected joint. In addition to this injury, more recently, I had to have minor surgery in August of this year (2016) to rectify an abdominal hernia. My ‘sustained physical activity’ was severely affected for around 4 months. Now that all is well on this front, I am refocussing on physical activity and have developed a new fitness plan to put into practice. I have to be very careful on the types of activity I can do since the knee is susceptible to partial dislocation with the leg giving way depending on the weight distribution (I recall alighting from a train in London last summer stepping onto the platform with the damaged leg and immediately keeling over, leaving me sprawled out on the platform edge. The knee had partially dislocated under the internal rotation due to the weight on the leg- quite frightening!). 

I now go to the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YCAC) at least three times each week. I spend  one hour each session working on cycling, stretching, squats, weights, leg lifts, treadmill and some cardio work and aerobic endurance (realising that aerobic endurance training improves heart and lung function with the heart rate and blood pressure  decreasing and the respiration  becoming more efficient).

So what do I do each time I go to the gym?

I have designed a one hour circuit  and I stick to the plan until finished. First exercise is the stretching of the legs, arms and abdominal muscles. This is an important part of the total fitness regimen – not only preventing muscle stiffness and soreness after workout but helping to release tension, relieve stress, increase flexibility and improve blood circulation. After 10 minutes of stretching, I complete 20 LAT pulldowns (training the back muscles for 5 minutes) followed by 20 pectoral flies (moving the arms horizontally across for 5 minutes). To help stretch the leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings, I then do a series of seated leg curls using the  weights that feel most comfortable, first with one leg, then the other leg, then both legs together each 20 times. This takes up to 10 more minutes since it is important to take some short rests in between these exercises. Once completed, I focus on the treadmill setting the speed to a suitable walking pace of 5 kph. After 10 minutes of walking, I then increase the speed to 8kph and do a further 10 minutes at a moderate jogging pace. I take another short respite with plenty of water intake before going onto the next exercise. For the time left, I do some knee flexion and extension on a mat to help the straightening of the injured leg – bending and straightening the knee to keep it mobile and improve range of motion (20 times), repeated a second time after 30 seconds of rest. The final exercise that takes me up to the hour are heel slides on the affected knee, lying on my back and bending the knee with the foot always in contact with the mat. This is repeated 20 times.

Reflecting on this self-styled rehabilitation has given me some vision for the future. Basically, I love sports , in particular tennis and squash, and my additional passions is associated with football. Oh how I miss being on that field! – the times I played as a central midfielder then into a back four position!. Presently, I can play and coach tennis, volleying and baseline play,  so long as I don’t  exert myself across court, however, squash and football are out of the question at the moment. I have thought long and hard on this and have decided that as soon as I retire next June (2017), I will make arrangements to have knee keyhole surgery. It is a 5 day stint in hospital followed by a 6 month rehabilitation programme that must be kept to. However, time should not be too much of a problem hoping and  believing my physical and mental resilience will give me that additional support. Quality of life is so vitally important and sport is and has been such an enriched part of my life which I am loathed to give up. 

All my visits to the YCAC are recorded with a sign-in and sign- out sheet provided for users as they enter and leave the fitness centre.

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Seated Leg Curls                                    Fitness Centre at the YCAC

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LAT pulldown                                        Pectoral Fly                                         Treadmill

 

Healthy Habits: knowledge and understanding of nutrition, body mechanics and sleep requirements.

Nutrition, the process of taking in nutrients into the body is a vital component of staying healthy and remains clearly a habit that needs to be carefully understood and practiced. The cliche ‘You are what you eat’  makes a lot of common sense. Basically there are six nutrients that need to be part of anyone’s daily intake. The three macronutrients (requiring large quantities and which determine the calorie intake ) provide the body with energy – carbohydrates (sugars and starches for example), protein (meat, fish eggs, bread for example) and lipids (vegetable oil, butter for example). Water is a class of nutrient and doctors advise on an average 2.5 litres of water intake per day. The two micronutrients (requiring less quantities) are vitamins (fat soluble-vitamin A {fruits} vitamin B {milk, dairy products, sunshine}, vitamin E {cereals,some vegetables, seeds and nuts} and vitamin K {some vegetables}) and water soluble (vitamin B’s {whole grain, meats, cereals, fish, poultry, dairy products for example, vitamin C {citrus fruits and some peppers for example} and  minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron for example).

Working on the clinically advised calorie intake of an average of 2000 calories per day (for men), I try to eat from all five food groups – protein, vegetables, dairy, grains and fruits with a modicum of fats. Variety within the food groups is important and indulgence I try to control best I can.

My present daily diet consists of:

Breakfast: Yogurt, banana, tangerine and a cup of black coffee (no sugar)

Lunch: Salad  or cheese sandwich with a piece of fruit (and sometimes a spoonful of yogurt)

Dinner: Chicken, pork, fish or beef with two different vegetables – I refrain from eating rice or bread in the evening.

I find the above give me sustenance and I am able to maintain a weight of just over 70 kgs. As already mentioned, three times a week I go to the gym before dinner so on those occasions, I sometimes indulge in the very occasional ice cream or other dessert. One aspect of my diet that I keep promising to change which is a challenge for me –  the ‘nibbling’ after dinner and before going to bed as I work on the dining room table completing school related work for the following day. This is my nemesis for a controlled diet and this is an area I really need to focus on. Partaking in a few rice crackers or some potato chips really helps me to concentrate during those few hours at the table and this really does upset the nutritional and healthy diet. I need to strengthen my mental resilience on this front and this I intend to work on. Aside from these bad habits, I believe my diet is controlled, providing my body with all the nutrients to lead a healthy life. Alcoholic consumption is always kept at a minimum.

Body Mechanics

Body mechanics refers to the way we move during our daily lives. Aside from daily exercise, it is important to grasp and understand the proper ways to move our bodies. The technique of sitting correctly is so important – straight back, extra support around the lower back area, exercising and stretching the neck and shoulder whilst sitting. When lifting – feet apart, keeping the back straight, use of arm and leg muscles, and even when standing-feet apart, back straight, shoulders down and chest out. Other advice such as proper shoes to suit the occasion and pulling rather than pushing an object should be taken on board. There are many factors associated with body mechanics – ergonomics, biotechnology and human engineering for example and all these, in some way attribute to the way we move during our daily lives. Posture is important as we spend countless hours at the laptop and movements in sports, in physical activity and in the fitness room all need to be considered very carefully.

Reflecting on my own experiences towards practicing good ‘body mechanics’, I am cognisant of the need for good posture, regular movement, safety during activity practice, and the  correct way to lift etc. However, am I fully aware of my limitations of what my own body can/cannot do at my age? The answer to this question is undeniably ‘no’. I still rush around different places, still pick up boxes really too heavy for me, still climb ladders without thinking beforehand of the correct way to go up and come down, and still garden for hours on end without really thinking of the strain on the back and legs to name a few. A number of areas I need to work on here.

Sleep requirements:

This is an area of much debate. Some say that as you get older, less sleep is required. I find this very difficult to agree with and besides, for me, it doesn’t fit. It is recommended that 7-9 hours amounts to a ‘good night’s sleep’ although it must be noted that this could indeed vary depending on age, activity level, general health and life style. To recover from illness undoubtedly require an increase of sleep at some point.  Certainly, if I have less than 6-7 hours sleep per night then I know my body will react in some way – perhaps the reduction of thinking skills!, a kind of ‘slowing down’ with some signs of fatigue and/or sleepiness. I am unable to determine the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM patterns during my sleep other than being aware of the fact that these patterns alternate. However, the third stage of the NREM, defined by a deep sleep, is what my body seems to appreciate most.

What about too much sleep?

Those people who are able to sleep more or less anywhere at any time could be diagnosed as suffering from slight/extensive hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness). Conversely, insomnia, the inability to sleep (or a mild form of this) perhaps kicks in when someone has had too much sleep. I sometimes experience this if I have ‘overslept’ and then the night after, I toss and turn in bed. It should be remembered that the body’s biological clock (24 hour) controls the functionality of sleeping and waking (affected by light and darkness) and jet lag for some, certainly including myself, can really upset the sleep patterns and routines. Most of us spend a third of our lives asleep and so ‘sleep health’ is so vitally important to the overall health and wellness of the person. The hormone melatonin helps to control sleep cycles and as such this hormone balance both during the day and night should be maintained. I am always at my laptop before going to bed and as such, the brightness from this machine can induce irregularity in sleep patterns due to the disruption of the body clock that controls how much melatonin the body makes. This is an area I really need to focus on in addition to maintaining that 7-9 hours of sleep and unplugging well before going to bed.

In conclusion, completing the “Fit For Life” as part of the GCD covering the practices of activity, nutrition, body mechanics and sleep requirements has really made me think and reflect on my personal well-being. A number of areas I feel I am doing a good job in, but self-reflecting on others has made me realise that I do need to make some changes and act accordingly to really cover the whole spectrum of my own personal health and wellness. It is all so easy to slip into routines and bad habits but that much more difficult to slip out of them. My self-observation, self-analysis in terms of to what degree I fit into being ‘Fit for Life’ has identified some important areas to focus on. With the emotional and physical resilience I  believe I have, I think I can make  changes for the better. I have certainly work to do in those areas I have identified as being my weak links, however, with determination and commitment I believe these goals will be attainable.

‘Leadership’ and ‘Adventure’ as parts of the Global Citizen Diploma for Adults

 

‘Leadership’ and ‘Adventure’ – Global Citizen Diploma for Adults

This blog post curates an account of an important journey I took in late 1982 detailing my personal experiences and reflections – what I learnt, the importance of my learning and how my experiences made a difference. The blog post covers the elements (competencies) of both Leadership and Adventure in the Global Citizen Diploma. Drawing on connections, extending my thoughts and challenging my creativity, my reflections along this ‘journey’ are attributed to the experiences encountered as a first time ‘leader’ of a group of trekkers to the Himalayas, including for me at that time, the quintessential pinnacle of adventure and personal achievement – reaching around 15,000 feet just below the Annapurna peak without the support of oxygen. This accomplishment was truly an adventure of a lifetime accompanied by three sherpas, together taking in the serenity of the cloud line and surrounding landscape, the spectacular views over into Tibet and the ascent itself, whilst considering all aspects of safety including altitude illnesses as a result of ‘acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude’. Without doubt, upon reflection, the opportunity to take on a sharing role through leadership during this trip to the Himalayas made a big difference to me both professionally and personally and the experiences gained allowed me to confidently take on similar roles since 1982  as briefly mentioned towards the end of this blog post.

Before arriving in Japan, whilst based in Hong Kong, in the years 1979 and 1980,  as a chaperone, I assisted in two school trekking excursions across parts of the Himalayan range. These experiences really did whet my appetite and, to that end, I was determined to organise another trek to Nepal from my new school Yokohama International School (YIS) but this time as the ‘leader’ of the pack (sharing, empowering others and trying to bring a sense of togetherness and cohesiveness to this group). This would be my first time to organise AND lead an expedition and I craved to fulfil this vision through the effective ‘leadership’ of the expedition and management of resources. Once on the trail, the sherpas would make decisions on all routes to take and any alterations to those routes as a result of weather changes. However, throughout the trek, the chief sherpa would be in constant conversation with me, asking for updates on the health and physical condition of each group member, and asking for advice in terms of rest periods based on those conditions. Food would also be another source of decision making for me as would be the times spent in the villages we were to pass through and the times to set up camp and pitch tents. Finalising and confirming details of all aspects of the trek from start to finish once in Kathmandu prior to the start of the trek, would also be my responsibility (in consultation with the other chaperones) as would be the payment of the sherpas once back in Kathmandu at the end of the trek. 

The organisation all started in the spring of 1982, when I put together a proposal to be presented to the School Board advocating a trekking expedition to the region of Annapurna at Christmas time 1982. This period was particularly chosen since there would be far less chance of encountering avalanches on route and the depth of snow would not make the paths to be taken impassable. Lots of questions came from the Board but I felt I had done my homework and I believed I had covered every conceivable obstacle I could think of – from safety, insurance coverage, flight delays, lack of medical supplies and first aid, dietary concerns to the important features of changeable weather. To overcome the latter I planned to take the precautionary measure of arranging  a  ‘ready on call’ helicopter should anything seriously go wrong in the mountains. Suffice it to say, I was given the go ahead to start preparations and before the summer recess, I already had 16 committed students signed up with three keen chaperones to join me on this  intrepid adventure. Soon after returning to school after the summer break in August 1982, I arranged several meetings involving the student members, their parents, the chaperones and the administration. We needed to set out a firm plan particularly on the fund raising front and the physical preparedness. Importantly, as leader, I had to work closely with our agency in Kathmandu and ground support staff. I soon became acquainted with a number of sherpas who would be accompanying us and here in Yokohama, I had to start looking for a registered nurse who could be with us throughout the trek. Communication was sometimes slow from the Kathmandu side and I soon learnt that patience was indeed a virtue -especially when there were no luxuries such as the ubiquitous internet.

The other chaperones and I worked closely to bring ideas into reality and it didn’t take too long before things were taking shape. Dr. Yang, a parent of one of our student members going on the trip and a medical doctor himself, pledged a full supply of medical/first aid equipment and bake sales were regularly held throughout the months leading up to departure to raise money for other essential items. On a weekly basis, the chaperones and I organised and led the group of students on hiking trails around Yokohama, pitching and sleeping in tents on overnight excursions and carrying out general fitness workouts.  Acclimatisation was something I had to think about in terms of readying the group members and so we tried to choose hikes in the region that would take us as high as possible – nothing on the scale of 13,500 feet though. The important feature to what lay ahead was the chosen route of the ascent to Annapurna Base Camp. A travel guide stated and I quote: ‘Annapurna trekking is one of the most famous trekking trails in the world that many amateur trekkers choose for its well-defined passages and breathtaking panoramic views of snow-capped Himalayan mountain peaks like Annapurna, Fish Tail, Dhaulagiri and many more……giving you a chance to admire amazing landscape, catch a glimpse of wild animals along the way like snow leopard, black sheep and many rare species of birds and smaller animals’.  This all sounded incredible and I felt the route described would be the most exciting trail for us to take.  In consultation with colleagues and ground support, we took the decision to start the trek from Pokhara (flying to our starting point from Kathmandu in a light aircraft), traverse Langtang Valley part way then head straight for Annapurna Base Camp at 4130m or 13,550 ft, weather permitting. Spending Christmas in the mountains surrounded by snow, sleeping in tents during the night, walking daily on a trail alongside terraced rice paddies, rhododendron forests with panoramic views each direction one looked just seemed the chance and adventure of a life time. 

And so the time arrived for us to depart from Tokyo flying directly to Kathmandu. As leader, I was conscious of the enormity of responsibility on my shoulders – what if something went wrong,  what if someone had a serious accident on the trail, an avalanche ‘gobbling up’ one of our students? These scenarios ran through my mind but I was determined to remain resolute in both physical and mental preparedness to take on this leadership role and to make this once in a life time experience as memorable and exciting as possible for everyone. It seemed during those 6 months leading up to departure, the self-resilience, determination and confidence had taken exponential leaps forward and I felt I was ready for those unforeseen circumstances. I learned what the cliche ‘expect the unexpected’ really did mean. I recall my first trip to the Himalayas  as a chaperone and I remember the leader at the time having to make important decisions- the light aircraft due to take all members back to Kathmandu on three separate trips had been cancelled due to immense bad weather for two consecutive days. We were short of food and decisions on who should go on the first trip back to Kathmandu and who should stay and wait for the second trip and finally the third trip, had to be decided. I was on the second trip with eight students. Fortunately, the weather cleared on the third day enough for the plane to make the three trips. It was understand that important decisions like these may have to be made and mentally I felt I had prepared myself for this task.

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Light aircraft of the type used in 1982 to fly to Pokhara from Kathmandu

The majestic peaks of Annapurna I (8091 m), Annapurna South (7219 m), Machapuchhre (6993 m) and Hiunchuli (6441 m) poked through the low lying clouds as we approached Annapurna Base Camp after traversing Langtang.  What an incredible sight. The sherpas had carried the equipment but I carried the medication at all times to assist our accompanying state registered nurse. It was apparent, and goodness knows how so quickly, that word had spread on the medical supplies and as we approached villages along the way – Ghorepani, Chomrong to name a few, villagers including entire families would swarm round me knowing that I had the medical supplies to pass out if needed. I did indeed give what I could on advice from our nurse and helped her to administer first aid where possible -cuts, bruises, rashes etc. What a personal experience this brought on board for me. I learned how so lucky we were in our own wealthy communities, with easily accessible medication, and yet in these regions there were no provisions for local health centres with doctors, trained nurses and a sufficient supply of medicines. Outreach was certainly needed and we generously donated supplies as much as we could, besides leaving behind spare clothing and blankets. 

 We had plenty of rest stops, and this is something I had learned from previous trips – to have regular short rest periods. As leader, I was aware of this necessity and I would call the sherpas to hold back and take appropriate intervals of rest, to get second wind, breaks those athletic sherpas didn’t really need but readily obliged.

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(Photos – courtesy of Himalayan Glacier Trekking)

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(Photos -courtesy of one of my students on the trek)

The sherpas were amazing and followed advice where needed as closely as possible, although, as mentioned earlier, they were entirely in charge of the actual trekking, the trail to take, the pitching of tents and the cooking of the meals. We did however make use of our time once trekking had finished for the day and pitched in to help the sherpas as much as we could. I had in my possession the cash that would be distributed to the sherpas once back in Kathmandu – their pay packets. This money never left my side. Namaste greetings everywhere we went were amazing. These Nepalese/Tibetan people were obviously very poor monetarily but so rich in warmth, kindness and incredibly humble people. It made me realise the true meaning of the saying ‘ the best things in life are free’. You don’t need currency to have friends, families and good memories. Some of life’s best treasures cost nothing and these people shared many of those treasures.

(Photos courtesy of one of the students on the trek)

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                                                         (Our intrepid sherpas during the two week expedition )

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(Photos courtesy of one of my students on the trek)

 What about the resilience of our own students on the trek? Most coped extremely well with both the physical and emotional challenges, however, one or two had to be assisted in a variety of ways. I remember one evening’s conversation after supper with a female student member of the group – just the two of us. She felt she could no longer manage the endurance, the strains, the challenges and was ready ‘to give up’. She felt so embarrassed sharing her feelings but at that point I unequivocally assured her she should not feel that way. That conversation I remember so well and together with a female chaperone, we chatted for quite a while. She needed reassurance and support and realising that the support would always be there for her, her strength and emotional resilience seemed to return. From that time on, paradoxically, this student seemed to become a leader in her own right – it was quite a transformation – seeing her comforting some of her friends along the trail, giving them encouragement, keeping a sense of humour and making the trek even more enjoyable despite the enormity of challenges for some.

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(Photos – courtesy of Himalayan Glacier Trekking)

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(Before departure -training and organising

(During the expedition- getting to know the locals and helping the needy)

Once reaching Annapurna Base Camp, we were able to take a day of respite and chill out, exploring nearby terrain and taking in the amazing views of Hiunchuli, Gangapurna, Khangsar Kang, Tent Peak and Machapuchare, the famous Fishtail Mountain. The trekkers had reached their destination led by expert sherpas and everyone was in joyous mood especially during the festive season. Spending time together during the Christmas period surrounded by lofty mountains was a once in a life time experience and we made the most of it with the singing of carols, use of trimmings and the exchange of very simple presents. We sang songs for the sherpas, and they reciprocated with some Nepalese singing and the sharing of some cultural dance as well. Our home economics teacher had also brought along a Christmas cake which was generously shared out amongst the sherpas. It was a relaxing time during this extended rest period and everyone was happy to take in this welcomed and well-earned relaxation period, taking in the splendour of the mountains and drinking lots of Nepalese tea. However, I had the yearning to step out of this comfort zone – to climb a little bit higher in altitude to capture even more impressive sites. After consultation with the chaperones, I was given the go ahead to go on this personal adventure (with three sherpas). Even though given the opportunity, no one else requested to come which was fine since I would only be away about five hours. Everybody was in good hands and there was no sense of danger based on the location of the basecamp, so I felt reassured this one off trip would be ok to do. Our small party set off and soon, the ascent became quite steep. Step by step, I took regular breaths and the higher I went, I sensed the oxygen levels slowly diminishing. The three sherpas kept close by and I had no real concerns about altitude illness or the steep inclines carpeted with fairly thick snow. Still, every precaution was taken; pace of ascent, frequent rest stops and so on. What an incredible adventure I was experiencing as I stepped outside my comfort zone.  As we gained height, the views became even more spectacular and the snow more deep. Even though I was aware of the short time for acclimatisation and the fact I wasn’t wearing crampons,  I was still determined to reach my goal (with permission form the sherpas) – to see across into Tibet from the viewing level chosen by my ‘leaders’. After some three hours of ascent, we made it. It required endurance, physical resilience and determination to achieve this goal, one that I have looked back on with great pride and achievement. During this final ascent, exposing myself to wilderness never before encountered and taking on calculated risks, I learnt a great deal about myself – where there’s a will there’s a way and if I set my mind to doing something, I could do it.  These thoughts I have shared with many since and my advice has been warmly welcomed. At around 15,000 feet, I felt on top of the world even though Sagamartha (Nepalese for Everest) was overshadowing in the background, it’s peak another 15,000 feet higher.  The views were breathtaking, the skies had cleared once at the level reached and as I hugged all three sherpas, I reflected on my own personal adventure and contributions. How was able to achieve such a feat was a question I kept asking myself – climbing to that height without help or without any supply of oxygen. Could I attribute it to courage, skill, strength, resilience or even athleticism.  At 30 years old, I still considered myself a youngster and so I put it down to a bit of all.

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(Looking over into Tibet at around 15,000 feet- photos -courtesy of a trekking company)

Those moments are so indelibly etched memories, ones that will never be forgotten. With the considerable lower temperatures being felt, we all gathered our thoughts and started our descent back to base camp in time for supper. One can imagine the thoughts running through my head as I crawled into my sleeping bag to end one of the most exciting days of my life.

The following few days were spent meandering back to Pokhara along a different trail, going through different villages with the namaste greetings  just as warm and frequent. Everyone in the group was on such a ‘high’ enraptured by all the memories surrounding this trek. Once back in Kathmandu, we set up camp just outside the city, bedded down for our last night in Nepal but before doing so, my last duty was to remunerate our deserving sherpas. They lined up that evening in front of the camp fire and each one was met with rapturous applause of gratitude from our group members as he collected his payment- an amount that was so well deserved. Each of us also gave generously as much as we could out of our own spending money. 

As a result of those earlier years of leadership experience (in 1982) which were never to be forgotten, I led future trips. Notably, in the Fall of years 1998, 1999 and 2000, with the assistance of additional chaperones, I led successive groups of senior students to Dumagete in Negros Island (Philippines) to participate in the outreach programme associated with Habitat for Humanity, building homes for the less privileged. These adventures evolved as part of the Field Studies programme at YIS for these grade 12 students. During the course of these visits, we were able to construct a complete village made up of breeze block prefabricated type housing, with running water, adequate sanitation and some type of pavement to walk on.  This mammoth task was supported by Jimmy Carter and his entourage of workers who helped at other times during those three consecutive years. It was a huge undertaking but one that brought so much satisfaction and accomplishment. That initial experience of ‘leadership’ (in the planning and execution), leading the trekking party to the Himalayas, gave me much to learn from and that learning was vastly utilised out in Dumagete. I considered it a personal accomplishment which certainly broadened my knowledge and understanding. The myriad of thoughts, notions and impressions from this first experience of ‘leadership’ helped me to create new ideas, connect with the learning and extend my thinking, particularly in the areas of sharing, collaboration, self-management, improvement in people skills, initiating action and motivating and influencing others. I believe these shone through on those trips to the Philippines. But, without doubt, the catalyst was certainly that trip to Annapurna Base Camp. That encounter certainly made a difference not only for myself but I believe for others as well. My confidence grew and with it, my desire to lead more trips. And on top of all this, I will never forget that lightbulb moment at 15000 feet. At that level, the adventurous light certainly shone through.

Final day in Phuket -Day 5

Dear all, I thought I’d write something about the last day to complete the week’s adventures in Phuket. Day 5 was spent with 33 SOS children – Thai orphans -who came to BISP to be looked after by our students. Various activities had been organised by our learning focus group and our ground support staff added to provide an interesting mix of sports and cultures. The children loved their time in the gym, playing sports, making wrist and ankle bands, origami folding etc not to mention the time spent in the pool in the afternoon. It was so sad to say goodbye to these  lovely children, however, we couldn’t have wished for a better time with them and so we count our blessings.

We left BISP around 3:45pm for the international airport and took the 7pm Friday night flight to Bangkok. Actually, the flight was delayed so we had to swiftly traverse Bangkok airport for our international flight back to Narita. Everything turned out ok in the end with the connecting flight, arriving at Narita this morning as per schedule. And now we are all safely back home. What a week that was!.

That’s it folks. It has been a real pleasure being with your children and providing opportunities and experiences, the memories from which we hope will be indelibly printed for a very long time. Our warmest wishes to you all, regards,

Dennis, Sarah and Mike

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Day 4 Phuket

 

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Dear all, this was another packed day of adventure -comparing and contrasting two different coral reefs and collecting data – the weather was superb although the boat ride to and from the reefs were  a bit rocky in places. Nonetheless, upon arrival at the first coral reef, the students busily got to work, transecting, looking for indicators (types of fish) that  would suggest the health and recovery of the coral, and conversely those that would suggest the deterioration of the ecosystem (sea urchins, crown of thorns starfish etc). We then sailed to another area and made comparisons of the two different coral reefs – so interesting. We are about to go for dinner, do our reflections on today’s events and preparations for tomorrow (quality time with the SOS children-Thai orphans). Sadly we say goodbye to BISP after spending a full week here at our base with each day filled with adventure and excitement. I don’t think I will have time to blog tomorrow due to the timing of our departure – 3:30pm to the airport and then onto Bangkok, transferring to an overnight flight to Narita. What a great time had by all. Thanks for following us. Warmest wishes , Dennis, Sarah and Mike. (Tonight – a bit of down time – squeezing in two games at the bowling alley).

3rd day in Phuket

Dear all, another adventurous and exciting day for us all – a long trek in the rain forest, a visit to the gibbon sanctuary and then mangrove planting in the late afternoon. Throughout, explanations were given of each of the two ecosystems and a lot of learning was taken on board during reflection time. Since the rain had prevented us from taking the river route  in the rain forest – following the river up to the top and then coming down on the other side by the river, the rangers allowed us to take a more gentle course. There were some challenges however when we had to take a detour due to the blockage of the path by a tree, but the slippery path was handled with great team work and leadership – proud of all the students who showed great resilience.img_2239 img_2241 img_2253 img_2262 img_2263img_2248 img_2267 img_2269-2.

The students learnt a lot about the exploitation of the gibbons by the tourist traders and each of the 4 species of gibbon that once thrived in Phuket is now becoming extinct. 200 mangrove saplings were planted in the afternoon – muddy conditions but the students enjoyed their experiences. An exciting day ahead tomorrow – coral reef exploration – visiting two different areas, transecting and collecting certain data . We are told it will be a fine day with lots of sunshine. Let’s hope the forecast is spot on. Will keep in touch, warmest wishes, Dennis, Sarah and Mike (chaperones)

2nd day of the Phuket Expedition

Another great day was had by all, the result of which is borne by the fact that the Burmese Mon children have now a much brighter and inviting learning school environment- see the walls and the wonderful murals. The children each received their gift bags which included games from different parts of the world and all kinds of stationery. They were mesmerised and so too our students (seeing their faces) who had bonded so well by the end of the two days.  All of the students worked so hard and we are proud of their achievements. Next two days will be environmental -rain forest, mangrove plantations and coral reefing.  The students are making the most of these wonderful opportunities. Keep tuned, warmest, Dennis , Sarah and Mike

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First full day in Phuket

Dear all, it has been, without doubt, a most exciting day for our students and the Burmese Mon children today despite the unrelenting periods of rain. Half our group entertained the children this morning at the BISP – obstacle courses, art, additional interesting activities such as origami whilst the other group spent time at their school trying to beautify it and give colour to their learning environment- painting of a mural and of walls. In the afternoon we switched and further murals were painted at the school, some planting of shrubs and trees took place with a general uplift of the landscape  for these children. The group at the BISP entertained  the 12 children with an orienteering, balloon games and other cultural  activities were included. This group, once the children went back to their homes, snorkelled in preparation for Thursday. The other group will do their practice tomorrow. Apparently, the weather will be fine and sunny on Thursday so keeping fingers crossed for our coral reef exploration – studying biodiversity, transecting, identification and learning about the reality of bleaching affecting the coral. Some photos posted below. All tired so an earlier night tonight – this evening, reflecting on the day’s events, the big take aways through the lens of our students followed by parcelling all the donations. All exhausted but what a day it has been!. Keep tuned, Best wishes, Dennis, Sarah and Mike.

Group B:

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