The group of 10 Childcare and Early Years students from Stockton Riverside College visited Namibia to work at a local school and help the surrounding communities to live in harmony with the region’s wild elephants.
“It was the most amazing experience, there aren’t words to describe it,” said BTEC Level 3 Childcare student, Harriet Raine.
“It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity,” added classmate, Rachael Wilson. “It’s an opportunity that you don’t turn down.”
Sleeping under the stars the intrepid bunch left behind home comforts such as running water, electricity, mobile phones and internet access, to camp out in the wilds of the Namibian desert.
The group split their time between painting the children’s dormitory at the Abraham Gariseb School, the region’s only school for 400 miles, and monitoring the elephants in their natural habitat.
“Arriving at the school was quite emotional,” said Harriet, 18, from Yarm. “The children were so enthusiastic to be there even though they had very little.”
“Most of the children wore uniforms,” said Rachael from Linthorpe. “It wasn’t until you looked down that you realised only about a quarter were wearing shoes.”
As for the elephants, it wasn’t long before the students spotted the giants, with one small herd passing right through camp.
Fortunately, working with Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA), the group knew what to do. “You have to stay really still and not make a sound,” said Rachael. “Even if they throw sand you can’t even flinch.”
Over the last year the students have taken part in a host of fundraising activities to raise the cash needed to help make the trip possible, including bag packs, a sponsored abseil and a bush tucker trial, along with self-funding.
The group was also able to take two washing machines to the Namibian school with them, a donation from Roseberry Primary School in Billingham.
The trip was inspired by Stockton Riverside College’s Childcare course leader and Early Years lecturer, Liz Maddison, who had made the same journey for the first time herself two years earlier.
Liz said: “Initially I was worried in case I had set expectations too high as for me it had been a life changing experience, but when we arrived at the school and I saw the students’ faces I knew that they got it.”
As for the students, would they do it again? “I would go again tomorrow if I could,” said Harriet.