The UWC movement and Outdoor education share a common history, with Kurt Hahn using them both as tools to educate young people internationally and to provide them with the resources to effect change in their communities. We at UWC Mahindra College have been endeavoring to carry forward this tradition by incorporating the two through the Community Outdoor Education project that we have on campus.
Outdoor Education has been long regarded as an effective tool for experiential learning and fostering community action. Arvin Dang, our faculty mentor and head of the Outdoor Education Triveni, established this project in order to reach out to our local community and enable them to avail of the benefits of Outdoor Education.
Last year, we had the opportunity to train young women working with the Akshara programme. Usha, Suvarna, Chaitrali, Vrushali and Seema are strong and full of self-esteem in spite of having experienced domestic and sexual violence in the past. We trained them over a period of 5 months through rigorous physical and mental processes in preparation for an expedition to Ladakh, summiting two mountains Stok Kangri and Lungser Kangri (both at elevations above 6000 meters) over a period of 30 days.
Initially, we encountered various challenges such as lack of funding and family support, and the language barrier. Even in terms of training, the beginning wasn’t easy. But, their energy and enthusiasm definitely added to the team morale during our preparatory hikes and training sessions. Despite their lack of outdoor exposure, these amazing women had the drive to overcome initial limitations and persevere towards their goals. Our remarkable team of women continued to prove their mental strength and successfully experienced the entire Ladakh expedition, leading the group at times while enduring rough weather and exhaustion. We saw their immense spirit not only in the physical aspects of the expedition but also in group dynamics as they constantly worked together with the team despite the language barrier.
Usha, Suvarna, Chaitrali, Vrushali and Seema inspire us to overcome any obstacles and adapt to any situation in pursuit of our dreams. For them too, the expedition has been a very fulfilling project. “I’m very happy to be doing this, to learn things we would not have the opportunity to learn like mountain biking and swimming” says Seema, adding “Our Himmat (strength) is increasing and we are building atma-vishwas (self-esteem) for the expedition.”
The expedition proved a great platform for Akshara women to boost their self- mastery and confidence. However, the most profound effect of this expedition and the overarching Community Outdoor Education programme was the effect that it had on their lives after the expedition. Shortly after coming back home to their regular lives, the women reported that the expedition was a transformative learning experience. This can be evidently seen in their increased confidence and even the new leadership positions that some of them now have at the workplace and in their rural communities.
We believe that outdoor education helps empower women by challenging gender-based stereotypes regarding women’s roles in decision-making and leadership roles, and providing them with the ability to be display agency within their community. A crucial part of this empowerment project is to confront perceived danger and raise awareness about the issues facing the participants.
Taking one step forward, we have now launched a follow up campaign called “Not safe in Delhi but safe at 7000 meters” which aims to raise awareness about the issues of safety, domestic and sexual violence and to highlight the government’s inadequate policies in the area to confront this issue.
After the success of this expedition, we will be expanding our network of participants across the Mulshi Valley including more women from Akshara, young women participants from the neighboring vocational school and underprivileged teenage boys and girls. We will be training them in 5 target areas and will cover five categories- swimming, cycling, kayaking, calisthenic fitness and expeditionary leadership. This will allow students with their individual capacity to take on training and leadership positions. The most incredible aspect of this training programme is the involvement of our passionate Akshara participants from last year’s Ladakh expedition as mentors and possibly facilitators guiding the new participants.
The aim to inspire community action and personal development through outdoor education is increasingly strengthening and we look forward to a fulfilling year ahead. At the heart of this project lies the aim to build bridges between the students of UWC Mahindra College and the local communities surrounding our campus. To achieve this end, we look forward to your support in our endeavor.