Outdoor Education at UWC addresses two specific demands of the 21st Century: 1) our burgeoning power must be matched by even greater humanity and stewardship, and 2) that in the face of startling inequalities, we are obliged to reach out to the less fortunate and find our humanity together in the wilderness.
Our programme’s mission is inspired by the words of pioneering Outward Bound educator Willi Unsoeld: “Seek ye first the kingdom of nature, that the kingdom of man might be realized.” The expedition is a microcosm of our world, in that many of the important questions of our age – climate change, poverty, conflict – are in fact “downstream” issues stemming from basic deficits in compassion, leadership and stewardship that are especially brought to light under the stark conditions of an expedition. Kurt Hahn, Outward Bound and UWC share a common ancestry and mission in addressing these deficits
The Outdoor Education programme at UWC Mahindra College started formally in 2012 and emphasizes environmental stewardship, emergent leadership, and cross-cultural collaboration in authentically challenging contexts. Students work towards mastering disciplines such as Kayaking, Biking, and Expedition Leadership; they prevent and fight bushfires that threaten the campus; they learn first aid, risk management and expedition logistics; and they guide others in Outdoor and Adventure service projects. The Kriya Empowerment Initiative, for example, involves UWCMC students as facilitators for young women from disadvantaged rural backgrounds who learn to swim, bike, kayak and run the obstacle course on campus, in the process overcoming many cultural or self-imposed limitations.
In expeditions from the Himalayas to the canyons of Karnataka, students grapple with topics such as how humans live and impact these environments; the conflicts, failures and successes of policy; and the impact of politics and business on development and sustainability projects. Learning takes place experientially - trekking through the mountains or rappelling down the waterfalls, through guided reflection and the study of academic content outside the classroom.
Outdoor environments are ideal frameworks for compelling acts of the whole person that require mastery, teamwork, and service, and that inspire young people to sustain courageous inquiry. A prolonged project such as an expedition can be a profoundly moving experience that leads to inspiration, joy and commitment to an environmental ethic.
Students take ownership of the logistics and delivery of the programme, building practical maintenance and management skills. They play leading roles in the college’s Fire and First Aid services. They co-lead and facilitate 30-day Himalayan expeditions that summit at over 6100m. They learn to work together, master themselves and the skills required to manage risks intelligently.
As our capacity has grown, we have also tapped into our uniquely rich cultural context, emphasizing cross-cultural collaboration by extending the OE programme’s reach to the less privileged local community. This is best exemplified in the success of Kriya, which empowers young women from less advantaged backgrounds to swim, mountain bike and train with OE student instructor-buddies to complete a 30-day Mountain Expedition, and then to join the project as ambassadors and mentors. A mountain expedition carries with it inherent risks and uncertainties, and they may not reach the top for many reasons, weather being the biggest single factor. Regardless, these women and students will build lasting relationships and share invaluable lessons about themselves and the world. Failures can be more valuable than successes, and that is something hard to teach in the classroom.