Dundee pupils have enjoyed the experience of a lifetime after spending four weeks in Borneo.
Six Harris Academy pupils and one from Auchterarder Community High School headed to the Asian island as part of a World Challenge programme during which they hiked through rainforests, met natives and even adopted an orangutan with a Dundee link, all while gaining an understanding of responsible tourism and travel.
Biology teacher at Harris and World Challenge school leader, Hilda Patterson, joined the group on the month-long trip.
She said: “The World Challenge programme is not about going to places and giving things to poor people. It involves learning about different cultures, environments and communities to help them where they need it.
“The students taking part in the challenge have two years of learning before they go on their trip.
“Through this they research their destination, choose their own itinerary and really start to understand why they are going on the trip.
“After travelling to Borneo, the young people had a weekend to become acclimatised and training before we took a seven-hour hike into the rainforest where we stayed with 14 families in a longhouse for seven days and lived with the local community.
“The reason for staying there was to help replace a pepper drying rack floor which is vital to the work of locals.
“The longhouse is the home of 14 families and they all have jobs such as pepper farmers, hunters and fishermen.
“During the week spent with the families, the young people helped with pepper farming, rubber tapping and even catching their own lunch as they travelled to a waterfall where the fishermen catch their fish.
“What struck all the young people was the huge work ethic and the value of community and family that the locals all have.
“What makes the trip different is that we weren’t there to just give the community something – we were there to really learn about how they live and also see how important the environment is to them as it is their livelihood.
“At nights with the families we taught them Scottish country dancing and Auld Lang Syne and they taught us some of their traditions.”
As well as working with the families in the longhouse, it was up to the students to organise their own travel, food, budgets and activities for the whole trip.
This included organising meals where they even harvested and caught their own lunch, and taking part in “tourist” activities while still thinking about the environmental impact and making sure they had enough cash from their budget for train and bus travel.
Although Hilda and two leaders from World Challenge were present, the adults were there for safety and if the students didn’t get off the bus at the right time, the adults kept quiet and let the young people work it out.
Hilda added: “What was amazing to watch was the young people changing before our eyes.
“They not only thought about the environmental impact but also how they could take their spending power in to the country and go to local restaurants and cafes rather than going to KFC or McDonald’s while in the capital.
“We also did our main trek for five nights where we slept in hammocks and made our food on open fires, which the students all prepared, and they had to organise their food before setting off.
“They also had to think about what else they were taking into the country such as plastic waste.
“Anything they brought that was plastic they had to take home with them, such as toothpaste and shampoo bottles, and they also decided not to buy water in plastic bottles.
“While in Borneo they saw the impact of plastic pollution in the water and it really hit home seeing the problems that we all talk about at home.
“Even when they went sea kayaking, which again they had to organise, they all took nets out with them and they collected any plastic they saw.
“To me it was so special to see these young people actively think about their impact on the environment and making changes, not because they felt that they were supposed to but because they wanted to.
“The children also visited an orangutan conservation area where they were able to see wild orangutans feeding.
“They were told about some orphaned babies and learned that one was nicknamed The Dandy.
“All of the students decided they would dip into their tight budget and adopt the baby orangutan so they are now all adoptive parents.
“It really was an amazing, life-changing experience for them.”