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Eye-opening experience on life-changing Madagascar expedition

Over the summer 40 students and six staff members spent 25 days in Madagascar where they took part in a three-phase program which included a community project, treks and immersing themselves in the local culture in various locations.

Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean approximately 400 kilometres off the coast of East Africa and is the world’s second largest island country.

The trip was organised to enable our Sixth Form students to experience a new lease of life and learn valuable life lessons along the way. The participants were given two years to fundraise for the trip and various meetings and training sessions were held in the build-up. Once in the African country, the roles and responsibilities were handed over to the group and it was their responsibility to run the budget, plan the meals, book transportation and accommodation, speak to locals to organise the various activities and simply learn the Malagasy way of life.

Below, three of the students provide their account of the expedition.

Ben Wilson

“The trip itself was a massive step into the unknown for me – I had never been to a third-world country, been without my phone or spent more than a week or so away from home, and – I can’t lie – I was extremely nervous. Nevertheless, it was one of the most eye-opening and incredible trips I have ever been on, not to mention all the independent life skills it taught me.

“A personal highlight for me was working at the Akany Avoko Children’s Home in Antananarivo. I’ve never been one for working with children but I still threw myself in at the deep end and it resulted in one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Alfred Bradshaw

“The expedition to Madagascar was one of the best trips that I have ever done with school, both in the sense of how much I enjoyed the trip itself and the more practical skills that I have learnt and realisations that I have made. The expedition forced us to be more independent and provided us with many life skills as well as giving us all a general appreciation of the world that we live in.

“The trip took us out of our bubble and placed us on a strange island where very few locals could speak our language and where very few of us could speak their language. This combined with experiencing the culture of a developing country, where the people are strikingly identical to ourselves, caused in me (as well as many others I know) an important change in the way that I see the world and a greater appreciation for the people who live on it.

“I would happily go on this trip one hundred times over if the opportunity was offered to me again.”

Jamie Carson

“The trip for me was a life-changing experience. Madagascar is a former French colony and the influence from this period remains so strong that French almost matches the native Malagasy in terms of prevalence on the island. As an A-Level French student, it often fell to me to liaise with third parties and this was the first real-world test of my language skills in seven years of study at SGS. Listening comprehension became more challenging: instead of listening to professional, polished recordings in the SGS Language Lab, I was suddenly trying to book hotel rooms for two weeks in advance using a mobile phone we bought earlier in the day off a street vendor. However, I managed to make myself understood and relished the chance to speak French throughout the trip. Just like the biologists in the group got a lot out of the huge biodiversity of the island, I felt as if I was able to connect on a deeper level to the people I met due to the somewhat reduced language barrier: singing ‘Champs-Elysées’ at the bottom of a valley around a campfire with a Malagasy guide was a strange, yet fun, crossing of cultures.

“There were moments of hardship: being thrown into a completely alien and demanding environment is sure to cause anyone discomfort; but these served only to make the high points even higher: the incredible views camping in Isalo National Park, the late-night campfire on the beach by the Indian Ocean in Mananjary and, perhaps the most euphoric moment of the entire trip, the spontaneous encounter with Team 1 from inside the minibus upon arrival at Andasibe National Park.

“It is not possible to fully convey my experience but I hope what I have said will convince others to apply for the trip. What I haven’t mentioned here so far is the abject poverty that surrounded us during the trip, however many seemed very happy with their way of life. My main takeaway from the experience: it is perfectly possible to be happy with very little, and equally possible to be quite miserable even when insulated within a safe privileged middle-class bubble.”

Head of Life Studies Mr Alex Ehegartner was the trip leader and he concluded: “The trip was organised by Outlook Expeditions and their professionalism, attention to detail and overall support was remarkable.

“I’d like to thank the colleagues that accompanied the students on the expedition and the parents for their support and trust in allowing your children to join us on the trip. Finally to the participants; it was an absolute pleasure to work with you and I do hope this trip was everything you expected and more. This expedition will stay with you the rest of your life and I hope you continue to travel the world and learn about new cultures along the way.”