International School Suva
Photos by Sarah Sutter (American School in Japan) & Kenny Peavy
There’s nothing quite like watching a ten year old swing a machete with calm concentration. As I observe him and his brother work together to build a temporary shelter, under the watchful eye of their mum and our jungle guide, I know this is what children miss when an education is restricted to the indoors. Sometimes learning should be messy, involve calculated risks, and take us out of our comfort zone. That’s what the jungle taught me.
It isn’t easy to get to our home away from home, Lupa Masa in Borneo, Malaysia, but as the name guarantees, we can feel the stress of the modern world slip away with each muddy footstep. The thick green of the canopy cast shadows on the ground as we hiked deeper into the jungle. The air was warm and humid. We could hear countless birds and insects calling to each other though many of them remained hidden among the lush foliage. There was excitement in the air as the camp finally came into sight.
We dropped our packs and took off our leech socks, welcomed by the delicious smell of our well-earned lunch. After a quick dip in the cool river we got to talking. One of the beautiful things about being together in Nature is the time we have to connect with each other. Even though we were from all over the world, we had far more in common than we could have guessed. When I listened to people tell their stories, I felt honoured to be part of this group of intrepid adventurers.
The more time we spend outdoors, the more we see ourselves as part of an interconnected web of life, not the masters of it. And there is something especially magical about being outdoors with children. They remind us to look at the world with joy and wonder, to be fascinated by a deadly pit viper hanging in the tree over our heads instead of horrified by it.
We tread carefully on rope bridges through the jungle canopy, trekked bravely through the jungle at night to see bioluminescent fungi, and learned how to remove a leech with a quick flick of a pocketknife. We played with a massive millipede, fondly nicknamed Bob, and were fascinated by a Pygmy squirrel that made its home near camp. We saw the world’s largest flower, Rafflesia, and caught a quick whiff of its foul smell, like rotting flesh, to attract insects to spread its pollen. Isn’t Nature awesome?
I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness as we pack up to leave the jungle. Although I am looking forward to a hot shower, I will miss the sound of the cicadas at night, sitting around a table by candlelight sharing stories and laughing with my new friends. But I am leaving with a renewed sense of purpose.
I can’t wait to tell the students in my class all about my adventure in Borneo, to share the feeling of interconnectedness and belonging.
I’m thinking about where my class could go camp this year for an adventure. This trip reminded me that talking about it isn’t enough; it’s experiential learning, walking the walk that makes all the difference.
Education outside the classroom is essential to developing well-rounded, global citizens. Children innovate, problem-solve, and think deeply in a real world context.
These skills have a direct impact on children’s lives as they navigate an increasingly complex world. They learn to love and respect the planet we all share. They learn important contextual and cultural knowledge that won’t be found in textbooks.
They become caretakers for the next generation, just as we adults are today. As we try to find a balance between progress and conservation, it will be dynamic thinkers and risk-takers that will create a sustainable future.