Globetrotter Joe, aka Joseph Humphreys, hails from Wales but his mixed race heritage – his mother is from Malaysia – ensured he was a traveller from a very young age. He visited the land of his maternal heritage for the first time at the tender age of four.
Since then he has visited some 30 countries and counting. Among his most memorable travel experiences are teaching a class of 60 Ugandan schoolchildren to sing Yellow Submarine, rescuing a baby’s milk bottle from a crocodile-filled lake in Australia’s Kakadu National Park and getting thrown from the back of a stroppy camel in India’s Great Thar Desert…twice.
You can read more about his travels at his website, Globetrotter Joe, including the ongoing story of the Tanzanian library project he’s leading, from its humble beginnings through to the grand opening of the library in the latter half of 2016.
I think it’s fair to say that we all approach a big travel adventure with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. If you can get the balance right, then the former spurs you on, while the latter ensures you keep your feet firmly on the ground. But too much of either and it can spell disaster…
So it’s important to get this fine balancing act just right, whatever you’re doing. But what if, as well as yourself, you not only have another adult or two to worry about, but 14 teenagers from a posh all girls’ school in London who are going to a developing country for the first time, and thus far out of their comfort zones? Well, that poses an altogether different set of challenges and opportunities.
This summer, when our two year labour-of-love project culminates with a three week expedition to complete the library we’re building for the KYGN school of Tanzania, I’ll be boarding the plane with a mixture of hopes and fears quite unlike any I’ve experienced before on my travels…
The girls will learn, grow and develop
I’ve seen them learn a lot along the way already, and I’m proud of what they’ve achieved. But what they have learned – from, for example, our training weekends – is just the tip of the iceberg. When they actually confront the very real poverty experienced by the kids of the KYGN School, it will probably slam them in the gut in a way I simply can’t prepare them for. But that’s the point – it’s all about introducing them, and I mean in a very real way, to the fact there’s a whole world out there beyond their comfortable, middle class sphere.
It’s not just that either. We’re very much seeing this as their expedition: they’ve planned the itinerary, and they’re responsible for our food, our accommodation and getting us around the country. We’re there to support them, yes, but they will make mistakes. And – so long as we don’t let it go too far – that’s a good thing.
We’ll have fun
Travelling around Tanzania for three weeks with 14 teenage girls might sound like a total nightmare to many people reading this. But they’re 14 lovely, sparky, funny and bright kids who I’m looking forward to getting to know in a way the necessary student/teacher barriers within school doesn’t allow us to. With the varied provisional itinerary we have – safari, trekking, hot springs, cookery class – I’m thinking we’re all sure to have a laugh along the way!
This will be the start of something big
It feels like we are making a very real difference to the remarkable kids of the KYGN School with the library we’re building. But we don’t want it to stop once we have the library opened and we up sticks and leave. We want to continue to help not only develop the library itself, but to continue to support the sustainable development of the KYGN school itself and, yes, hopefully be in a position to return again in the future.
I’ll learn something too
Of course, as with any travel experience, some of my motivations in setting up this project were selfish ones. And why not? If I learn something about myself and develop new skills from this expedition experience, then it can only make me a better, wiser and more responsible traveller…right?
The girls have impressed me so far with how they’ve not only taken everything that was thrown at them, but have also gelled well as a group. We’ve got a diverse age range among the kids going, from 15 all the way up to 18, and there’s been no overt signs of cliques, or personality clashes.
That, however, might change when we’re living in each other’s pockets for three weeks. Tensions might develop, arguments might break out, and personalities might indeed clash: someone laid back might have a falling out with a more efficient, organised type for instance. Like I said, they’re a good bunch of kids who get on well, but will that remain the case when they’re pushed out of their comfort zones?
Will the girls miss the point?
Sometimes I wonder – if we spent the duration of our time at the KYGN School, and we didn’t go on a safari, a trek etc, would the girls want to come? Sure, they might say to my face that they’re looking forward to the KYGN project, but are they really? Similarly, will they lapse in to ‘dependent teenager’ mode and rely on myself and the other adults to make decisions for them, thus allowing it to become just another school trip? Which brings me on to…
Can I actually let go?
Once or twice on our training weekend in the Brecon Beacons I caught myself telling the girls what they should do, and doing things like helping them, say, put up their tents. It’s all because I care (well, I hope so anyway!), of course, but in the context of this expedition enabling them to develop their potential, I’m definitely doing more harm than good. Yet can I bring myself to stand by and do nothing when they’re utterly messing things up?
Something goes BADLY wrong
Yes, predictably enough, this is the biggest fear of all. The pressure of ensuring the girls have an enjoyable, but safe, time weighs heavy. If someone gets bitten by a snake, or offends a local, or gets lost in the market…or even worse still? Well, we all know it could happen anywhere, of course. But when it happens to a kid who’s entrusted to your care? A whole new ball game entirely.
Ultimately, to return to what I said earlier, it’s about getting the balance right. Let my fears cripple me and I’ll end up so worried that I couldn’t possibly enjoy the experience. Getting too carried away with my hopes and I could be setting myself up for disappointment.
But for me, the exciting adventure the expedition promises does eclipse everything that concerns me about it. I know that, in the company we’re going with, we’re in the best possible hands as they have an excellent reputation for organising safe but fun and challenging overseas expeditions for young people. And in the form of all the hard work we have done in the build-up to the expedition, we have given ourselves every chance of experiencing a truly memorable, unique and life-changing trip.