In this era of instant messaging, online social networks, and state-of-the-art video games, it is getting easier to think what a luxury it is for those youth that can spend some time in the wildlife. Wildlife, arguably nature at its finest, is getting more and more distant with the young generation.
It won’t be surprising if only a small fraction of our city youth can relate to the smell of growing leaves, gentleness of morning dew, and rejuvenating fresh air. But encouraging our youth to experience the wildlife is by far not to turn them into treehuggers; on the contrary, it is to equip them to strike the right balance between modern living (which will become more and more “modern” in their lifetime) and environment. Moreover, invaluable leadership and character building are almost inevitable to be gained by those who undertake a journey to the wildlife.
Fostering Camaraderie and Responsibility
Most mountaineers and campers travel in groups. It is more than common that members of the group are already well acquainted before their trip, and spending days together in remote places often intensify their bonding. Such experience also tend to reveal true personalities of the individuals–making friendship that are built within the group more sincere compared to those that are often built upon the façade and illusionary make-ups of the modern life.
When you are in the wildlife, you are responsible for yourself and others in your group. Individual behaviors in a jungle expedition will have their implications to the group. Careless handling of the fire, machetes, or even logistical supply by a member of the group can have dire consequences. Campers and mountaineers worldwide must have seen or experience such episodes.
This philosophy–though minor it may seem–reflects the real and global challenge we face today. One factory’s exhaust may cause acid rain for the entire city. One city’s water pollution may cause health problems to cities down the river. And one country’s greenhouse gas emissions may cause islands across the globe to drown. Grasping such concept is much better learned in practice–where it matters–than reading volumes of environmentalist literature.
The other important aspect of responsibility entails proper precautionary measures and solid preparations. A widespread misconception about mountaineers (even amongst mountaineers themselves) is the arrogant and ignorant idea that nature is there to be conquered. Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first climbers that reached the summit of Mount Everest, provides a contrarian example. He climbed Everest not to conquer it, but because he revered it and he treated nature with respect. Respect also means recognizing that nature may unleash forces beyond our control. Such recognition highlights the importance of solid preparations ranging from physical fitness, adequate mountaineering skills, and ample logistical supply. All of these preparations demonstrate not only the self-responsibility of individual members, but also the responsibility of the group leaders to ensure their members are well prepared.
Equipping for Future Challenges
There is still an even bigger picture of encouraging youth to spend time in the wildlife. As much as we would like to think of ourselves–and those before us–as generations that already tried their best to be sustainable and leave a not-so-bad planet earth to the next, our youth will still inherit dire environmental challenges. Deforestations will not stop in the coming years–even hoping that the rate of it will decrease soon is somewhat wishful thinking–, so as water / air pollutions, and moreover climatic change. The youth of today which are the decision makers of tomorrow will need to be equipped with some point of reference on what does the word “nature” actually means. How do we expect them to wholeheartedly opt for nature conversation while the closest thing they have ever come to the nature is merely through the lenses of National Geographic or Discovery Channel? Though the two distinguished channels are great educational means, they will never substitute the experience that wildlife provides.
Many youth that have had experience in the wildlife will treat their daily surrounding differently–no matter how subtle the difference. At the very least their appreciation towards clean and fresh water, growing trees, and wild fauna are at a totally different level than those that spend all of their leisure time behind a flatscreen.
Parental and Community Support
When a group of young people is about to undertake an expedition or semi-expedition to the wildlife, parental concern is an element that needs to be managed–both by the youth and parents. A sense of partnership must be developed in managing the concerns. Parents have more than legitimate concerns about permitting their children to the wildlife. Although I must admit that there are even times where escorting youth through the bus terminals and crossing bridges of the metropolitan are much more intimidating than escorting them through the rainforest with wild animals. The fear is caused by the same factors that inflict fears in the minds of young mountaineers’ parents: fear of the unknown and fear of things beyond our control. These two factors can be managed by gathering as much information beforehand, including field survey (to minimize the unknowns) and to prepare for things beyond our control (e.g. all-weather gear, buffer logistics, etc.). Hence, parental concerns are manageable by proper information campaign, demonstrating solid preparations and clear safety procedure.
If it is in our own interest to provide our youth the opportunities to experience the nature, then we also need to live up our part by giving parental and community support. Primary parental support does not go much beyond morale support from home, whereas community support tends to involve granting well-earned sponsorships and recognition.
Is it worth it?
There is, however, a self-criticism towards the mountaineering and campers communities. It is time for these communities to be more in existence. They need to be more proactive in communicating (and of course, practicing) the true values and advantages from spending quality time in the wilderness.
However, in order to do so effectively these communities need to also evaluate themselves with regard to their own thoroughness in preparation, managing parental concerns, proper permiting process to the authorities, and most of all responsible behaviors.
One may ask, whether going through all these troubles is worthwhile. It certainly is: when you experience the nature early in your youth, it lasted a lifetime.
Rotterdam, 17 January 2008,