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Feb 13, 2002

Trekforce embarks on annual expedition

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They come from far away and work like machines for three months. When they are finished, both Belize and the visitors themselves are better for the experience. We’re talking about the volunteers from Trekforce…Yesterday, News 5′s Jacqueline Woods got a chance to spend some time with them in the high bush near Gallon Jug.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

It had been raining in the area and the wet conditions made the forty minute trek to Puma Camp much more challenging. But the slippery terrain made us experience a part of the adventure undertaken by volunteers of Trekforce Expeditions. Since 1996, the English based charitable organisation has taken men and women from across the globe into some of Belize’s most remote areas to work on various conservation projects.

Ian Craddock, Country Manager, Trekforce Expedition

“We are very, very keen to work on deep remote jungle projects. The number one thing is they’ve got to be worth while, they’ve got to be sustainable and they’ve got to actually have some impact; they’ve got to be of some use. There’s a lot of organisations are the world who deal with conservation and so on and we are very, very serious about it.”

Trekforce works closely with local organisations like the Belize Audubon Society, TIDE and Programme For Belize to see what projects need help. This year, one hundred and twenty volunteers will be involved in five different operations. Most expedition members have taken a break from their academic studies to participate in the arduous journey.

Trekker #1

“I’ve had academic challenges throughout my life, and I’ve always tried to work really hard for them. But I’ve never set myself for physical challenge as well as an academic challenge that I wanted today. And this is something that I really wanted, to see if I could push my limits.”

Trekker #2

“I’m aiming to improve my skills as a doctor during that period of time. I’m also looking forward to the leadership aspect during this expedition, which is something of a challenge for me.”

The expedition is conducted in several phases and the first couple of weeks are spent getting the volunteers, who have no jungle experience, prepared to live and work in such an environment. Once at Puma Camp, they learn how to construct makeshift sleeping quarters using the vegetation that surrounds them. Most of the preparation is conducted by local guides and members of the Belize Defence Force.

Sgt. Celedonio Shal, Assistant, Trekforce

“Helping to identify different types of fruits, food that they can collect in the jungle, as well as how to build their shelters, the types of leaves that you can find in the jungle and how to thatch them so that you can live under the shelters.”

The expedition can be good fun, but there are also some risks. So before the group is sent to their work sites, the leaders and local guides conduct a survival and training exercise.

Americo Ortiz, Local Guide

“It’s very challenging for them because sometimes they don’t know nothing about how to sharpen machete, what’s a poison tree, what’s a bastard tree a how we call it. They don’t know nothing about that, so that’s why we have to teach them.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Where did you learn all this?”

Americo Ortiz

“With my father. He always took me out in the bush and tell me what is this and what is that.”

Jacqueline Woods

“So you’ve been doing this for some time?”

Americo Ortiz

“Yes, from small, about two years.”

Jacqueline Woods

“So it’s very important for them to understand that you just cannot come into the jungle and set up a camp. You’ve got to know the basic stuff.”

Americo Ortiz

“Yeah, you have to know the exactly, how to walk in jungle too. Because if you don’t know how to walk in jungle you will soon get lost yourself.”

Ian Craddock

“It’s strange. When they first came off the bus here, they had big white eyes and white skin like myself, and they all come out, they had fifteen hours on a bus. And to see them nine days later, and then again two months later at the end of the expedition, they’ve had a experience which…it’s sound corny, but really is life changing for them.”

At some point on the expedition, the volunteers will have to spend time in the water building bridges, so they also had to learn how to safely cross a river.

Adele Lomax, Volunteer

“It’s to practice how to get across the river carrying all our kit, trying to get a large group of people across. So it’s really new to all of us, we’ve always used bridges before, but now we have to go and build the bridges, so first you have to figure out what’s on the other side. So it should be quite wet.”

Unfortunately, there are no local volunteers this time around, but Trekforce is working to encourage Belizeans to be a part of future trips.

Ian Craddock

“I think a lot of it is with the timing that we run these expeditions. Because our main group of people come out from the U.K. and they have to fit it into the academic year in the U.K. A lot of them are about to go to universities or just come from universities, so certain month’s they’re taking exams, so we can have expedition during that time span. We’ve had a few in the past, and we’re very, very keen to find out and hear from more people.”

Jacqueline Woods

“The trekkers spend two nights at Puma Camp before they head out to the various project sites. The environment here is harsh, but it’s nothing compared to where the volunteers will spend the next six weeks.”

Sarah Cowley, Co-ordinator, Trek Force Expedition

“This is very much the environment that they come into when they first arrive into Belize, to get themselves accustomed to what they’re going into. It’s very much a learning environment, so they’re not immediately thrown in at the deep end. Once they leave from here, they will be going out to their project sites where it is far more remote, could be three or four hours in to the sites.”

In addition to local press coverage, the expedition is also receiving some publicity back home. Thomas Harding from London’s Daily Telegraph has taken some time out of his vacation to do the story.

Thomas Harding, News Reporter, Daily Telegraph

“I’m a news reporter, not a travel writer but they were interested in the fact that eighteen year old and twenty-one year old British children would be coming straight from England…the relative comfort of England to the jungle of Belize, which is an entirely different environment, and how they would adapt to that. Personally, I was very impressed with how quickly they’ve adapted to that. They all seem to fit in quite well into the jungle.”

For the volunteers, with jungle training behind them and public service work ahead, they already see their experience as a rewarding one.

Rachel O’Neill, Trekker

“Oh most definitely, that’s one of the main reasons that I came out here. Just to throw in perspective my life back at home, which I completely take for granted. I’ve hardly got any experience of the sort of world wide world, and I think it would just sort of help me to appreciate things more and know what else is around me apart from my little life in my town in Bristol in England.”

Daniel Gupta, Trekker

“Very, very exciting, I’m kind of shell-shocked. Straight away you get into a completely different environment, us humans haven’t been used to for thousands of years.”

Ravi Sachdev, Trekker

“We are going to start our expedition I think in a couple of days now, and we’ll be helping and learning about Maya culture and everything, but something I’m really looking forward to. I’ve never done anything like this in my life. I’ve only been camping in England, which is nothing like it really.”

Jacqueline Woods

“No regrets so far?”

Ravi Sachdev

“None at all actually. A new experience, everything’s been new. It kind of changes from day to day when you’re wet and you’re a bit miserable, but everything picks up in the evening’s when you’re all hanging around the camp fire; its really nice.”

On Thursday, the volunteers will leave for their project sites in both the Cayo and Toledo districts. The expedition comes to an end in March. Jacqueline Woods reporting for News 5.

Some of the projects the volunteers will be involved in are exploratory work at the Elijio Panti National Park in the Cayo District, the clearing of the Victoria Peak Trail in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve, and research work at the Las Cuevas Research Centre in the Chiquibul area.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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