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How We Keep Students Safe On Our Experiential Learning Treks
Category Experiential Learning;Schools
By Izzat Yaganagi
At Indiahikes, safety is our top priority. And when our treks involve youths below 18 years the safety bar goes up several notches. We consider ourselves completely responsible for safety On Experiential Learning Treks in every way, from the time they register for a trek till after the trek is over.
Some figures: Since 2016 we have had 7085 students from schools across the country and 3840 students from top professional Institutions with us on treks. We have not had a single safety incident or issue with any student.
Here’s what we do specifically to ensure safety on Experiential Learning treks
1. Your Safety Starts Before the Trek
| A. We assign a senior Trek Coordinator to your batch:
Trek coordinators are trek experts who guide and handhold you right from the time you register for a trek till you return home.
The most experienced of our trek coordinators are assigned to EL treks. They also have extensive trekking experience in the Himalayas.
All your questions and concerns can be addressed to your Trek Coordinator. He/she will respond with understanding and care to ensure that you come well prepared for the trek.
| B. Help you prepare for your trek:
To ensure safety on Experiential Learning Treks the topmost priority for our Trek coordinator is to make sure you and your students are prepared for a trek. And they can be very strict about this. This is an important factor in ensuring your safety.
Before you register for your trek, your Trek Coordinator sends you an email. This email has a questionnaire. This is to help our Trek Coordinator get to know your students better – your prior trek experience, your fitness routine, how old the children are, do they enjoy sports, and some other questions.
This helps our Trek Coordinator, and our team on the slopes create a safer, and better trek plan for you. This will also let us know if you need any special assistance.
| C. Preparing physically and mentally and being actively involved:
In the words of Benjamin Franklin “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” We have seen this happen when adults fail to prepare and have to abandon their trek because of it. We go out of our way to see that you come prepared and we want you to take it as seriously as we do.
Physical preparation and fitness is the number one secret to a safe and enjoyable trek experience. There are no shortcuts here.
It’s also important to be aware of the risks involved and know what to expect. We also explain the steps we take to mitigate and manage the risk. Your knowledge of this is important as you can become proactive in the processes we follow and help others as well.
Your Trek Coordinator will send you a series of important emails and videos specifically about your trek. These are part of your Trek Preparation Kit. They contain all the information you will need to prepare for the trek – this includes your fitness routine, what to pack, how to plan your travel, what to expect on the trek, and other important information.
Involve the students in preparing for the trek. Go through the videos and emails together and plan how to go about it. When they are involved – they become more responsible and this is clearly reflected on the trek as well.
2. Safety Measures We Take When the Trek is about to Begin
Before a school goes on a trek, we carry out a complete Risk Assessment and put in place the measures to manage it. This document is shared with schools that require it. It is a procedure we follow strictly.
| A. Arrival at the nearest city
This also plays a part in ensuring safety on Experiential Learning Treks. We encourage schools sending students from far off cities to ensure that they arrive the evening before. This gives them the required rest before starting their journey to the base.
If the students are travelling with or without accompanying adults, we provide safe transport along with a trusted staff to pick them up from the Airport or Railway Station.
Whether the school arranges the stay or we do, we still ensure our staff are always present. Unless it’s an all boys school, we always have a lady chaperone with the students at all times till they leave for the base camp the next morning.
| B.Travel to and arrival at the Base Camp
We arrange transport to the base with known transport providers and trusted, experienced drivers. The stops are at known places which have passed our safety and hygiene checks. A fixed menu is pre- ordered and served hot while on transit.
Once students arrive at the base camp, they are given accommodation in dormitories. Girls and boys stay separately. They freshen up, eat something and then gather for a briefing.
At the briefing, ground rules are set, expectations are stated and students are briefed on trekking techniques and guidelines on safety.
3. Your Safety On Experiential Learning Treks
This is when all the preparation you made pays off. It is also the time when all our senses and processes are on full alert to ensure that you are safe throughout the trek.
Whether it is on the trail or at the campsite, whether it is your food or medical issues that may arise or weather conditions or just plain fatigue, we are all geared up to handle it professionally and empathetically.
Here are a few areas that we feel will give you a better idea of what we have in place and what we do to ensure students safety on Experiential Learning Treks.
| A. Qualified and Trained Trek Leaders
A Trek Leader is the person who leads the trek and is responsible for every aspect of the trek — most importantly safety. For our school and children treks we have a lady trek leader or a lady assistant to the trek leader – unless it’s an all boys group.
At Indiahikes our Trek Leaders are certified mountaineers with a Basic Mountaineering Course or Advanced Mountaineering Course. Eighty percent of our Trek Leaders are Wilderness First Responders (WFR) and NOLS certified. We have constant refresher courses and specialized training for them year-round which helps in ensuring safety on Experiential Learning Treks.
In the training sessions, they are taught how to follow safety and evacuation protocols, how to tackle bad weather, how to handle medical emergencies, and how to address tough situations in high altitudes. They also undergo specialized training on safety protocols for children.
In February 2020, our Trek Leaders underwent a month-long training programme in facilitating outdoor learning. Gerrit Onstein, an outdoor educator with over 40 years of experience in the field, and the Indiahikes Training Team spearheaded this program.
We select the Trek Leaders most experienced with children and youth to lead our student batches. They also undergo training in how to handle children and take care of their emotional and mental health as well. As a trained counsellor I also work with our Trek Leaders to make them understand how to work with children to ensure safety on Experiential Learning Treks.
| B. Safety Equipment and Evacuation Plans (Best equipment)
Before starting any trek, all risks are evaluated and the weather is also taken into account. At all times we have a way for the Trek Leader to have contact with the base. At the base, we are on a constant alert and respond immediately to any requirement on the slope.
Each Trek Leader carries a medical kit, and a High Altitude Medical kit (HAM). These kits contain all emergency medication needed for a high altitude trek. For each batch, there are 3 such kits. One with the Trek Leader, and 2 with the guide and co-guide respectively.
This kit is extremely important and contains life-saving medicines.
Each Trek Leader carries a medical kit, a High Altitude Medical (HAM) kit and a walkie-talkie
Each batch also has 3 walkie talkies – one with the Trek Leader, one with the guide, and one with the sweeper. This is to ensure constant communication and updates regarding the progress of each trekker on the batch.
Minor injuries like bruises and allergies are addressed on the slope itself. If there is a sprain and the child can’t continue, or if there are other reasons that require evacuation then arrangements are made for the student to be accompanied down – along with a responsible female staff – especially if the student is a girl. These are measures that have been consulted upon and known to all before the trek begins. The Trek Leaders decision on a trek is final.
| C.Campsite Set-Up
A lot of attention is given to the campsite set-up. This includes the arrangement of tents, easy and safe access to the toilet area, positioning of the Trek Leader’s tent and having boys and girls in separate tents are some of the points that are given attention.
This includes the arrangement of tents, easy and safe access to the toilet area, positioning of the Trek Leader’s tent
The students are taken around and told about the layout. Camp etiquette and ground rules are also explained. Safety aspects are stressed. The Trek Leader is just a call away whenever needed.
At any point, if the student needs any kind of assistance, all they need to do is call out to the Trek Leader, or knock on their tent.
| D. Pee-Buddy System
This is a precautionary measure all are instructed to follow.
On the very first day, students are introduced to the Pee-buddy system. This means when a student wants to go to the toilet tent, he or she must be accompanied by another student, the pee buddy. This is mandatory when going to the toilet at night.
We have not experienced any issues till date, but we find this gives the students a sense of safety, especially at night. It is also important to go with someone if its raining or snowing. They may also need something while in the toilet. Also for girls who are in their period, having a friend outside is reassuring.
If for some reason they are unable to find a pee-buddy, our Trek Leader will accompany the students at any time.
| E. BP and Oximeter Reading
All students are given a health card on the trek. We measure vitals every day and note them down here for reference. We also register any complaints and what measures were taken. It is important for us to know that oxygen levels and blood pressure are normal at all times.
Your oxygen saturation and pulse readings are taken thrice daily
Your oxygen saturation and pulse readings are taken thrice daily, once on arrival at camp, again in the evening and before your trek starts the next morning. There are cutoffs for both oxygen saturation and pulse readings. These cutoffs change as you go higher. They are mentioned in your health card.
Oxygen saturation shows the amount of oxygen in your blood. As you climb higher the oxygen saturation percentage in your blood reduces. There is a minimum level beyond which your oxygen saturation level must not fall.
Our trek leaders do regular mandatory health checks and take the necessary steps if required.
| F. Nutritious and Hygienically prepared food
Another key aspect of is food. This also plays a crucial role in safety on Experiential Learning Treks.
At Indiahikes we maintain a high standard of hygiene and nutrition. All our kitchen staff are trained on how to observe these standards while cooking as well as in their personal grooming.
Our cooks and staff are also trained to involve students in the cooking process. Students are encouraged to observe, learn and help out with preparing as well as serving food. We have specially designed menus that allow involvement without compromising on safety.
We have noticed that this is a great learning experience for children. They learn to take responsibility and help each other out.
| G. Threat from wild animals
Several parents are worried about the possibility of wild animals at our campsites. The Himalayas are known to have a wide array of flora and fauna. And several of our treks are inside National Parks.
But you must note that wild animals do not come near human campsites. Only when food waste is not disposed of properly, wild animals come near campsites.
At Indiahikes, our mules consume our wet waste. And whatever is leftover by them is buried in a compost pit. This is a sustainable and safe way to dispose of our kitchen waste. We have not seen any wild animals at any of our campsites.
4. Your safety after the trek
Till you reach back to the city and get to the airport we are with you. The support you received before the trek stands as strongly even after.
Sometimes, after a trek, trekkers have pain in their leg muscles due to exertion. Some may even develop blisters or have other small ailments.
In this case too, the trekker can contact their Trek Coordinator who will suggest from experience some remedies that help, or what the next course of action should be. We have WhatsApp groups that you join before the trek for information and questions. We have seen these double up into nostalgia and bonding spaces after the trek.
At Indiahikes, we believe that the experience of a trek, and it’s learning does not end with the trek. They are life long. And we will always be around.
What makes us confident that your students will be safe
Since its inception, Indiahikes has been instrumental in introducing the latest equipment into trekking. We are constantly working on standardizing processes. We bring in experts from around the world to assist us in specialized training for our staff – especially in the field of experiential learning. We constantly seek and work with feedback and refine our methods and processes accordingly.
We bring in experts from around the world to assist us in specialized training for our staff – especially in the field of experiential learning.
This has given us the confidence to offer the benefits of trekking to the younger ones – even as young as 8 years – with the assurance that we are prepared for it.
We hope we have addressed all your questions of safety and how we ensure it on our treks. We also hope that your awareness and understanding of our safety measures and protocols have made you confident in entrusting your students to us.
Yes, that is a promise we make: to never compromise on safety.
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