AL AIN // Devon Cash, 16, will be taking plenty of long walks with a 15-kilogram backpack over the next two weeks.
He is part of a group of 23 pupils from the Al Ain English Speaking School who are preparing for a gruelling hike in the Himalayas.
The students are also raising money for a charity project there through car washes and raffles.
"We are all very excited as this will be our first time overseas and a chance to give back to the community," said Devon, a Year 11 pupil. "We are trying to get used to walking around with a weighted backpack. That is tiring."
The group will travel to Nepal on February 17 to support Mission Himalaya, a non-profit organisation that offers health care, education and nutrition to orphans.
The hike is part of their Duke of Edinburgh's Award pledge. Also called the International Award for Young People, the programme is for those age 14 to 24.
Over one to four years they commit to volunteering, physical and skills-based activities, an expedition and a residential challenge, where they have to stay away from home and participate in group work. Along the way, they qualify for a Bronze, Silver or Gold award.
The award scheme was established in Britain in 1956 and chaired by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
Initially a series of character-forming challenges for boys, it was expanded two years later to include girls.
Sara Donovan, a PE teacher at the school who will be accompanying the group, said the programme helps pupils learn responsibility, leadership and interpersonal skills.
"At the end, the chance to experience the lifestyle of these orphans and see how much they can help is even more rewarding," she added.
Before the students leave for their 10-day trek, they hope to raise Dh20,000 for the orphanage. Brittany Kalauni, 16, said they would also help paint a school in Nepal and lend a hand in preparing a road to the facility.
"The whole opportunity sounded so great that I had to be a part of it," she said. "When we get there, there is a lot of trekking, mountain biking and water rafting, but most of the time will be spent helping out at the orphanage."
The team will also take books, clothes, toys and some sports kits for the orphans.
For Sylvia Vilsoni, 15, it is a chance to make her own decisions.
"I will be away from my parents for the first time and it will test whether I can do things for myself and work as part of a team," she said.
Her first independent task is to ensure she has everything for the journey.
"Boots are essential, layers of clothing as the weather changes, first aid, sleeping bags ... it will be a challenge but there is a lot of cooperation in the group so it will be easy to overcome the problems."