x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Overnight trip into the desert opens students' eyes to teamwork skills

Foundation students at Fujairah Men's College are taking to the desert to learn how to better prepare for a life "full of challenges".

Fujairah Men's College students, from left to right, Humaid Abdalla al Rayaysa, Yaqoub Barman Ali Mohamed al Kindi and Alla Hassan Saif al Abdoui.
Fujairah Men's College students, from left to right, Humaid Abdalla al Rayaysa, Yaqoub Barman Ali Mohamed al Kindi and Alla Hassan Saif al Abdoui.

FUJAIRAH // In the tradition of their Bedouin forefathers, foundation students at Fujairah Men's College are taking to the desert to learn how to better prepare for a life "full of challenges". Two groups of 50 boys are participating in overnight excursions into the mountains of Dibba as part of a mandatory leadership training programme intended to hone team-building skills.

"For the first time, I learnt the importance of someone depending on me," said Ahmed Saleh, 18, who went on the most recent expedition. During a rope-climbing activity, the group was divided into two-man teams. One person held the rope while the other climbed. "It was new for me to depend on somebody like this," he said, "and they depended on me." Many of the boys have never spent any length of time in the desert.

"They like to stay at home and it's a very sedentary lifestyle, playing computer games, sleeping, driving around," said Yaqoub al Kindi, 21, a student scheduled to participate in the next excursion on Sunday. "When they go on this trip they will see how hard the outdoor life of our ancestors was." He added that the trip would encourage students to work together, using their strengths to help the team.

"One person may be good at climbing while one would be better at water-based activities, so we can learn from each other. It's like life, always learning new skills." Smoking and mobile phones will be banned to teach the boys self-discipline. This sort of experiential learning cannot be taught in the classroom, said Peter Hatherley-Green, the head of the foundation programme. He ran a similar programme at Dubai Men's College in 2008 and said that by the end of the year, the students achieved some of the highest exam results he had ever seen. Learning interdependence through simple activities, said Mr Hatherley-Green, teaches students the importance of contributing to the team and is analogous to the concept of a Bedouin tribal group.

The exercise is also about establishing a sense of self and a sense of place, said David Jenns, from Absolute Adventure Education, the company leading the expedition. It will be the first effort at teamwork for many of the students as they navigate the mountains in daylight and darkness. "It is going to be an alien environment for them," Mr Jenns. "It's about building the students' confidence to try new things and overcoming certain fears as well as facing the chance of failure."

The sense of independence that comes from such an exercise is something that cannot be taught in a classroom, he added. After the next group completes its expedition, 20 of the most promising students will be selected to undertake a more-intense four-day trip in April. mswan@thenational.ae