Published: 24th April 2019
This summer camp is creating awareness among children about forests and animals
Dev Balaji who has been conducting Summer Adventure Camps in forests across Karnataka tell us about what they teach for children and how it is helping the little ones
A few days ago, Jyoti completed her class IV exams and has been excited ever since to do something new during her summer vacations. Unlike last time, she doesn't want to join summer camps which usually happen within the confines of four walls. She wants to attend the adventurous camp conducted in Dandeli’s Joida forest. She wants to experience the thrill of living in the forest and observe every creature closely. One such group that organises green camps during summer vacations is Nature Admire. Based out of Bengaluru and founded in 1997 by Dev Balaji, Brian Highland and George Zachariah, the Nature Admire group aims to introduce people to the jungle and teach them survival skills.
From then till date, the group has conducted several camps which include river rafting, trekking, mountaineering in the Himalayas and so on. Among all the other camps, Summer Adventure Camps for children between the ages of eight to 16 is the most popular. The reason behind this preference is the mountains and jungles which are turned into classrooms where children acquire immense knowledge and experience real life. This has helped children develop different and unique hobbies like bird-watching, making homes for small creatures, feeding them and so on.
Rope activites like zip line, slack line and jummering are taught to children
It has been over 22 years that Dev and his team have been conducting camps and nothing has changed except for the consistent inflow of new batches of students. Dev says, "Summer Adventure Camps are conducted in the forest because children have to realise the importance of trees and the small creatures who call these trees their home. Not just during summer vacations, we conduct these camps in the forest during regular school days too. In such camps, we have children who belong to the same age group and the same school. But during summer vacations, we have children who come from different schools and states."
Chikmagalur, Sakleshpur, Dandeli and Jog Falls near Sharavathi backwaters have been the most popular spots where Nature Admire has been conducting their Summer Adventure Camps. In order to see to it that their camps are managed well and better experiences are provided to children, the camps take place on different days and times of the year. While the first camp was conducted in Chikmagalur from April 9 to 14, the second camp was held in Dandeli's Joida forest from April 18 to 23. Till the end of May, there will be few more camps organised in Sakleshpur, Jog Falls and Sharavathi backwaters. During the camps, children are provided with a place to stay, food and transportation and the cost could go up to `2,000 per child.
Water world: Water sport activities like Kayaking, water trampoline and swimming are taught
Dev believes that accommodating limited children in the camp helps organisers give each child attention and see to it that no one misses out on any activities. Therefore, they accommodate only 40 children in each Summer Adventure Camp. "We divide all the 40 children into four groups with ten children in each group. Safety is the fundamental element of our camps hence, an instructor and a helper are assigned to each group. All our activities are organised by instructors who are trust-worthy, recognised and certified by UIAA (French abbreviation of International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation). They are hand-picked, certified by well-known mountaineering institutes and have hands-on experience when it comes to taking care of children as well as the destination," he explains.
Children not only learn the importance of forests, but they learn additional values which are hardly taught in the classrooms. "Summer adventure camps are not just meant to teach children about forests and nature. Since there are participants from all age groups, children learn to interact with each other and make friends. They learn to live independently. Similarly, they learn to deal with bullying and find a solution to problems. During the camp, we conduct different adventurous activities like rock climbing and every child tries to perform. If they are unable to perform, they take lessons from their friends. Apart from this, we tell them about climate change, what causes it and how they can help save our Mother Earth. Children get to learn all these practical aspects in our camps which are hardly taught in schools," explains Dev.
Trampoline jump: Children enjoy their time in water trampoline during the camp
With the rise in children’s sexual abuse cases, parents are apprehensive of sending their children to camps. "It is certain and obvious that parents have a fear of sending their children to camps, especially to the camps that take place in a forest. Hence, we hire our instructors and helpers after observing their behaviour with children and a thorough background verification. We instruct them to be gentle with children and not go too close to them. Most of the children who participate in our green camps are urged to do so by close friends and relatives."
Budget is a constraint
According to Dev, parents think a lot before they spend `2,000 on their child. While it’s a matter of money for them, these camps involve several expenses as they are conducted outdoors. Dev says, "We need to pay our instructors, helpers, cook and the third party who provides us transportation. Apart from this, we need to pay for accommodation. We have tied up with few homestays in Dandeli and whenever a camp takes place, children stay here. When we conduct camps in Jog Falls and Sharavathi backwaters, we provide accommodation in the guest house meant for the forest officials."
Climb up: A girl in the camp picks the skill of rock climbing
An understanding with the forest officials
Having conducted these adventure camps for more than 22 years across Karnataka, Nature Admire group is well known among forest officials. Dev says, "Though the Forest Department officials know us, we are aware of the limitations that we as organisers have while conducting camps in forests. During rains or heavy winds, we are alerted and in such cases, we don't take children to the forests' sensitive areas. Similarly, we don't conduct activities that destroy the habitat of animals. Hence, the trust between forest officials and our team remains intact."
At the end of the camp, which goes on for six days, children learn to build a home in the jungle, finding routes, learn about being safe, cooking in the wild, basic scouting and so on. They don’t even leave a trace behind by making sure that they carry waste like plastic bottles, papers and wrappers back home
What your day looks like
6.30 to 8.30 am - Bird watching activity
8.30 to 9.30 am - Breakfast
9.30 am onwards - Rope activities which include zip line, slackline and climbing trees with a rope
1 to 2 pm - lunch is served
2.30 pm onwards - Water sports like kayaking, water trampoline and swimming are taught. All children are provided with life jackets for these activities
5 to 6 pm is tea and snacks time
6 pm onwards - Outdoor team games
During the night, they light a bonfire and children share the lessons they learnt during the day
Sightseeing: Among all these days, one day is dedicated to local sightseeing spots like Yana caves, Vibhuti Falls, Mystic Fountain, laser show in Jog Falls and so on
What is bird-watching and why is it conducted early in the morning?
Dev, who has been conducting these activities for many years, says that birds are most active and can be spotted either in the morning or the evening. Hence, the activity takes place between 6.30 to 8.30 am. They teach kids how to observe sounds, features and colours of a birds’ wings, the food they consume — whether its insects, flowers or fruits — habitats and the type of trees they stay in.
Sunbirds, Drongo, Kingfisher, Jungle Babbler, Plum-headed Parakeet, Green Pigeon, Paradise Flycatcher, Barbet and so on are some of the birds one can spot
The bird watcher uses sign language to indicate that a bird has been spotted. This is done to prevent disturbing the birds and scaring them away. Children are told to imagine the tree where the bird is perched to be a clock. Then, the bird watcher needs to look in the direction of a particular time. For example, if a bird is spotted on a branch that is diagonal to the tree and behind it, then the instructor asks children to look in the direction of the angle the clock's hands form when it is 8:30. Hence, clock and time are used a sign language, just like they do in the military
Jog Falls is the second highest plunge waterfall in India. It was formed when the Sharavathi River fell from a height of 830 feet. It is also known by alternative names like Gerusoppe Falls, Gersoppa Falls and Jogada Gundi
The dense Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary to the northwest of Chikmagalur is home to elephants, tigers and leopards and is a must visit if you are in Karnataka. In addition to this, the beautiful Hebbe Falls lies in an area of coffee plantations in Chikamagalur
Joida near Dandeli is covered with 87% of dense forest where the River Kali flows. The close by tourism destinations are the wildlife sanctuary in Dandeli, Castle Rock and many more
Sakleshpur is located in the Western Ghats, a mountain range that stretches from Kerala to Gujarat. The southern range, which includes Bisle Reserve Forest and the region around Sakleshpur, is listed as one of the 18 most diverse spots in the world in terms of flora and fauna