As many of you know, in the summer of 2018 I led a school trip to Kenya for a month – an incredible experience that changed me for the better and I’ll certainly never forget. The expedition in question was focused around ethical volunteering and run by Camps International, an organisation focused around allowing groups of people in the UK make a sustainable difference abroad (both to others and themselves), and I’m forever grateful that their marketing email ended up in my staff inbox!
***All photos, apart from recce shots, taken by Adam Smith and Tim Wright, as I dropped my phone on the mountain – oops!***
We are a family of a dozen nationalities spread around the world, with one common goal. We are an ethical company, dedicated to a responsible travel model. We are pioneers, striving to bring about positive change.
We believe in making all of the experiences of all of our volunteers truly exceptional. We believe in making a positive impact on the lives of the people in our host communities, as well as our volunteers. We believe in aiming for excellence in everything that we do.
We do social and environmental project work in areas of both economic need and ecological significance. We do adventure through safe, dynamic, and unique expeditions. We do life changing experiences.
What we do matters. Ethical journeys without compromise.
Our ethical and commercial objectives go hand in hand – we’re fully committed to the projects we start and the communities we work with. We understand change doesn’t happen overnight; it’s achieved through long-term collaboration and real social enterprise.
At Camps International, we’ve established our own charity, The Camps Foundation, to provide additional support to our ongoing initiatives, meaning we’re able to fulfil our commitments and implement real change.
Our business model is designed to have maximum, long term impact in partnership with the communities we are based within. As a social enterprise our strategies are to maximize improvements in human and environmental wellbeing.
We’re not a nasty bunch of corporates in suits, each and every person involved in our business cares and makes a positive impact for change.
(Taken from Camps International’s website)
There was so much involved in our trip with Camps International, but it can be summed up as such – a month-long trip to Kenya, staying in a variety of locations, where both staff and students got to undertake a mountain trek, project work to support the community, meeting the Maasai, safari, and experiencing the local culture. We stayed in three different locations – Forest Camp near the mountains, Camp Tsavo in the Savannah, and Camp Muhaka by the glorious Diani Beach.
Camps were with us from Heathrow airport, taking us first to Camp Forest Camp near Ethi Village – not far from Mount Kenya, the Adventure part of our itinerary. Before the mountain climb we were given a week or so to settle in, and we used this time to adjust to the already higher levels of altitude in the region and develop our bond as a team. As we were a small group of students we were combined with another school as a composite team, meaning that there was a lot of getting to know each other that needed to be done. Camps International facilitated this perfectly through project work and cultural group activities, which even included learning how to throw a spear the Maasai way! It felt authentic from the start, throwing us right into the Kenyan way of life.
The trek on Mount Kenya was my highlight of the trip – although arduous, it was the most incredible five days of my life and I learnt so much about myself and what I’m capable with. The days were long but caution was executed at all times, making sure that safety was the most important thing in people’s minds. Something we were all grateful for were the existence of the porters – locals that we were able to pay to carry our 60-80l rucksacks for us.
Initially I felt bad about this, like some rich white kid taking advantage of the natives, however once I saw them in action I realised why it was such a good idea. Their expertise left me speechless – a conversation with one porter shocked me when I found at that our five day trek could be done in less than a day by most of them! They were a lovely bunch of people and I was glad that my money was going towards such a great team – we were able to pay them well, and the support we got for that payment was invaluable.
Part of my experience was something I hadn’t planned for, as I had to take some ill students down from the final trekjust before we reached Point Lenana, our final destination – it was due to a porter that we were able to get the students back down to safety so quickly and it was actually that experience that really taught me how to navigate a mountain safely… In the dark, on scree, and with nothing to hold onto but the hand of another.
The excitement didn’t stop there as the main part of the trip was focused around project work, which was completed at all three locations. We completed a multitude of different tasks, from building toilets and planting a tree fence for a local school to putting up elephant deterrent fences around a village in the savannah. Some projects were people-focused and others environment-focused, and I loved that we got to do both. I think much of the group would be in agreement that the most fun experience was goat de-worming – not gross like it sounds, but a rather entertaining activity that involves chasing after goats and feeding them medicine… Much harder than it sounds!
As well as project work and mountain trekking we also got to take part in cultural experiences – one of these was meeting the Maasai. This as perhaps the most underwhelming part of the trip – although it had felt more authentic when I met them during the recce, this time around it just didn’t feel as real as it should have. I totally understand that the Maasai have had to change to keep their tribe going within Kenyan society, but something just felt a little off. Although it was fun, staff agreed afterwards that it would have been better to leave this bit out altogether – it wasn’t as magical as we had hoped and did lead to some disappointment among the students.
The rest of the cultural activities were so much fun though – we learnt how to make traditional chapatis one day, and another day we got to make beaded bracelets with a local women’s group led by Mama Mercy, an inspiring woman doing amazing things to help other women in a country where they often aren’t able to meet their potential. The best experience was the safari at Tsavo National Park – we did several of them over a couple of days and there is honestly nothing as amazing as seeing such beautiful creatures (lions, elephants, giraffes, and so many more) at close range.
We finished off the trip with an amazing rest and relaxation experience at Stilts Backpackers in Diani Beach, which felt like a dream! Not only was the accommodation amazing, but we also got to spend loads of time on the gorgeous white sands of Diani Beach, which included a beach clean-up and loads of time to swim in that beautiful blue Indian Ocean. This was a lovely end to the trip, and I was so glad the itinerary had been formulated to save this until last.
From day one of the trip the staff were so supportive – it was this that really made the trip as it enabled us to enjoy ourselves, safe in the knowledge that we were being looked after by experts in their field. We were given a team leader, Colin, an ex-Marine with a wealth of experience in trekking and project work. Colin was assigned to us for the entire month, being our first port of call if we needed any support. He was easy to get along with, both for staff and students, and was mostly excellent at what he did. He was there to keep us going when we needed it, but also there to help us relax and make sure we weren’t overdoing ourselves. You need to feel confident in your team leader if you’re spending a whole month with them, and thankfully we were all able to feel that way.
We had a different selection of people working with us at each camp, and they were all so great at making us feel welcome. I was so impressed with local knowledge – much of the staff within Camps International are native to the country you are visiting, meaning advice is expert and you get a real insight into those cultural aspects that you may miss with a non-native guide. Peter at Camp Tsavo truly amazed me with his understanding of the local wildlife during our safari tours, and I really appreciated Yusra at Camp Muhaka, who was so lovely and had been just as supportive during the teacher recce the year before. The guys at Forest Camp from Rift Valley Adventures were also brilliant, truly preparing us for the mountain trek and giving us the confidence and motivation that we needed to complete such a daunting task.
Whilst we were at Forest Camp we also got to meet Jules, who had previously delivered some excellent training for me and other schools at a workshop prior to the trip, and it was lovely having such a positive and uplifting spirit around when the Kenyan lifestyle was still very much new to us, and all we could think about was the monumental mountain that we were about to face. During the recce we got to work with the wonderful Anna and Gemma, who are honestly incredible at their jobs and put me at so much ease about taking a group of students to a foreign country for a whole month (which is quite a feat, given how anxious I was about the whole thing – even going on the recce was a terrifying prospect!).
There’s one other staff member that I need to mention – Geoffrey, from Camp Tsavo. Geoffrey is Head Chef there and I’ve honestly never met someone who can make such excellent food. As well as being so friendly he provided us with the most beautiful culinary creations, all designed to perfectly meet our dietary needs whilst undertaking strenuous work in a hot country. I loved his food so much that I even bought a copy of his recipe book!
Behind The Scenes Support
Before I’d even stepped foot in Kenya there was also so much positive support. As such a large part of the experience is fundraising to actually go, it’s understandable that both staff and students can feel overwhelmed and like they may not actually make it on the trip. I totally felt like this (more than once) after discovering that fundraising is not my forté at all, but luckily Camps International staff were there whenever we needed them to offer advice and guidance. As well as the initial meeting and assembly to promote the trip, Camps International staff would visit the school and attend group meetings to make sure we were all doing okay, and this helped to reassure me – it’s difficult to lead a group to fundraising success when you’re not good at it in the first place!
Camps were also very good on the admin side of things and super understanding of our situation – due to one of our students having additional needs we were given an extra staff place which helped massively, and despite our low student numbers I was still given a discount of my trip cost – this I was eternally grateful for as it was those small numbers that meant I’d had to pay around £1k for the recce (free for teachers with a certain number of students on board).
This has been one of the longest reviews that I’ve ever written, and I’m hoping that if you’ve got to this part then you can see that I absolutely loved my time in Kenya with Camps International! They are a wonderful organisation – completely trustworthy and truly worth their weight in gold when it comes to the support and experiences that they can offer. I’d 100% recommend them for anyone looking to undertake project work and adventure abroad (they offer other adventure experiences besides mountain climbing, such as jungle treks and scuba diving – depending on location), and as well as school expeditions you can also volunteer with them individually. Not only are you able to help others in less fortunate situations, but the difference you’ll see in yourself afterwards (confidence, perspective, empathy, and so much more) is just incredible to experience.
I’m completely set on doing more project work in the future, perhaps in Kenya or perhaps other countries, and without a doubt I’d do it all with Camps International. Truly one of the most amazing experiences of my lifetime – something I wish everyone could do at some point in their life.
Where would you travel to with Camps International? Let me know in the comments! Also don’t forget to like and pin!
You can read some of my other travel experience reviews here: