Waterford Kamhlaba United World College Southern Africa - (WKUWCSA)

Tony and Lek Mallia (United Kingdom and Thailand, WK 04 - 07)

Big Outdoors Education and Adventure Co. Ltd. runs residential outdoor education and adventure camps for school and university groups and families in Thailand. We design custom courses according to the needs of client groups, ranging from adventure sports to community service camps to academic fieldwork in geography, biology, environmental and social studies.

We employ local people and companies to provide accommodation, food, transport and some activities. We minimize our impact on the environment and educate people in conservation and environmental impact as well as introducing Thai and non-Thai children and adults to some of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of Thailand. Popular activities are rock climbing, zip-lining, mountain biking, kayaking, cave exploration, sailing, trekking and wild life watching in the tropical rainforest. We also do temple visits, cooking, pottery, painting, birdwatching and team-building activities like cardboard box boat building and adventure races. I run a variety of field studies courses in biology, geography and environmental studies and we do service courses with both local schools and conservation organisations.

Why did we start our own Company?

For 4 years I had been running an outdoor education centre at a small privately owned school near Khao Yai, Thailands first National Park. As the Centre became more popular and successful, it also became increasingly clear that the school management were only interested in the revenue and not the educational mission of the Centre. Faced with a refusal to invest and employ additional staff, Lek and I responded; forming the company, purchasing our own equipment, such as kayaks, and employing additional staff to assist with the bigger courses. We provided equipment and staff to the school and they paid our company. Although not ideal, this worked OK until there was a change of management. The new Heads of the two campuses were ill equipped to understand the operation and felt threatened by its success, finally terminating my contract in March 2014.

This, although not pleasant at the time, was the best thing that could have happened. The customers for my courses almost all switched from the school to Big Outdoors and we were suddenly able to run courses in the way we believed they should be done, We could invest in the company, source better accommodation, hire people to provide better food at a lower cost and create courses with reference only to the client schools instead of having to explain every move to uninformed and hostile managers. Also, as we were no longer tied to school accommodation, we could start to run courses in new and interesting places. We purchased a 50 foot yacht to convert to a sail training vessel, a long-time dream of mine. Our yacht Phetploy (treasure) is currently being fitted out and should be ready to use with groups early in 2016.

Waterford is the best school I have worked in over a long career which has included several top schools (and a few at the other end of the spectrum). I gained important management experience as Director of Residences, and for both Lek and I it was a time of happiness and personal growth. This is particularly true for Lek who for the first time was trusted with a position of responsibility as Housemistress. She has never looked back in terms of self-confidence and is now active leading groups in the rainforest on treks and acting as a second skipper on our yachts! We owe a debt of gratitude to WK and Laurence Nodder. I think Waterford helped me realize that in the right school environment the potential of teenagers to affect positive change is almost unlimited.

Do you have any fond memories of Waterford?

We have many fond memories of both Waterford and the people in it, for instance: supervising boarders swimming in a hot spring with a prominent notice warning of crocodiles, making new IBs enter an old gold mine with only a smoky self-made lamp as part of their induction course, building classrooms in a remote rural school, running a ridgeline with the running club dodging the lightning bolts when we were caught out in a Swazi storm, and nights spent in the hiking huts on the Ngwempisi trails helping out with a community tourism project initiated by the Evans’s, competing with Karl Maske in the annual bike race through Mlilwane. Looking back on our time there it was non-stop fun and adventure. I don’t think it ever seemed much like work.

Advice.

I wish I had started my own company doing this ten years ago. If you have something you are good at and love doing, don’t be afraid to take a risk and pursue your dreams. Life is too short to spend time working on things you don’t enjoy. Looking at the WK students I taught and keep in touch with now, most of them don’t need this advice. They all seem to be successfully following their passions. For anyone thinking of a career in outdoor education, first get qualified as a teacher, then certificate in First Aid and get as many leadership certificates as you can manage in activities you have skills in. I get people volunteering with my company for a month or two (and would be delighted to have an approach from a WK graduate), and there are many companies in Africa and elsewhere which will not turn down some unpaid help in exchange for food and lodging. It is a good way of getting experience and looks good on your application for university courses or jobs in outdoor ed. Centres. Our company website is www.bigoutdoorsthailand.com and we are on Facebook, as Big Outdoors Education and Adventure.

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